UJA honor hits sour note

Jewish activists displeased with honoree

Tuesday night’s United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York dinner honoring Bertelsmann topper Thomas Middelhoff was as heavy with controversy as it was with global media barons.

The org’s sixth annual Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award dinner, held in the opulent grand ballroom of Gotham’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, drew the ire of some Jewish activists for being the first to honor a German.

But many of the assembled luminaries, including Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, argued that Middelhoff deserved to be judged on the merits of his actions rather than his heritage.

“The children of murderers are not murderers; they are children,” Wiesel said during an emotional keynote speech. “If one is permitted to hate the children of killers, where does it end?”

But the evening had its lighter moments as well, including punctuations of dry wit from master of ceremonies Tom Brokaw, and a musical performance from “Aida” star (and recording artist for Bertelsmann unit RCA Records) Heather Headley.

Among the corporate heavy-hitters in attendance were AOL Time Warner chairman Steve Case, chief exec Gerald Levin and co-chief operating officer Bob Pittman; Vivendi Universal vice chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr.; BMG Entertainment CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz; J Records founder Clive Davis; Bertelsmann’s U.S. chief Joel Klein; and National Basketball Assn. commissioner David Stern.