June 2, 2019
Seeking to eradicate the hateful and divisive rhetoric that has poisoned the nation’s political discourse and spawned acts of violence in houses of worship, AJC has called on Americans to join its Community of Conscience.
The initiative, which people are invited to join online, includes a declaration of nine principles aimed at rejecting bigotry and amplifying values that unite all Americans.
“We can’t go it alone. We mustn’t. None of us can. We must all stand together,” AJC CEO David Harris told an audience of nearly 2,500 gathered in Washington, D.C. for AJC Global Forum 2019, the advocacy organization’s signature annual event. “We must all stand together because of the inspiration and the strength and the support it gives to each of us.”
More than a dozen religious and community leaders joined AJC in unveiling the declaration of principles, including Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Roman Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.; Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, The Nation’s Mosque; Jay Kansara; Director of Government Relations for the Hindu-American Foundation; and Anne Golightly, Director of Public Affairs for the Greater Washington, D.C., Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The principles enumerated by the community leaders include equality, diversity, civility, peace, and love.
Watch an AJC Community of Conscience Highlight
Originally scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of two iconic civil rights speeches by King and President Harry Truman, the event featured rousing addresses by King’s daughter and Kurt Graham, director of the Truman Library. A thunderstorm kept the event indoors.
“We ask now that you would draw us closer to each other and allow for this event to be the catalyst for change we are desperately seeking in this country,” said the Rev. Eric Manning, senior pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston where a white supremacist gunned down nine African-American worshipers in 2015.
“Let this event be one that truly, truly sets us all on the same trajectory – a trajectory that reminds us that we are indeed together and that there is more that unites us than divides us,” he added.
Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers, the spiritual leader of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the site of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, also endorsed the initiative.
“The word ‘hate’ is a four-letter obscenity that must be discontinued from our discourse,” he said. “It is a severe emotionally laden word that can and does lead to violent acts.”
“The h-word is at the root of much that is wrong with our country and the path to repair begins with one easy step: just don’t use it,” he continued. “We must restore civil discourse to our nation. This is not a suggestion. It’s an imperative. We must overwhelm those who spew ‘H’ with more powerful four-letter words: hope, love, care.”
The Rev. Canon Leonard Hamlin of Washington National Cathedral said when AJC invited him to participate in the event, he didn’t have to think twice.
“Racism, anti-Semitism, questions of character are pervasive in normal everyday life,” he said. “We need much more conversation and cooperation with each other.”
Dan Elbaum, AJC’s Chief Advocacy Officer, said today’s circumstances are reminiscent of a darker era in the nation’s history. AJC, a bipartisan centrist organization, isn’t merely pointing the finger at those using hurtful rhetoric, but rather calling it out and trying to stop it before it goes too far.
“It’s important to affirm that the values and principles that unite us are stronger than those that divide us,” Elbaum said. “We aren’t interested in assessing political blame for how we got into this situation. We’re most interested in how we can move forward.”
Last fall, after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, AJC’s #ShowUpForShabbat campaign reached over 250 million people on social media alone and showcased AJC’s unique ability to work with political, civic, religious, and ethnic leaders of all backgrounds and persuasions to reject violence and hate.
“By convening the Community of Conscience, AJC has demonstrated its unique ability to bring together different religious and ethnic communities in an expression of unity and defiance,” Elbaum said. “We have played this role in other dark times in our nation’s history and we have both the relationships and the know-how to do it again.”
Harris said solidarity during times like these is crucial “because we know realistically that we are in for a battle of our lives against those who would divide us.”
“Don’t underestimate their strength here and around the world,” Harris told the crowd. “We’re in the battle of our lives to define who prevails.”