American Jewish Committee

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American Jewish Committee
Motto A Century of Leadership
Formation 1906
Type Human Rights, Pro-Israel, Human Relations
Headquarters New York, NY
Executive Director David A. Harris
Key people Richard Sideman - President

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) was "founded in 1906 with the aim of rallying all sections of American Jewry to defend the rights of Jews all over the world.[1] It is one of the oldest Jewish advocacy organizations in the United States.[2]


[edit] About

The American Jewish Committee, established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews concerned with pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work towards a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity.

AJC is an international think tank and advocacy organization whose key areas of focus are: combating anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry; promoting pluralism and shared democratic values; supporting Israel's quest for peace and security; advocating for energy independence; strengthening Jewish life.

The organization has local chapters in 32 American cities, 8 overseas offices, and 27 international partnerships with Jewish communal institutions around the world.

AJC's American offices include the Belfer Center for American Pluralism, the Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Contemporary Jewish Life, Domestic Policy and Legal Affairs, Interreligious Affairs, Latin American Affairs, Middle East and International Terrorism, the Office of Government and International Affairs, Project Interchange, and Russian Affairs. AJC publishes the American Jewish Year Book.

As of 2009, the AJC is one of many partner organizations of the Austrian Service Abroad (Österreichischer Auslandsdienst) and the corresponding Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service (Österreichischer Gedenkdienst).

[edit] Mission

The organization's mission statement is “to safeguard the welfare and security of Jews in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world; to strengthen the basic principles of pluralism around the world, as the best defense against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry; to enhance the quality of American Jewish life by helping to ensure Jewish continuity and deepen the ties between American and Israeli Jews.”

[edit] History

AJC was established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews concerned about pogroms aimed at the Jewish population of Russia. "According to the official statement of the is to prevent infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews and to alleviate the consequences of persecution."[3] AJC has since headed advocacy campaigns on issues such as Holocaust denial, church-state relations, and American dependence on foreign oil.

The AJC was dominated for years by banker Jacob H. Schiff, who relied on his wealth, his power, and his single-minded certainty to shape the organization. He was a partner in Kuhn, Loeb and Company and worked closely with corporate lawyer Louis Marshall and with Cyrus Adler, the intellectual who headed the Jewish Theological Seminary. Also involved was Adolph S. Ochs, owner of the New York Times. Business, personal, and family relationships tied these AJC founders to a network of key supporters, including the Warburgs (especially Felix Warburg), the Strauses and the Guggenheims, the Sulzbergers in Philadelphia, and to similar groups in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco. The founders died out in the 1920s and were replaced by Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, Jacob Blaustein, and Irving M. Engel, who maintained ties with wealthy sponsors. Local chapters were established, which somewhat weakened the control of the central office in New York, but it had become bureaucratized with a permanent staff of well-paid experts. By the 1930s they were supporting social science research into the causes and cures of prejudice. They learned that prejudice was indivisible, and that in the United States it was less desirable to argue in favor of the rights of Jews than to defend the equality of all Americans, including Jews. Alliances were sought with other ethnic and religious groups.[4]

Philanthropy was always a very high communal value among Jews, and AJC leaders in the early days were mindful of their responsibility toward the large numbers of poor Yiddish-speaking East European Jews pouring into New York. Nevertheless they feared that these not-yet-Americanized masses threatened to create the wrong image in the public mind because they brought with them Old World customs and alien ideologies, and held public rallies and protest meetings instead of working patiently through the existing Jewish establishment. The AJC did not want the American public to envision American Jewry as a foreign culture transplanted artificially to American shores. The profound fear, repeated over and over, was the risk of evoking an anti-Semitic reaction that would endanger the status of all American Jews. The AJC seeing itself as the natural "steward" of the community, took on the mission of educating the new arrivals in proper Americanism.[4]

