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|Formation||November 11, 1906|
|Type||Human rights, civil rights, pro-Israel, human relations|
|Legal status||501(c)(3) nonprofit organization|
|Headquarters||New York City|
|John M. Shapiro|
Director, AJC Israel
Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council
AJC Transatlantic Institute
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".
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 a friend-of-the-court brief in the May 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education and participating in other events in the Civil Rights Movement.
AJC's programs and departments include the Africa Institute, the Asia Pacific Institute, the Belfer Center for American Pluralism, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Contemporary Jewish Life, Government and International Affairs, the Harriet and Robert Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Affairs, Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, the Dorothy and Julius Koppelman Institute for American Jewish-Israeli Relations, the Latino and Latin American Institute, Project Interchange, the Lawrence and Lee Ramer institute for German-Jewish Relations, Russian Affairs, Thanks to Scandinavia, the Transatlantic Institute, and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.
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."
The organization was led in its early years 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. AJC did not want the American public to envision American Jewry as a foreign culture transplanted artificially to American shores. The committee saw itself as the natural "steward" of the community and took on the mission of educating the new arrivals in proper Americanism.
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 anti-Semitic 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 anti-Semitism 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.
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, a campaign that finally succeeded in 1991. 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.
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.
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 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. Then, in 2008, AJC stopped publishing the American Jewish Yearbook, 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.
AJC "worked to contain nativist sentiment in America rather than work to open America’s doors to refugees" during the Holocaust. They were criticized for their lack of reaction and silence 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."
An essay, "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" by 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 the 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."
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.
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