|Formation||November 11, 1906|
|Type||Human rights, civil rights, pro-Israel, human relations|
|Legal status||501(c)(3) nonprofit organization|
|Headquarters||New York City|
|Michael L. Tichnor|
|Avital Leibovich, Felice Gaer, Davis Harris|
Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council
AJC Transatlantic Institute
|Mission: To enhance the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and to advance human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.|
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is a Jewish advocacy group established on November 11, 1906. It is one of the oldest Jewish advocacy organizations and, according to The New York Times, is "widely regarded as the dean of American Jewish organizations". As of 2009, AJC envisions itself as the "Global Center for Jewish and Israel Advocacy".
Besides working in favor of civil liberties for Jews, the organization has a history of fighting against forms of discrimination in the United States and working on behalf of social equality, such as filing an amicus brief in the May 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education and participating in other events in the Civil Rights Movement.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is an international advocacy organization whose key area of focus is to promote religious and civil rights for Jews and others.
The organization has 25 regional offices in the United States, 13 overseas offices, and 35 international partnerships with Jewish communal institutions around the world.
AJC's programs and departments include:
Former departments include the American Jewish Year Book, the Belfer Center for American Pluralism, Commentary, the Dorothy and Julius Koppelman Institute for American Jewish-Israeli Relations, the Middle East and International Terrorism Division, the Skirball Institute on American Values, and Thanks to Scandinavia.
On November 11, 1906, 81 Jewish Americans met in the Hotel Savoy in New York City to establish the American Jewish Committee. The group was concerned about pogroms against Jews in the Russian Empire. The official committee statement on the purpose was to "prevent infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews and to alleviate the consequences of persecution."
In its early years the organization was led by lawyer Louis Marshall, banker Jacob H. Schiff, Judge Mayer Sulzberger, scholar Cyrus Adler, and other well-to-do and politically connected Jews. Later leaders were Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, Jacob Blaustein, and Irving M. Engel. In addition to the central office in New York City, local offices were established around the country.
Starting in 1912, Louis B. Marshall was president of the organization until 1929.
In 1914, AJC helped create the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, established to aid Jewish victims of World War I. After the war, Marshall went to Europe and used his influence to have provisions guaranteeing the rights of minorities inserted into the peace treaties.
While president, Marshall is credited with making the AJC a leading voice in the 1920s against immigration restriction. Additionally, he succeeded in stopping Henry Ford from publishing antisemitic literature and distributing it through his car dealerships and forced Ford to apologize publicly.
AJC advocated finding places of refuge for Jewish refugees from Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, but had little success. After World War II broke out in 1939, AJC stressed that the war was for democracy and discouraged emphasis on Hitler's anti-Jewish policies lest a backlash identify it as a "Jewish war" and increase antisemitism in the U.S. When the war ended 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.
AJC took the position that prejudice was indivisible, and that the rights of Jews in the United States could be best protected by arguing in favor of the equality of all Americans. AJC supported social science research into the causes of and cures for prejudice, and forged alliances with other ethnic, racial and religious groups. The organization's research was cited in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed segregated schools.
In 1950 AJC President Jacob Blaustein reached an agreement with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion stating that the political allegiance of American Jews was solely to their country of residence. By the Six-Day War of 1967 AJC had become a passionate defender of the Jewish state, shedding old inhibitions to espouse the centrality of Jewish peoplehood.
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 American Jewish Committee, along with the Synagogue Council of America, and the American Ethical Union each submitted briefs in Engel v. Vitale urging the US Supreme Court to rule that the public school prayer was unconstitutional.
Before the Six-Day War in 1967, AJC was officially "non-Zionist". It had long been ambivalent about Zionism as possibly opening up Jews to the charge of dual loyalty, but it supported the creation of Israel in 1947–48, after the United States backed the partition of Palestine. It was the first American Jewish organization to open a permanent office in Israel.
In the 1970s AJC spearheaded the fight to pass anti-boycott legislation to counter the Arab League boycott of Israel. In particular, Japan's defection from the boycott was attributed to AJC persuasion. In 1975 AJC became the first Jewish organization to campaign against the UN's "Zionism is Racism" Resolution 3379, when briefly integrated to President's Conference in order to join the touristic boycott against Mexico, after the World Conference on Women, 1975, the event in which Arab countries, the Soviet bloc, and Non-Aligned Movement countries impulsed the initial discussion that resulted in Resolution 3379. Along with other American Jewish organizations, AJC announced the suspension of all their trips to Mexico as an expression of "the wish of some Jews and Jewish organizations to boycott Mexico". They did this is spite of their anti-boycott tradition. Finally, the campaign against Resolution 3379 succeeded in 1991, as it was revoked through Resolution 4686. AJC played a leading role in breaking Israel's diplomatic isolation at the UN by helping it gain acceptance in WEOG (West Europe and Others), one of the UN's five regional groups.
