June 12, 2020
On the day AJC CEO David Harris had expected to fly to Berlin to host a historic AJC Global Forum 2020, he joined People of the Pod host Seffi Kogen instead to discuss how AJC will offer the same top-notch programming, while leaving the beer and pretzels to viewers at home.
For the first time in AJC history, a Virtual Global Forum will take place June 14-18, the same week AJC anticipated meeting in Berlin. But the order of business hasn’t changed. Marking the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the program launching Sunday will highlight generations forever changed by the Holocaust, the journey of reconciliation with Germany, and the pathway for Muslims and Jews to also reconcile their differences and counter injustice together.
On day one of the five-day line-up, AJC members will share why the horrors their families endured in Germany more than 75 years ago inspire them to seek a better future. Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, who had impressed upon her cabinet the significance of hosting such a large-scale Jewish advocacy event in postwar Germany, will address the audience. Read AJC’s article about Chancellor Merkel’s impact on Germany’s efforts to combat antisemitism and strengthen ties with Israel.
Following Merkel, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League, will share his takeaways from his history-making January visit to Auschwitz with AJC. Al-Issa assembled a senior Muslim delegation for an unprecedented tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp with an AJC delegation led by Harris.
It is by design, Harris said, that Holocaust survivors and their families precede the leaders of Germany and the Muslim World League.
“This was the greatest challenge of the 20th century for the Jewish people – how to grapple with the aftermath of the Holocaust and how to deal with Germany starting in 1945,” Harris told Kogen. “AJC was a leader. We were alone in seeing this as the ultimate challenge and a lot has been achieved. What’s our 21st century challenge? It is to write a new chapter in relations between Jews and Muslims.”
Harris offered previews of conversations with two other world leaders during the five-day event that further show how history moves in unexpected directions. Alternative Prime Minister and Secretary of Defense Benjamin (Benny) Gantz will make his first major appearance before an American audience since Israel formed its latest government. Gantz will field questions about U.S.-Israel relations, prospects for peace in the Middle East, how to deal with Iran, and Israel’s relations with the Sunni Arab world.
The AJC Virtual Global Forum also will feature a conversation about Greece, Israel, and the Eastern Mediterranean with Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis. At the AJC Global Forum 2018 in Jerusalem, Mitsotakis accepted an AJC award honoring his late father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, the first Greek prime minister to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.
Of course, no Global Forum is complete without a Great Debate. The spirited tussle between two experts on opposite sides of an issue has become a hallmark of Global Forum. The AJC Virtual Global Forum will feature not just one, but three.
Top representatives from the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and President Trump will debate foreign policy and national security. Two senior Israeli figures will exchange views on the future of the West Bank, highlighted in the U.S. Peace Plan. And two top legal scholars will go face off over limitations on free speech to counter hate speech.
Harris said the Great Debate is “AJC at its best,” a reminder that no one has all the answers and few answers are simple.
“We live in a world which is increasingly siloed, intellectually politically siloed. People don’t go and look for debates. People go and look for reinforcement of their own ideas,” he said. “They choose their TV channels, they choose their websites, they choose their newspapers based on their desire to find security and comfort in that space – whatever their viewpoint is.”
“We’re not going in that direction,” he continued. “There are a lot of complex issues out there that don’t have simple answers. You may think they do, but, in reality, they don’t.”
In fact, all the AJC Virtual Global Forum programming will cover the gamut of complex global issues facing Israel, the Jewish people, and the world.
“We’ve got something for everyone,” Harris said. “I hope people will tune in.”