Conference happenings

AJC forms new task force to help White House implement antisemitism strategy

At organization’s Global Forum in Tel Aviv, Israeli leaders discuss country’s future and relationship with U.S. and world Jewry

The American Jewish Committee will form a new task force to monitor and assist the White House as it implements its recently released national strategy to combat antisemitism, AJC CEO Ted Deutch announced on Monday.

Speaking onstage at the AJC Global Forum in Tel Aviv, Deutch said the organization planned to draw on the “experts and the incredible talent we have in our 25 regional offices around the United States of America to ensure that every one of the items in the national action plan is followed through on [and] to make sure that the timelines in the national action plan are carried out.”

Last month, the White House released its long-awaited U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, made up of more than 100 concrete policy proposals, from increasing “learning opportunities in rural libraries and museums” about Jewish American history to organizing workshops in the Department of Homeland Security on countering antisemitism and better assisting Jewish communities. 

“Our task force will ensure that when we return to Global Forum next year, we will be able to celebrate the implementation, not just the existence of the national action plan, but the very concrete actions that will be taken by the federal government, by state and local governments, by our staff around the country who will work with businesses and nonprofits, with sports leagues and cultural institutions, who will work with nonprofits, our intergroup partners, our interfaith partners, all to ensure that the White House action plan becomes a reality in ways that will keep the Jewish community safe, secure and strong,” Deutch said.

Deutch also hailed his organization for developing many of the aspects of the White House’s plan with its “Call to Action” last year.

AJC did not immediately provide additional details about the task force, namely who would lead and serve on it.

Deutch made the announcement as part of AJC’s Global Forum, which launched on Sunday with some 1,500 people in attendance. The conference has featured speeches and onstage interviews with top Israeli leaders, including a short video address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he thanked AJC for its efforts on behalf of Israel. Leaders from around the world also participated in the conference, including the prime minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Šimonyt?, who flew in for the event, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, who sent a video message.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog stressed the need for dialogue and understanding between Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora. “I believe part of the problem is a lack of understanding of what Israel is all about,” Herzog said, offering his initiative – Kol Ha’am — Voice of the People – which he launched in April as a possible solution.

Referring to Israel’s domestic situation, Herzog said he hoped that the country’s elected officials would reach a compromise on the judicial reforms. “These are critical days and I sincerely hope that the leaders and the elected officials will take the right decisions, because the people of Israel want a wide agreement, a consensus on the core issues without, of course, hurting the basic rules of democracy and the independence of the judiciary,” Herzog said.

In his onstage interview with Deutch, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid stressed the need for Israel to remain a democracy, in light of what he described as efforts by the current government to weaken the country’s democratic norms with its proposed judicial overhaul. “If we will not be a democracy, we will not be. It’s existential,” Lapid said. “Israel was founded as a democracy. This is the source of our power.”

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, who is primarily focused on the relationship with the U.S. and Israel’s efforts against Iran, was not asked about the current state of Israel’s domestic politics. However, while he denied that Israel no longer had the same democratic values as the United States, Dermer said that Israel had made itself indispensable in realpolitik terms.

“Israel is the most important partner for the United States,” Dermer told Deutch. “The attack against Israel [that you heard] for many, many decades was that to support Israel was against American interests. Now you don’t hear that attack anymore. Now the attack that you hear is that we no longer share values, which is also not true. But it’s a totally different argument because states actually move together based on their interests in the long term.”

“I wish we were in a world where it was values that determine relationships between states because Israel would be the world’s superpower,” Dermer continued. “But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world driven by interests. And the new story about Israel is that Israel matters. We matter to the United States and we matter to Europe and we matter to Asia and we matter to Latin America because of the power of our technology, because of the power of our security and because partnerships with Israel are in the interest of those countries,” he said.

On Monday evening at the conference, AJC gave the inaugural David Harris Award to seven international antisemitism envoys: Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, from the U.S.; Katharina von Schnurbein, from the European Commission; Felix Klein, from Germany; Lord John Mann, from the United Kingdom; Eddo Verdoner, from The Netherlands; Fernando Lottenberg, from the Organization of American States; and Rabbi Andrew Baker, from AJC.

David Harris, the longtime CEO of AJC who retired last year and presented the award on Monday, said that while antisemitism is “bad news, it’s good news to know that there are people who represent powerful institutions and governments who are ready to wage the fight alongside AJC and others, who have the courage the will the determination to say never again.”