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Wednesday, May 2, 2012: Global Forum Recap

A standing-room-only audience of 1200 sat at rapt attention last evening as the AJC Global Forum 2012 kicked off in dramatic fashion.

Screen images and the words of two talented actors recreated the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, a landmark of the American civil rights movement, from the perspective of AJC personalities who participated in the historic event. These were Marvlous Harrison, a black woman from the South who worked in AJC's New York headquarters, and Brant Coopersmith, director of the organization's office in Washington, D.C. Both were part of a large AJC contingent that flew down for the march. Their recorded recollections, relayed by the actors, made palpable the atmosphere of racism that pervaded the South at the time, the demonstrators' fears for their lives, and the pride that Harrison and Coopersmith felt in AJC's heroic stand for equality. The presentation, titled "Foot Soldiers for Justice," ended on an emotional note—a video interview with Marvlous Harrison, recorded shortly before her death earlier this year.

So powerful was the impact that the next speaker, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, in conversation with AJC Executive Director David Harris, declared how proud he was, as a Jew and an Israeli, to learn the lengths to which AJC goes to fight for democracy and human rights for all people.

Mr. Harris proceeded to question Ambassador Prosor about his assigned topic, the vexed relationship between Israel and the UN. The ambassador half-jokingly noted that Israel was the victim not of a double, but a triple standard: one for democracies, another for dictatorships, and a third for Israel alone. Yet the ambassador pointed out that the picture was not entirely hopeless. For one thing, UN involvement enables Israel to participate in projects that help people around the world. Also, he noted, many of the same countries that publicly castigate Israel because they feel compelled to ingratiate themselves with the Arab world maintain excellent bilateral relations with Israel "under the radar."

Ambassador Prosor was fulsome in his praise of AJC for its role in heading off the Palestinian push for unilateral statehood. He emphasized that AJC was unique in standing by Israel not only in moments of crisis, but day in and day out.

Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, the foreign minister of Brazil, was David Harris's next conversation partner. The minister spoke of his country's success in stimulating economic growth while reducing income inequality, protecting the environment and maintaining a true multicultural democracy. The dialogue grew a bit strained, however, when Mr. Harris pressed the foreign minister about his country's support for unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN and Brazilian relations with Iran and Venezuela, countries with seriously flawed human-rights records and, in the Iranian case, an aggressive nuclear program. Ambassador Patriota said Brazil took the Palestinian side at the UN to "strengthen a little bit the weaker party," as Israel was backed by the powerful U.S. As for Iran and Venezuela, he did not think it was useful to condemn specific countries, preferring engagement to confrontation.

The evening ended with an announcement that tomorrow's Wall Street Journal—to be distributed to all Global Forum participants—would have a full-page AJC ad reminding the world of the mass killings that Iran has committed without the benefit of nuclear-weapons capacity, and warning what it might do once it has that capacity.