March 15, 2021 — New York
France honored American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris today with one of the country’s most prestigious awards. The ceremony took place at the French Consulate in New York City.
French Ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Étienne promoted Harris to the rank of Officer within the order of the Legion of Honor on behalf of President Emmanuel Macron in recognition of his “unwavering commitment to strengthening ties between the United States and France, his deep friendship for France, as well as his extraordinary work to combat antisemitism and hate speech – an effort highly valued by France.”
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest order of merit. In September 2005, Harris was inducted into the French Legion of Honor at a dinner hosted by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs. Today’s ceremony elevated Harris from a Knight to Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
“No other country on this planet, other than the U.S. and Israel, has had more of a direct impact on my life than France,” said Harris. The son of Holocaust survivors, Harris recalled his family’s personal connection to France, where his late father and mother first met as refugees from Austria and the Soviet Union. “France, which offered my parents a new start before the war, has loomed large in my life, essentially from day one,” said Harris. “My father served in the French Foreign Legion before being imprisoned for three years in a French Vichy labor camp, my mother actively supported French war relief after arriving in America during the war, I grew up in a French-speaking home, and much of my family remained in France after the war.”
He also spoke of AJC’s longstanding engagement with the influential European nation over the past century. Since Harris became AJC CEO in 1990, those ties have expanded and deepened. AJC maintains two offices in France, AJC Paris and AJC Europe, which oversees the global advocacy organization’s seven posts across the continent.
Harris noted the direct link between AJC’s presence in France today to the 1950s and 1960s, when Georges Levitte served as an AJC representative in Paris, and whose son, Jean-David Levitte, was in recent years France’s ambassador to the UN and the U.S., and diplomatic advisor to the French president. Levitte, in written messages, called Harris a “a true friend of France” and the honor bestowed on him “a great moment of tribute to the key actor of the American Jewish community.”
“We at the American Jewish Committee shall continue to attach the highest priority to engaging with France and its leaders on many issues of mutual concern — often in agreement, sometimes in disagreement, always in friendship,” said Harris.
Etienne said that under Harris’s leadership AJC has become “one of the most influential” Jewish organizations in the world. “You have maintained a lively and open dialogue with the French government over the past decade and a half, with each of its successive administrations and ambassadors. And in recent years, you have always stood by my country when it was vulnerable, notably when it was the victim of terrorist attacks.”
Today’s honor, Etienne added, reaffirms France’s “gratitude because your commitment to the struggle against antisemitism, which the government of France considers a national priority as well, has not wavered.”
“You are a national and international treasure. France owes you a lot and I personally owe you a lot,” said François Delattre, Secretary General of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, who first met Harris in 2004, when he was Consul General of France in New York. He said Harris is a “real source of inspiration” for three reasons – never compromising on fighting antisemitism, standing up for Israel’s security, and defending democratic values.
French Consul General in New York Jérémie Robert hosted the event.