October 8, 2020 — New York
More than 1,500 political leaders, members of Congress, diplomats, interethnic and interfaith partners, American Jewish Committee supporters, Jewish representatives from numerous countries, and many others came together virtually to honor AJC CEO David Harris for 30 years at the helm of the leading global Jewish advocacy organization.
“David’s passion, his vision, his courage, and, yes, his audacious ambition, have been and continue to be hallmarks of his career,” said AJC President Harriet Schleifer, who opened the hour-long program, “Audacious Ambition: Honoring David Harris for 30 Years of Reimagining Global Jewish Advocacy.”
Noting that the late Israeli President Shimon Peres had described Harris as “the foreign minister of the Jewish people,” Schleifer said, “David has been and is a forward-looking, results-oriented, tenacious advocate for world Jewry, for the state of Israel, for democratic values.”
“All of those who care about the Jewish future should stand with us tonight in paying tribute to David Harris,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “You have offered delicate assistance with various Arab and Muslim countries before it was fashionable and before it became known how much those connections were being woven.”
AJC has been and continues to be “a very helpful diplomatic partner to the state of Israel, helping to open doors when others could not,” added Netanyahu. He praised Harris for “AJC’s worldwide footprint. You took Jewish advocacy and made it truly a global affair.”
Since 1990, AJC, with headquarters in New York City, has expanded to 24 regional offices across the United States, 12 posts around the world, and 37 partnerships with international Jewish community organizations. AJC maintains relations with more than 110 governments around the world.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has engaged AJC since 2011, saluted Harris and AJC for partnering in combatting antisemitism, Holocaust remembrance and building support for Israel. “Our conversations and friendship have helped me understand Israel, its policies, and its people more than ever before,” said Kurz.
Recalling his historic declaration at the AJC 2018 Global Forum in Jerusalem that “Israel and its security is a matter of Staatsraison (national interest) for modern Austria,” Kurz said that decisive step was “motivated by many of my conversations with David Harris.”
Antonis Samaras, who served as prime minister of Greece, 2012-2015, and has worked closely with AJC since he served as foreign minister in 1990, praised Harris for encouraging Greece-Israel relations. “David Harris was always a protagonist. He believed in our [Greece and Israel] common futures,” said Samaras. “David is a formidable bridge builder, generating mutual trust and incentives for common perspectives. His honesty, his personal approach, his resilience, and his relentless ingenuity are captivating.”
“You have made it a habit to be on the right side of history,” said Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who praised Harris for steering the evolution of AJC’s strong and productive cooperation with Cyprus and advancing Cypriot ties with Israel and the United States. “You have successfully promoted a vision of cooperation and integration among many of the states of the Eastern Mediterranean, a vision that has become reality,” with the East Med Act and Abraham Accords the latest examples.
And Bulgaria Prime Minister Boyko Borissov saluted Harris for “recognizing the exceptional role of the Bulgarian people in the rescue of Bulgarian Jews against the horrific backdrop of WWII, as well as promoting the excellent relations between Bulgaria and Israel and the United States.”
Several members of Congress, addressing the Audacious Ambition event, reflected on the extensive bipartisan relationships that AJC, under Harris’s leadership, has nurtured over the past three decades.
“You have rightfully secured your place in history as one of the preeminent champions for the Jewish people and democratic values in the United States and throughout the world,” said Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), who is Chair of the Appropriations Committee and has served 32 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I have seen up close, working in partnership with you, the real impact you have had over the last three decades, from denouncing antisemitism, to promoting peace in the Middle East, to advocating for justice here in the United States, your tireless efforts have provided direction and guidance to millions of people working to advance these goals.”
Reflecting on when he first met Harris 40 years ago, before traveling to Moscow and Leningrad to advocate for Soviet Jews, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), said, “From the start, I was inspired by his extraordinary depth of knowledge, his commitment to the cause, his confidence in the strategy. He knew how our Soviet interlocutors would respond and help prepare the Congressional delegation to more effectively advocate for the refuseniks”
“When it comes to wisdom, David Harris has few equals in the world,” Smith continued. “David has pursued justice and peace and an end to antisemitism in all its ugly manifestations.”
Natan Sharansky, renowned Soviet prisoner of conscience and former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, lauded Harris for his leadership in the Soviet Jewry movement and ongoing global fight against antisemitism.
“David Harris really proved that he is the one who knows the politics of the Jewish world, who understands how to do such things, how to make them successful,” said Sharansky, referring to the December 1987 protest for Soviet Jewry, which brought 250,000 Jews to Washington, D.C., the largest Jewish rally in U.S. history. “It was not by accident that David Harris was appointed to be the director general” of that demonstration, added Sharansky, who was released from detention in the Soviet Union in 1986. “On the battlefield against modern antisemitism, there was no better partner than the one who understands or the one who explains or the one who influences than David Harris.”
Audacious Ambition: Honoring David Harris for 30 Years of Reimagining Global Jewish Advocacy is “the single most successful event in AJC’s 114-year history,” said AJC President Harriet Schleifer.