Ronald Steven Lauder, 74, is president of the World Jewish Congress, and an eloquent leader who advocates for Israel and Jewry across the world. He has enjoyed good relationships with many world leaders over the years, including US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
An international philanthropist, investor, art collector and former public servant, Lauder has served as president of the World Jewish Congress since June 2007. He has also demonstrated a deep commitment to his Judaism through a wide range of other philanthropic endeavors around the world. Lauder combines his activities on behalf of the Jewish people with an international business enterprise and philanthropic work via the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which supports Jewish day camps and schools across Europe. A former US ambassador to Austria, where his famous family originates, he has helped revitalize Jewish life across Eastern and Central Europe in communities devastated by the Holocaust.
He has served in a number of leadership roles, including president of the Jewish National Fund since 1997 and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in 1999. He is also chairman of the International Public Committee of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, chairman of the Jewish Heritage Council; director of the International Board of Governors of the International Society for Yad Vashem; member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; member of the Boards of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; member of the Boards of Trustees of the Anti-Defamation League Foundation and the Abraham Fund; chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sakharov Archives at Brandeis University; a member of the International Board of Governors of the Tel Aviv Museum, and chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Lauder also serves as president of the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. He lives in New York City with his wife, Jo Carole, and they have two daughters, Aerin and Jane. In this exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Lauder discusses the challenges facing world Jewry and Israel, and his wish for them this Rosh Hashana.
How do you see the situation of world Jewry and Israel today?
There’s no denying these are challenging times. The already-alarming divide between Diaspora Jews and Israel was exacerbated this past summer. The fact is: time is not on our side. If we want future generations of Jews to feel the same unflinching bond with Israel that my generation feels, we must unite world Jewry and Israel – now. The Israeli government can start by revisiting divisive and counterproductive measures like the recently-passed Nation-State Law and the anti-LGBT surrogacy law.
What is the role of the World Jewish Congress in today’s world?
The World Jewish Congress serves as the voice of our people. I also see it as our duty to serve as Israel’s unofficial foreign affairs ministry, to showcase the Jewish state’s many wonders and help it be a light unto the world. That’s why I travel the world, meeting with leaders of all faiths, in all regions, to promote cooperation and understanding. At the same time, the WJC must combat antisemitism in all its forms, whether overt or masquerading as anti-Zionism. I’m proud of our record of action and real-world results.
What achievement of yours in the past year are you most proud of?
The Lauder Employment Center in Beersheba, which opened a new incubator this year, continues to grow and transform the Negev. We are creating new jobs, developing cutting-edge technology and building bridges between Arabs and Jews. Seeing a young graduate of Ben-Gurion University stay to work in the Negev was once unimaginable. Now it’s an everyday reality.
What do you view as the main challenge facing you in the coming year?
The peace process has been my life’s project for a quarter century. With willing partners in both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas, and one of history’s greatest dealmakers in the White House, we have a rare window. In the coming year, I hope to progress towards the two-state solution.
How would you rate President Trump’s performance so far?
I’ve known President Trump for 50 years, and he’s always been a friend of Israel. Already, he’s fought anti-Israel sentiment at the United Nations and restored faith that the US-Israel partnership is here to stay. I have confidence in his next step: progress on the two-state solution.
What is your best advice to the Israeli leadership when it comes to the Diaspora?
The Israeli government should hear the outrage and uproar of this past summer of disharmony. It should repeal the Nation-State Law, give equal adoption rights to same-sex couples and create an egalitarian prayer section at the Kotel. Israel must build a bridge to the Diaspora and affirm that it is home to all Jews. We are one people, and Israel’s actions must reflect that.
Besides the World Jewish Congress, can you tell us a little bit about the other philanthropic and humanitarian activities you are involved in?
The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which operates more than 30 Jewish schools and summer camps across Central and Eastern Europe, has helped rekindle Jewish life in the region. The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, which I founded with my brother, has made breakthroughs toward treatments and potential cures. And the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Committee, which I lead, has spent tens of millions of dollars to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. I dedicate my philanthropic efforts to not just one issue, but the betterment of the Jewish people.
What is your wish for Israel and the Jewish people in the New Year?
I wish for the Jewish people to recognize that what unites us is greater than what divides us. Whether you live in Buenos Aires or Berlin, Buffalo or Beersheba, whether you’re politically conservative or liberal, Orthodox or unaffiliated, we are all one people. Most of the world doesn’t love us, so it’s time for us to love each other. Enough is enough. Or as my father would say, genug ist genug!