Posted by Edy Semaan on November 04, 2019 in Blog

The René Moawad Foundation honored Dr. James Zogby with an Outstanding Community Service Award during their 26th annual benefit gala held Oct. 26 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C. under the motto “Giving Hope… Making a Difference.”

In its premiere annual event, the foundation recognized Jim’s life contributions in support of Arab Americans as a community leader of Lebanese descent, especially his pioneering efforts in launching and heading U.S. organizations championing Arab rights in times of anguish and instability.

The foundation, which establishes sustainable human development activities across Lebanon, holds the elegant gala annually in honor of Lebanese Americans who have either “excelled in their fields and contributed to its advancement or have provided outstanding community service to their community” in the U.S. or Lebanon.

Introducing Jim’s award, former Congressman David Bonior reminded the audience of his principled leadership and unwavering determination. “Whether it was standing with the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement, opposing the Vietnam War, or fighting for Palestinian rights, in all of this, [Jim] saw the righteousness of supporting the broader struggle for justice in humanity,” Bonior said.

The event celebrated Jim for having brought the vital voice of Arab-Americans to mainstream politics. “I can tell you, hailing from Michigan, I know one of the most important things he’s helped build is an educated, driven, and active Arab-American political community, one that seeks to be of service and stands with its allies to help this nation realize its great promise,” Bonior said.

Over the years, Jim founded and led several organizations, including the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Save Lebanon, Builders for Peace, and the Arab American Institute, which he has led for 34 years. “He’s never been one to shy away from hard truths, hold back from the powerful, or take the easy road,” Bonior said. “You know where Jim Zogby stands, and it will be on the side of justice and for those who need a voice, someone to speak when they cannot.”

Starting his speech, Jim mentioned the words of the great Lebanese philosopher and Poet Gibran Khalil Gibran, “You have your Lebanon and I have my Lebanon,” explaining how it applied to the current situation in Lebanon and why it was one of his personal favorites. “There are, in every society, two societies, two visions, and in some cases, multiple visions,” he said, “and we’re seeing one vision of Lebanon playing out in the streets.”

Jim went on to comment on what the people of Lebanon really wanted, having protested in unprecedented numbers all across Lebanon for over two weeks now. “They’re not just for democracy, not just for opportunity, not just for better government,” he said. “They’re against corruption, against dynasties that have become so ossified that they no longer are capable of seeing beyond their own self-interest and providing for the country, and they’re against an armed militia that wants to impose, by force, its will on a people.”

Characterizing two coexisting visions of Lebanon and stressing the need to be aware of both, Jim brought the idea home. “I also believe there are two Americas,” he said.

Jim then talked about his endorsement of Jesse Jackson for president in 1984 as a solid representation of his American vision, saying: “I’m the son of an illegal immigrant, and I’m going to nominate for president the great grandson of a slave. Where else but America could that happen?”

On his office wall, Jim keeps his father’s naturalization paper next to the presidential parchment of his appointment to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “I look at that every day and I say, ‘That’s America,’ where you can start here and end up there.”

But that’s not all of America, he conceded. “There’s also the America that turned its back on immigrants, turned its back on refugees, and turned its back on people who have needs,” he said, while acknowledging that “so much has been done by those who came, became American, and made America a better place.” 

“And so we never want to close the door,” he said, ending on an inspiring note. “We have alive today a generation of Americans fighting for a better America, fighting for a vision of equality, fighting for opportunity for everybody, and it’s the same in Lebanon. The dynasties are not going to go… but what is going to happen is people in the streets are going to define the future of the country, and we’re so proud of it.”

Jim did not leave without expressing gratitude for his family. “They would make my mother really proud,” he said. “I’m just so proud my legacy at the end of the day is my kids and grandkids because they’re the ones who are carrying on everything that represents the hope and the promise of what America and has meant and continues to mean.”

Following dinner and award presentations, gala attendees enjoyed a mesmerizing live performance by Grammy-nominated Lebanese-American singer Mayssa Karaa whose powerful vocals and curated selection of original and patriotic songs lifted the room.