NEW YORK, Nov. 10, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Exactly 110 years ago tomorrow, on November 11, 1906, 31 individuals, including such noted American Jews as Cyrus Adler, Louis Marshall, Jacob Schiff, and Mayer Sulzberger, gathered at the Hotel Savoy in New York, following six previous exploratory meetings earlier that year. They officially formed the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
"The purpose of this Committee," they declared, "is to prevent the infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews, and to alleviate the consequences of persecution."
Among their first acts were to provide assistance to Jewish institutions in San Francisco damaged by the earthquake that year; to advocate—successfully—for the abrogation of the Russo-American Treaty of Commerce and Navigation because of Russia's mistreatment of Jews; to support the creation of the Joint Distribution Committee in order to help Jews affected by the impact of the massive dislocation of the First World War; to oppose attempts to restrict the entry of immigrants to the United States; and, as noted by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his landmark speech to AJC's Global Forum in 1965, to advocate for the legal rights of African-Americans "when few dared to speak."
Over the span of the last 110 years, AJC has never wavered in its commitment to the two pillars of its mission – defending Jews wherever they may be at risk, and supporting the universal values of human dignity and human rights for all.
What has changed is the organization's structure. Originally intended to be a small committee of successful and influential Jews, largely of German background, AJC evolved into a national and, later, a global institution operating on six continents, which today has 22 offices across the country, ten overseas posts, and 33 international partnerships. Hundreds of thousands of people follow AJC on social media, and tens of thousands are deeply involved in the daily life of the organization as leaders, activists, and supporters.
"I believe our visionary founders would be proud of how AJC has stayed true to its original mission, while growing exponentially in size and reach," said AJC CEO David Harris, who has been in his post since 1990.
"They resolved that Jews should no longer be just students of history or prisoners of history, but rather help chart their own destiny through sophisticated advocacy, focused on key decision-makers and likeminded civic partners. In the ensuing years, the Jewish people have experienced both triumphs, especially the rebirth of Israel, the mainstreaming of American Jewry, and the expansion of democratic values, and tragedies, most notably the Holocaust, as well as persecution behind the Iron Curtain, the enduring resilience of anti-Semitism—especially in the Arab world and Europe—and the horrors of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Through it all, AJC persevered, and today is more vibrant and focused than ever."
AJC has been praised for its unique role in global advocacy and its many tangible achievements in diplomacy, public policy, intergroup relations, and human rights. For example, The New York Times described AJC as "the dean of American Jewish organizations." French President Nicolas Sarkozy called AJC "the most effective, influential, and respected of American Jewish organizations." The late Nobel laureate and Israeli President Shimon Peres referred to AJC as "the Foreign Ministry of the Jewish people." The United States Senate, in S. Res. 444, lauded AJC for "its century of leadership." The late John Cardinal O'Connor of New York stated that "No organization in New York, in the United States, or in the world has done more to advance Christian-Jewish relations than AJC." And the current U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said AJC is "the State Department of the Jewish people, a title so apt."
"Both opportunities and challenges abound for world Jewry," Harris added. "AJC's strengths include a well-developed global architecture; hard-earned credibility with American and international leaders; significant strides in strategic communications; a well-calibrated balance of quiet diplomacy and public advocacy; a non-ideological and nonpartisan spirit; a long-term, perseverant approach to mission goals; a world-class staff; and dedicated lay leaders, including an award-winning young leadership program. That's why I feel confident that we will continue to be up to the task of seizing the opportunities and confronting the challenges that lie ahead. Here's to our next 110 years!"
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SOURCE American Jewish Committee