Jason Isaacson's acceptance remarks for Medal of Arts and Letters

Medaille des Arts et des Lettres
Acceptance Remarks of Jason Isaacson
Consulate-General of France
Saturday, March 3, 2007
New York

Monsieur le Ministre,

Merci, pour ces mots, merci pour cette marque de reconnaissance du gouvernement Français, et pour l'honneur que vous me faites de me remettre cette medaille en personne.

Please permit me to proceed in English.

Thank you for your kind words, for this token of recognition on the part of the French government, and for conferring on me the great honor of presenting this medal to me in person.

As director of Government and International Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, I am privileged to have the responsibility of establishing and nurturing relationships with a large - and growing, I am glad to report - network of governments and international institutions. But my relationship with France has always been a special one, both on the personal and the professional level. As you may know, my father, Albert Isaacson, who is with us tonight, was among American troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944, to help France defeat the barbarity of Nazi Germany. His personal story has in many ways shaped my relationship with France and the French people.

Over the years, the American Jewish Committee, and its representative in Paris, Valérie Hoffenberg, whom I also want to thank for her remarkable dedication and effectiveness, have had the good fortune to work closely with the French government, and particularly with you, Mister Minister.

The efforts we have undertaken with you, Minister, have been of great significance, and they have been deeply rewarding. As should be the case among demanding and trusting partners, the accomplishments of our joint efforts have required frankness, diligence and courage, and I would like to applaud you for the courage that you have displayed and the role that you have played personally in bringing the United States and France closer together.

I recognize that your relationship with the Jewish people is a special one, too. I remember sitting in your office in Paris one day and noticing a picture, and I recall your telling me that it was a picture of your father, who had been the French judge at the Nuremberg trials.

We have met on many occasions, in Paris and in New York, to discuss and advance the values of pluralism and tolerance for which you and your government, and our organization, proudly stand. Monsieur le Ministre, you have always considered the issues we have presented to you with fairness and thoughtfulness. What we have achieved together - I am thinking in particular of your leadership in combatting hate speech in the media, and in the ban against the Hezbollah satellite television station Al Manar - has been made possible by your personal commitment to the ideals of justice and tolerance. I look forward to continuing to work together with you, on these and other causes, for many years to come.

I also wish to thank Paul Rechter, who has become a close friend and is a valued friend of AJC. Paul: AJC is grateful for the many contributions you have made to our organization and our community, and to the causes and the values we share - in particular, the cause of friendship and alliance between France and the United States.

The partnership AJC has formed with the French government to bring to the United States the exhibition “Les Justes” gives us a unique opporutnity to show Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, a more balanced and honest image of French history - and French bravery - during World War II. AJC is committed to display to a wider audience the collective and individual heroic stories told by this exhibition. We are honored by this act of confidence and this shared commitment on the part of the French government, which is so appropriately represented by you, Monsieur le Ministre.

I must end on a personal note. The medal presented this evening has great meaning for me - because of the vital bilateral relationship it celebrates; and because it is being presented in the company of the leaders of AJC - in particular Bob Goodkind, our President; my esteemed and visionary colleague David Harris, our Executive Director and Francophile-in-Chief; our Officers Shrub Kempner and Dottie Bennett; and our Associate Executive Director Shula Bahat - and in the company of Ambassador Levitte and Consul-General Delattre, who are distinguished friends and partners of AJC, and tirelessly work to advance the Franco-American alliance.

But this medal has deeper meaning for me because it connotes achievement specifically in “arts and letters” - and as the son of Leatrice Isaacson, who inspired and encouraged and infused in me a love of language from my infancy, and as the husband of Holly Hexter, who has made our home a place of art and music and literature, and as the father of Sarah, whose love of theater and words is thrilling and, as a proud parent, deeply satisfying, and of Adam, whose own dedication to “arts and letters,” in the form of participation in a high school debate tournament in Georgia, kept him away from this evening's events, no honor from any government could possibly mean more.

Monsieur le Ministre, I thank you for this great and quite personal honor.

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