Louis B. Marshall (1856–1929) was a key founder and long-time president (1912–29). He made the AJC the leading voice in the 1920s against immigration restriction, but he could not stop passage of major limitations on the inflow of immigrants. He did succeed in stopping Henry Ford from publishing anti-Semitic literature and distributing it through his car dealerships; indeed, Ford apologized publicly to Marshall. At the same time, Marshall supported institutions working for the rapid assimilation of East European Jews, recognizing that mass immigration was creating many social problems in America's industrial and urban centers.[5] After the World War, Marshall had some success in inserting into the peace treaties provisions guaranteeing the rights of minorities. In the 1920s the AJC was actively concerned with dangers in Poland and Rumania, where violent outbreaks of anti-Semitism and the restriction of civil rights made the position of Jews precarious. In the 1930s it lobbied quietly for the entry of Jewish refugees from Hitler, but had little success. During the war it discouraged open talk of the Holocaust, lest a backlash lead to heightened anti-Semitism in the U.S. In 1945 it urged a human rights program upon the United Nations and proved vital in enlisting the support that made possible the human rights provisions in the UN Charter. Under Marshall's tenure, AJC helped create in 1914 the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, established to aid Jewish victims of World War I, and later to play an instrumental role in aiding Jewish victims of World War II and the Holocaust.[4]

Through direct dialogue with the Catholic Church, AJC played a leading role in paving the way for a significant upturn in Jewish-Christian relations in the years leading up to the Roman Catholic Church's 1965 document Nostra Aetate, and in the ensuing years.

The AJC before the Six Day War in 1967 was officially "non-Zionist." Indeed it had long opposed Zionism as antithetical to Americanism and only became reconciled to the creation of Israel in 1947-48, when the U.S. backed the partition of Palestine. As 1967 began the AJC still was the major national Jewish body that was most self-consciously American, most reluctant to acknowledge links to other Jewish communities beyond those of religion and philanthropy, and least willing to subordinate institutional autonomy to the cause of Jewish communal solidarity. That it transformed itself almost overnight into a passionate defender of the Jewish state and, in so doing, shed old inhibitions to espouse Jewish peoplehood was itself a measure of the impact this 1967 crisis had on American Jewry as a whole.[6]

In the 1970s, AJC spearheaded the fight to pass anti-boycott legislation to counter the Arab League boycott of Israel. In 1975, AJC became the first Jewish organization to campaign against the UN's "Zionism is Racism" resolution.

From 1945 to 2007, the AJC has published Commentary magazine, focused on political and cultural commentary and analysis of politics and society in the U.S. and the Middle East. Originally liberal, Commentary has moved right and since the 1980s has been the voice of Neoconservatives. It is now independent of the AJC. Since 1906 the AJC has published the invaluable American Jewish Yearbook, a highly detailed account of Jewish life in the U.S., Israel and the world.[7]

[edit] Recent efforts

In December 1987, AJC's Washington representative, David A. Harris, who would later become the organization's executive director, organized the Freedom Sunday Rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry. 250,000 people attended the D.C. rally, which demanded that the Soviet government allow Jewish emigration from the USSR.

In 1992, Japan, citing AJC's diplomacy, reversed its policy of supporting the Arab League boycott of Israel.

In 1997, AJC became the first American Jewish organization to establish a full-time presence in Germany. The AJC Berlin Office / Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, opened in 1998, works to combat anti-Semitism and promote education in democratic values.

In 2000, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, cited AJC as playing a central role in Israel's gaining acceptance into the UN's Western Europe and Others Group.

In 2001, "the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress reached an agreement, approved by the international board of UN Watch, to transfer full control of the organization [e.g. UN Watch] to AJC."[8] From UN Watch's founding in 1993 until January 2001, UN Watch was a joint responsibility of AJC and the WJC.[8]

In 2003, AJC opened in Brussels the Transatlantic Institute, aimed at fostering improved relations between Europe, Israel, and the U.S. That same year, AJC opened a Russian Affairs Division[9] to identify and train new leaders in American Jewish public advocacy.

