November 20, 2013 -- New York -- On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, AJC Executive Director David Harris issued the following statement:
AJC recalls with profound sadness the tragic day, November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The violent death of this young, vigorous president, whose eloquent words and ground-breaking policy initiatives inspired the American people to renew our nation’s greatness at home and abroad, dealt America a grievous blow that in some respects has still not been fully overcome. No one old enough to recall that fatal day will ever forget it. How could we?
As a nonpartisan organization, AJC took no position in the 1960 presidential election. Nevertheless, it strongly denounced expressions of anti-Catholic bigotry aimed against Mr. Kennedy. Years later, his son, John F. Kennedy, Jr., recalled that AJC “was one of the first to come forward and support the right of his candidacy, and it made a great deal of difference in changing sentiments.”
By demonstrating that a Catholic could be elected to our nation’s highest office, a first in our nation’s history, President Kennedy opened the door for members of other communities to be realistically considered for the presidency. In that sense, he made a mighty contribution to American democracy.
In 1961, President Kennedy publicly praised AJC, saying, “For decades, the American Jewish Committee has provided outstanding leadership in implementing our great American ideal of equal rights and opportunity for all regardless of religion or place of birth or race or color. I am glad to associate myself with you in the achievement of an America where every citizen and resident of this land is free to pursue those goals which his talents and capacity permit, unhindered by artificial barriers of ignorance or prejudice.”
Of great importance, President Kennedy ended the U.S. embargo on arms for Israel, in place since 1948, by initiating the sale of anti-aircraft weapons to the Jewish state. AJC met with the president in the White House about this issue, and on another occasion met with him to discuss, among other matters, Arab League discrimination against American Jews.