David Harris, who served as AJC CEO from 1990-2022, has received The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the government of Japan in recognition of his extensive work promoting strong ties and mutual understanding between Japan and the Jewish community.

Harris, the most decorated Jewish organizational leader in American history, was CEO of the global advocacy organization for the Jewish people for 32 years before stepping down last Sept. 30. He made many trips to engage with high-level Japanese government officials with the goal of strengthening relations among Japan, the U.S., and Israel, and between the Japanese and Jewish people.

On his final visit to Japan as CEO last May, Harris met with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu, and Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa.

Ambassador Mikio Mori, Japan’s Consul General in New York, presented Harris with the award, on behalf of the Emperor, during a ceremony at the Consulate on Tuesday.

“We are determined to further our partnership with AJC and build on the legacy that David has left,” Mori said.

The Order of the Rising Sun award was established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji. It was also awarded in 1906 to Jacob Schiff, one of AJC’s founders. Harris is the first recipient to ever receive this prestigious award for advancing relations between Japan and the Jewish people. 

AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute (API) has been traveling to Japan since 1989 to advocate for Israel and the global Jewish community, as well as strengthen the transpacific alliance. API is the only such institute in the Jewish organizational world and meets regularly with Japanese officials and oversees ongoing exchange programs with Japan.

AJC was credited by the Japanese government for playing a singular role in encouraging Japan to end its support of the Arab boycott against Israel in the 1990s.

“You can not only climb mountains, you can move them,” said Harris, reflecting on the years of “quiet diplomacy” it took to get Japan to engage with Israel. 

Harris also said the Israelis and the Japanese community soon came to realize they had much in common. 

“Put us together in a room, preferably over a Japanese meal,” he said. “It just comes out, that reverence for education. The desire to achieve, to contribute, to succeed, to partner.”

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