AJC was active in the campaign to gain emigration rights for Jews living in the Soviet Union; in 1964 it was one of the founders of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, which in 1971 was superseded by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
AJC created Present Tense, a magazine of Jewish Affairs edited by Murray Polner, in 1973.
Founded in 1982, Project Interchange runs seminars in Israel for influential Americans.
In December 1987, AJC's Washington representative, David Harris, organized the Freedom Sunday Rally on behalf of Soviet Jewry. Approximately 250,000 people attended the D.C. rally, which demanded that the Soviet government allow Jewish emigration from the USSR. In 1990, David Harris become executive director. Under his leadership, AJC became increasingly involved in international affairs. Regular meetings with foreign diplomats both in the United States and in their home countries were supplemented each September by what came to be called a “diplomatic marathon,” a series of meetings with high-level representatives of foreign countries who were in New York for the UN General Assembly session. The AJC annual meeting was also moved from New York to Washington, D.C., so that more government officials and foreign diplomats might participate.
In 1998 AJC established a full-time presence in Germany—the first American Jewish organization to do so—opening an office in Berlin.
In 1999 AJC ran an ad campaign in support of the NATO's intervention in Kosovo.
In 2000, AJC helped establish the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, the largest Jewish film festival in the world.
In 2001 AJC became official partners with the Geneva-based UN Watch.
AJC opened in Brussels the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels in 2004, which according to its mission statement works to promote "transatlantic cooperation for global security, Middle East Peace and human rights." That same year, it opened a Russian Affairs Division to identify and train new leaders in American Jewish public advocacy. Other offices were opened in Paris, Rome, Mumbai, and São Paulo.
In 2005, as part of its continuing efforts to respond to humanitarian crises, the organization contributed US$2.5 million to relief funds and reconstruction projects for the victims of the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the US.
In May 2006, nearly 2,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee. President George W. Bush, U.N. Security-General Kofi Annan, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a reception to honor the committee. These individuals gave credit to the American Jewish Committee for protecting Jewish Security and human rights around the world.
In 2007, Commentary, a magazine published by AJC that focused on political and cultural commentary and analysis of politics and society in the U.S. and the Middle East, separated from AJC and became its own organization. In 2008, AJC stopped publishing the American Jewish Year Book, a highly detailed annual account of the Jewish life in the U.S., Israel and the world.
AJC became increasingly involved in the advocacy of energy independence for the U.S. on the grounds that this would reduce dependence on foreign, especially Arab, oil; boost the American economy; and improve the environment. AJC urged Congress and several presidential administrations to take action toward this goal, and called upon the private sector to be more energy-conscious. It adopted "Green" policies for itself institutionally, and in 2011 earned LEED certification, denoting that its New York headquarters was energy efficient and environmentally sound.
As part of a new strategic plan adopted in 2009, AJC said it envisioned itself as the "Global Center for Jewish and Israel Advocacy" and the "Central 'Jewish Address' for Intergroup Relations and Human Rights." Its new tagline was "Global Jewish Advocacy."
In 2010, AJC renamed their annual conference "Global Forum".
AJC diplomatic efforts since 2010 include opposition to Iran's program to attain nuclear capability; a campaign to get the European Union to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization; preserving the right of Jews to practice circumcision in Germany; and urging the government of Greece to take action against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
Along with other agencies such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Union for Reform Judaism, the AJC condemned a move in mid-2014 by the U.S. Presbyterian Church to divest from companies that do business with Israel settlements. An AJC statement asserted that the divestment is just one incident of the U.S. church group "demonizing Israel", referring to "one-sided reports and study guides, such as 'Zionism Unsettled'" as proof of anti-Zionist sentiments.
In 2016, the AJC and Islamic Society of North America formed the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council to address rising bigotry against Jews and Muslims in the United States.
On 22 February 2019, AJC condemned the Otzma Yehudit party, calling its views "reprehensible." The AJC statement said Otzma Yehudit's views "do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel." The AJC statement came after the Bayit Yehudi party merged with Otzma Yehudit and the new joint slate appeared likely to win enough votes to earn seats in the next Knesset as well as ministerial roles for some of its members. No members of Otzma Yehudit were elected.
