Building bridges for Israel

“In any family, there will naturally be disagreements,” he said. “We have shown the capacity throughout the centuries to get through them, and we will going forward as well.”

June 7, 2018 12:37
4 minute read.
Jason Isaacson with Sheikh Abdallah Bin Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al Salmi, Minister of Awqaf and Religi

Jason Isaacson with Sheikh Abdallah Bin Mohammed Bin Abdullah Al Salmi, Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Sultanate of Oman. . (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Politics, diplomacy and advocacy are three words that AJC’s Jason Isaacson lives by.

As the organization’s associate executive director for policy and managing director of government and international affairs since 1991, Isaacson describes his job as “stretching Israel’s diplomatic horizons.”

In other words, Isaacson’s job is to work closely with diplomats and other policy experts on both sides of the ocean, in concert with AJC colleagues around the world, to help build bridges and open avenues of collaboration for countries interested in having a relationship (or expanding their relationship) with Israel.

“Most of the work is done above the table, when possible,” he said, “and below the table when it is not.”

Isaacson started on the international diplomacy path as an observer to the 1991-92 Middle East peace talks in Madrid, Moscow, and Washington. He then represented AJC at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna
Since 1993, he has coordinated periodic AJC ministerial meetings throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and Asia, including numerous visits that were the first by an American Jewish organization.

“AJC got in on the ground floor and has been working on this issue aggressively and globally for the last three decades,” Isaacson told The Jerusalem Report.

While much of the work has been – and continues to be – focused on the Arab-Muslim world, Isaacson said there are also efforts that center on ties between Israel and states in the developing world.

Strengthening those relationships improves Israeli security and its ability to engage internationally, which has impact economically and otherwise. For the countries that choose to partner, AJC serves as an important point of contact – and, when interests align, an effective advocate – in US political, strategic and economic sectors.

For example, AJC has engaged the Moroccan government and civil society for decades, and in recent years has been partnering with Morocco and its King Mohammed VI to combat Islamist extremism and advance regional peace and prosperity. AJC successfully advocated for the United States to enhance strategic cooperation with Morocco, and encouraged US participation in Morocco’s anti-ISIS coalition.

Likewise, AJC has worked closely with senior officials, civil society representatives and Jewish community leaders in Tunisia, a struggling democracy facing terrorist threats, and it has sought increased US and European political, security and economic investment there. Its decades-long engagement, though, hasn’t prevented it from speaking out when interests have diverged, as in the recent denial of visas to Israeli athletes in a Tunisian-hosted competition.

Since the early 1990s, Isaacson has pursued an AJC priority to develop broader political, strategic, cultural and economic ties among India, Israel and the United States. The end of the Cold War, an era in which India was a Non-Aligned leader identified with the Palestinian cause, created opportunities for a reassessment of Indian national interests, opportunities AJC seized to introduce Indian opinion- and policy-makers to new constructs of US and Israeli partnership.

AJC set about building a network of contacts in the Indian government and civil society, an effort that included AJC Project Interchange seminars for Indian political and religious leaders and policy analysts. A milestone was reached in 2008 with the signing of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, for which AJC had advocated in partnership with American leaders of Indian descent. In the ensuing decade, trilateral ties have flowered, with cooperation in every inter-governmental and civil sector. AJC and its Indian American partners met privately with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he made his historic visit to Israel in July 2017.

Isaacson travels to potentially unsafe countries for a Jew. But he said he is never afraid, as he travels on his American passport and with the full knowledge of his host countries’ governments. “When necessary, I take additional precautions,” he said.
Isaacson’s role is in parallel to the role of AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, who has been advancing understanding and good relations between Jews and Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and anyone else of faith who is interested since 2001.

Though Isaacson said he could not yet expose details, later this year he and Rosen will be traveling to an Arab country, one they have both visited separately, to work toward reconciliation and peace.

He said the US-Israel strategic partnership and the unbreakable bond between Israel and the Diaspora form the essential framework for AJC’s international efforts.

Isaacson acknowledged strains and misunderstandings on certain religious and political issues between Jews in the Diaspora and Israel and an increasing partisan divide on Israel in American politics. But he said, “There have been many internal divisions and conflicts over the years, and we have not only survived them but gotten stronger through those disputes.”

For Isaacson, when the Jewish future is at stake, Jews unite.

“In any family, there will naturally be disagreements,” he said. “We have shown the capacity throughout the centuries to get through them, and we will going forward as well.”

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