May 9, 2019
When 2019 AJC Global Forum kicks off in Washington D.C. on June 2, there will be newcomers and regulars, spanning generations, areas of interest, and priorities. Meet five very different participants who keep coming back because of the impact it makes.
An Unprecedented Moment in Washington
There are so many forces seeking to create division in Washington. AJC—with a non-partisan and universal approach—can be a force for unity and a model of cooperation on Capitol Hill,” says Julie Rayman, AJC Director of Political Outreach. She says the 2019 AJC Global Forum could be a watershed moment for AJC.
“Our focus on American politics and policy is particularly timely – this year’s Global Forum couldn’t be better timed.” Attendees will become advocates on Capitol Hill, urging Congress to act on antisemitism, the threat of white supremacists, and in support of Israel.
“This is a unique moment in time for people to engage with political figures – so much is on the line,” said Rayman.
Supporting Jewish Communities Around the World
Compared to other Jewish conferences, AJC does a good job of highlighting Jewish life in other countries, says Madison Jackson, 21, of Cleveland.
“My summer spent at an international Jewish summer camp was my first time meeting Jews my own age from other countries and realizing this diaspora is so much larger than the community I grew up with,” she said. “AJC allowed me to build upon the relationships I made at the summer camp and meet more people from around the world, firsthand."
Jackson, who graduates later this month from SUNY-Binghamton, has since interned with AJC Central Europe in Warsaw. She has traveled to Krakow, Venice, Vienna, Berlin, Barcelona, Prague, Gdansk, and three Global Forums—soon to be four.
“A lot of our Jewish customs and traditions and heritage come from Europe,” she said. “In order to keep that Jewish culture and history alive, it’s important that we … support Jews living in those countries today.”
Translating Jewish Values into Action
Genesia Perlmutter Kamen has always given her daughters the freedom to choose their paths in life. But she also has tried to teach them Jewish values.
“As time has gone on, knowing I can’t control too much about them, what they do, and where they live, and who they date, I have tried to make sure they have a Jewish identity,” she said. “I’ve really tried to emphasize to them that they’re part of a religion that has values that reflect their own.”
AJC has always been an effective vehicle to translate those values into action.
Shortly before her older daughter graduated from high school in New Jersey, Kamen took her to her first Global Forum in Washington D.C. The opening program featured a conversation between former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and AJC CEO David Harris. That milestone was followed by a dinner at the Australian ambassador’s residence.
“That was a big moment for her,” Kamen recalled. She saw the importance of people standing up together and advocating for Jews, Israel and human rights.
Ever since, her daughter has followed a path related to public policy, majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton and then working for a healthcare consultant on Medicare policy, and she will now start graduate school at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in the fall.
Kamen believes Global Forum likely sparked her daughter's budding interest in policy making that will shape her future.
Great Debates Challenge Opinions
For John Shapiro, there is no debate about whether to go to Global Forum 2019. As AJC president, he jokes that he has no choice.
But even if that weren’t the case, Shapiro never wants to miss the Great Debate – the spirited tussle between two experts on opposite sides of an issue that has become a hallmark of Global Forum.
This year, Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, will face off against Michael Anton, a former advisor for the Trump Administration. The two political and intellectual rivals will spar over whether U.S. global leadership is in decline.
Shapiro said the event is always the most intellectually stimulating moment of the conference and contributes to the remarkable balance and nuance that AJC seeks to maintain.
“We are a non-partisan organization that believes in alliances, an organization that believes in Israel and the two-state solution,” Shapiro said. “Today, we exist in a world of disruption rather than cooperation, making our role more important than ever. As we meet with world leaders, they respect our voice of moderation.”
“This is not an event you attend to applaud views you share or dismiss contrary positions,” Shapiro added. “You come here because you want to have a serious understanding of the issues and know that you are hearing from world class experts.”
Advocacy on a Global Level
For AJC’s Chief Advocacy Officer Dan Elbaum, Global Forum is more than an opportunity to interact with politicians on both sides of the aisle: it's a chance to conduct diplomacy at the highest level.
Every year, Global Forum participants dine with foreign ministers and ambassadors at their residences during a series of concurrent dinners. Over the past nine years of attending Global Forum, Elbaum has dined with ambassadors from Cyprus, Portugal, Morocco, and France.
“You are going to have a chance to meet with an ambassador in a relatively small room and express views on a particular subject that may be conveyed to his or her foreign ministry,” Elbaum said. “What other opportunities do most of us get to engage in statecraft?”
Elbaum knows a nation’s foreign policy is unlikely to shift over one meal—after all, that’s not how diplomacy works. But the dinners do make a difference. Many times, conversations between ambassadors and Global Forum participants serve as vital stepping stones in building or strengthening long-term relationships.
“At AJC, it’s never just a one off,” Elbaum said. “What happened at that meeting with the foreign minister or ambassador of Cyprus is going to be followed up on. You’re part of a continuum that not only spans the globe – it really spans our history.”