February 14, 2019 — New York
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs honored American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris with its prestigious Foreign Minister Commendation, one of Japan's highest honors presented to foreign citizens.
“It is for his hard work, his essential contributions to [relations between Japanese and Jewish people], and unwavering dedication that we are here to honor him together," said Ambassador Kanji Yamanouchi, the Consul General of Japan to New York, who presented the award during a special ceremony at his residence. In attendance were AJC lay leaders, staff, and family of Harris, along with diplomatic staff from the Japanese Consulate. Japan is the 12th country to honor Harris’s global work in building bridges of friendship and cooperation.
The certificate of commendation, which is hand-written by Foreign Minister Taro Kono, notes that the award is, “In recognition of his distinguished services in contributing to the deepening of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and other countries through his contributions to promote relations between Japan and the Jewish community.”
“It has been extraordinarily gratifying for us to see the growth in the relationship, the partnership, the cooperation between Japan and AJC, more broadly between Japan and the Jewish people, Japan and Israel, and yes, the transpacific partnership between Tokyo and Washington," said Harris. “On all those fronts, we have made clear our views and our belief that this is a precious fraternity of shared values, with shared goals and aspirations.”
AJC has long recognized the importance of relations between the Japanese and Jewish people, as well as triangular relations among Japan, the United States, and Israel. “Mr. Harris continues his mission in the footsteps of Jacob Schiff, Chiune Sugihara, and Beate Sirota Gordon, yet he has opened up new paths to promote solidarity and affinity between our two communities," said Yamanouchi.
AJC has been uniquely engaged with Japan through its pioneering Asia Pacific Institute (API), which has organized dozens of visits to Japan in the last 30 years and has stayed in close contact with Japanese diplomats stationed in the United States. Harris, who became CEO in 1990, and before that was AJC Director of Government and International Affairs, has played a critical role in fostering these relations.
AJC Asia Pacific Institute Director Shira Loewenberg also delivered remarks during the ceremony. Loewenberg said, “I’m very pleased that David’s groundbreaking work in forging a unique and positive relationship with Japan for the Jewish people is being recognized tonight.”
She read a letter to Harris from Hideo Sato, a senior official of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who served as Ambassador to Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Israel. It read in part: “You led the first AJC mission to Japan in 1988 in the middle of the criticism soaring in the Jewish Community on the Arab boycott issue [and Japan’s adherence] and the antisemitic literature in Japan. Unlike the other Jewish organizations at that time, you came to Japan, just like Jacob Schiff, to see what actually was happening and initiated a dialogue, which, over the past 30 years, has brought about deepened mutual understanding, friendship and genuine cooperation between us… I should confess if it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't be where we are today in our relations with the American Jewish Community.”
AJC, founded in 1906 and with headquarters in New York, maintains 22 regional offices across the United States; 12 overseas posts, including a representative in Tokyo; and 37 international association agreements with Jewish communities. AJC’s Asia Pacific Institute was founded in 1989. It is the first such institution in the American Jewish community devoted exclusively to the region.