In 2005, as part of its continuing efforts to respond to humanitarian crises, AJC contributed $2.5 million to relief funds and reconstruction projects for the victims of the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.[10]

[edit] Controversy

[edit] Unification Church

The AJC released a report of Rabbi A. James Rudin on the Unification Church in 1976, which centered on passages found in Divine Principle, the church's basic text, stating that it contained "pejorative language, stereotyped imagery, and accusations of collective sin and guilt."[11] In a news conference consisting of the AJC, and representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches, panelists stated that the text 'contained over 125 anti-Semitic references.' The panelists noted church founder Sun Myung Moon's public recent condemnation of "anti Semitism and anti-Christian attitudes", and called upon him to make a "comprehensive and systematic removal" of antisemitic and anti-Christian references in Divine Principle as a demonstration of good faith.[12]

In 1977 the Unification Church issued a rebuttal to the report, stating that it was neither comprehensive nor reconciliatory, but was rather had a "hateful tone" and was filled with "sweeping denunciations." It denied that Divine Principle teaches antisemitism and gave detailed responses to 17 specific allegations contained in the AJC's report, arguing that the allegations were a distortion of teaching and obscuration of real passage content or were accurate summaries of Jewish scripture or New Testament passages.[13]

[edit] New Anti-Semitism

In an essay, “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, published on its web site,[14] the AJC criticized Jewish critics of Israel by name, particularly the editors and contributors to "Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" (Grove Press), a 2003 collection of essays edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon. The essay accused them of supporting a rise in anti-Semitism, and of participating in an "onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State".[15]

In an editorial, The Forward called the essay "a shocking tissue of slander" whose intent was to "turn Jews against liberalism and silence critics".[16] Richard Cohen remarked that the essay "has given license to the most intolerant and narrow-minded of Israel's defenders so that, as the AJC concedes in my case, any veering from orthodoxy is met with censure or, from someone like Reinharz, the most powerful of all post-Holocaust condemnations—anti-Semite—is diluted beyond recognition".[17]

The essay was also criticized by rabbi Michael Lerner[18] and in op-eds in The Guardian[19] and The Boston Globe,[20] where Stanley I. Kutler noted that the AJC itself had opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine until 1946.

Executive Director David A. Harris explained why AJC published Rosenfeld's essay in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, saying:

Rosenfeld has courageously taken on the threat that arises when a Jewish imprimatur is given to the campaign to challenge Israel's very legitimacy. He has the right to express his views no less than those whom he challenges. It is important to stress that he has not suggested that those about whom he writes are anti-Semitic, though that straw-man argument is being invoked by some as a diversionary tactic. As befits a highly regarded and prolific scholar, he has written a well-documented and thought-provoking essay that deserves to be considered on its merits.[21]

[edit] Further reading

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ H. H. Ben-Sasson (1976) (paper). A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press. 
  2. ^ Speaking to Power: Nathan Abrams assesses the changing fortunes of Commentary magazine, Jewish Quarterly.
  3. ^ New York Times, Nov. 11, 1907, pg 16
  4. ^ a b c Cohen (1972); Handlin (1957)
  5. ^ Henry B. Leonard, "Louis Marshall and Immigration Restriction, 1906-1924," American Jewish Archives 1972 24(1): 6-26,
  6. ^ Grossman (1998)
  7. ^ Sanua (2007)
  8. ^ a b UN Watch, AJC Seal Partnership, January 2, 2001, American Jewish Committee. Accesses 2009-08-18.
  9. ^ Дом - AJC - Russian
  10. ^ Humanitarian Campaigns
  11. ^ Rudin, A. James, 1978 A View of the Unification Church, American Jewish Committee Archives
  12. ^ Sun Myung Moon Is Criticized by Religious Leaders; Jewish Patrons Enraged, David F. White, New York Times, December 29, 1976
  13. ^ Response to A. James Rudin's Report, Unification Church Department of Public Affairs, Daniel C. Holdgeiwe, Johnny Sonneborn, March 1977.
  14. ^ Alvin H. Rosenfeld (December 2006). ""Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" (PDF). American Jewish Committee. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  15. ^ Patricia Cohen (2007-01-31). ""Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  16. ^ ""Infamy"". The Forward. 2007-02-01. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  17. ^ Richard Cohen (2007-02-06). ""Cheapening a Fight Against Hatred"". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  18. ^ Michael Lerner (2007-02-02). "There Is No New Anti-Semitism". The Boston Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  19. ^ Matthew Yglesias (2007-02-08). ""Are we all anti-semites now?"". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  20. ^ Stanley I. Kutler (2007-02-07). ""All critics of Israel aren't anti-Semites"". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  21. ^ David A. Harris (2007-02-06). ""Why AJC Published the Rosenfeld Essay"". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 

[edit] External links

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