In January 2020, AJC and the Muslim World League, a Mecca-based non-governmental organization, led a historic joint delegation of Muslims and Jews to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi German death and concentration camp. The trip was the most senior Islamic delegation to ever visit Auschwitz. As a part of the visit, David Harris and Dr. Al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, published a joint opinion editorial in the Chicago Tribune on how Auschwitz united Muslims and Jews.
In early 2022, AJC released its fourth annual State of Antisemitism in America report and later that year the organization announced its "Call to Action on Antisemitism" playbook. After a string of high-profile antisemitic incidents, including comments made by Kanye West, the organization participated in a White House round-table on antisemitism with First Gentleman Doug Emhoff.
David Harris announced in 2021 that he would soon retire and did so in 2022 after more than 30 years at the organization. He was replaced by former South Florida congressman Ted Deutch, who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives to take the job.
On February 10, 2023, CEO Ted Deutch joined Emhoff, UN Undersecretary General Melissa Fleming, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt on a panel about antisemitism.
AJC "worked to contain nativist sentiment in America rather than work to open America's doors to refugees" during the Holocaust. For fear of provoking an increase in antisemitic sentiment, the AJC opposed public activism. They have been widely criticized for their inaction during the Holocaust; historian and AJC National Director of Jewish Communal Affairs Steven Bayme said AJC leaders "never understood the uniqueness of Nazism and its 'war against the Jews'".[page needed] This cautious approach changed after the war, when AJC began openly lobbying for a new immigration law allowing entrance to the United States for displaced persons from Europe. This law also led to Nazi collaborators entering the United States, though it remains unclear whether a more restrictive policy would have avoided this outcome.
The Rosenberg case severely alarmed the AJC, alongside other Jewish organizations. The AJC supported the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. During the Second Red Scare, the AJC sent a representative to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, emphasizing that "Judaism and Communism are utterly incompatible." The AJC cooperated with HUAC by sharing their files with the committee. The organization also employed a staff member to investigate alleged Communist infiltration among the Jewish community. In 1950, AJC chairman of the executive committee Irving M. Engel said that "loyalty to the fundamental basis of Judaism requires all Jews to stand with the vanguard in the struggle against totalitarianism. Our attitude as Americans...should be positive and vigorous against communism. Let all of us lead the attack against this common foe of America." Writing from Sing Sing, Julius Rosenberg charged that "self-appointed leaders of Jewish organizations" were behaving like an "American Judenrat", accusing the AJC's Solomon Andhil Fineberg of spreading a false rumor that the Rosenbergs believed they were being prosecuted because they were Jewish.
During the 1970s, the AJC was a vocal opponent of affirmative action for African-Americans and other people of color. The AJC celebrated the landmark 1978 Supreme Court's decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke to strike down racial quotas in university admissions as a vindication of their view that racial quotas were unconstitutional. By 2003, the organization's opposition to affirmative action had tempered. The AJC's director of public policy Jeffrey Sinesky said that "It's the quota concept that's anathema" after the organization submitted a brief in defense of the University of Michigan's affirmative action program.
See also: New antisemitism
A 2007 essay, "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" by Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld, published on the AJC website, 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 these writers of participating in an "onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State," which he considered a veiled form of supporting a rise in antisemitism.
In an editorial, the Jewish newspaper The Forward called Rosenfeld's essay "a shocking tissue of slander" whose intent was to "turn Jews against liberalism and silence critics." 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 ... the most powerful of all post-Holocaust condemnations—anti-Semite—is diluted beyond recognition."
The essay was also criticized by Rabbi Michael Lerner and in op-eds in The Guardian and The Boston Globe.
In a Jerusalem Post op-ed, AJC Executive Director David Harris explained why the organization published Rosenfeld's essay in 2007:
In October 2011 AJC issued a joint statement with the Anti-Defamation League urging American Jews to support a Joint Unity Pledge stating: "America's friendship with Israel is an emotional, moral and strategic bond that has always transcended politics." It urged that "now is the time to reaffirm that Israel's well-being is best served, as it always has been, by American voices raised together in unshakeable support for our friend and ally."
The statement aroused a storm of protest from Jewish opponents of President Obama's re-election, who perceived it as a call to avoid criticizing the president's policies toward Israel. In the pages of The Wall Street Journal, former Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith asked: "Since when have American supporters of Israel believed that a candidate's attitudes toward Israel should be kept out of electoral politics? Since never." David Harris responded that the statement was intended to preserve the tradition of bipartisan support for Israel and prevent it from becoming "a dangerous political football." While Harris recognized the right of anyone in the Jewish community to take a partisan position, he stressed the need for "strong advocacy in both parties" at a time of looming international difficulties for the Jewish state.
Ford agreed to release a formal apology, ... cash settlement
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