David Harris and the AJC’s ‘Self-Importance Syndrome’

Fundamentally Freund: In age of social media and round-the-clock news it is no secret that Jewish organizations must stay relevant.

AJC executive director David Harris 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
AJC executive director David Harris 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the age of social media and round-the-clock news cycles it is no secret in the Jewish world that the stodgy, old-fashioned organizations of yesteryear are finding it increasingly difficult to stay relevant.
Built to function in a bygone era, many American Jewish groups are neither nimble nor savvy enough to garner the media attention they so desperately need to drive the fundraising operations upon which they rely.
And so, like the Kardashian clan or the gang from the Jersey Shore, some will go to any lengths to get a headline, even at the expense of their remaining dignity. The latest to do so is none other than the 107-year old American Jewish Committee (AJC), which in exchange for a moment in the sun decided to sell Israel down the river.
Last month, after Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said that, “The attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our land has ended,” the AJC decided to weigh in, with its executive director David Harris issuing a sharply-worded press release on June 17.
Calling Bennett’s remarks “stunningly shortsighted,” Harris declared that they should be “repudiated by the country’s top leaders.” Citing comments made by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Harris affirmed that the AJC supports the so-called “two-state solution.”
His broadside was quickly picked up by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who never misses an opportunity to lambast Israel, and gleefully cited Harris in doing so.
Way to go, David, you got your mention in “the paper of record”! Normally, I would not give more than passing thought to Harris’ hogwash. After all, his pronunciations about Israeli policy have as much impact as the graffiti scrawled on the Broadway-7th Avenue local subway line. But Harris’ sheer chutzpah, and his readiness to criticize Israel in order to cuddle up with those on the Left, cannot go unanswered.
To begin with, it is worth recalling that Naftali Bennett was elected by the Israeli people in a free, fair and democratic election. He is a senior partner in the ruling coalition, and is answerable to the Israeli public.
Who elected David Harris? Comfortably ensconced in the AJC office on 56th Street between Lexington and Park in Manhattan, with four Starbucks, two kosher restaurants and Bloomingdale’s nearby, what gives Harris the right to pass judgment on Bennett’s position? If Harris is wrong, and the implementation of a two-state solution were to lead to Israel’s demise, God forbid, would he have to live with the consequences? Or would it simply mean a shift in his organization’s marketing strategy? Harris, like many other self-appointed American Jewish “leaders,” seems to have succumbed to that age-old malady known as “Self-Importance Syndrome.”
After attending enough cocktail parties with senior Washington figures, and sipping some red wine, people such as Harris actually begin to believe their own press releases, and attribute to themselves a significance that is not commensurate with reality.
They truly think that what they have to say about the reality on the ground in Israel is just as consequential as what the Israeli public’s elected officials pronounce.
Worse yet, they see nothing wrong in contributing to the perception that there is a growing divide between Israel’s government and America’s Jews.
Needless to say, anyone familiar with the history of the AJC should hardly be surprised by this turn of events. For despite some of its pro-Israel positions in recent years, the AJC’s attitude toward Zionism has a rocky record at best.
Consider, for example, the following sordid episodes: In 1943, AJC president Judge Joseph Proskauer published a “Statement of Views” which objected to Zionism and its attempts to establish a Jewish state. “In the United States as in all other countries,” it said, “Jews like all others of their citizens are nationals of those nations and of no other; there can be no political identification of Jews outside Palestine with whatever government may there be instituted.”
In other words, the AJC wanted to make sure that no one would in any way associate them with a future government of Israel, should one arise.
Then, in late October 1943, as Hitler’s Final Solution was in full swing, the AJC chose to provoke a rift in American Jewry by formally withdrawing from the American Jewish Conference, which brought together dozens of Jewish organizations for the first time.
The reason for their pull-out? The AJC objected to the Conference’s embrace of the Zionist program calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel after the end of World War II.
As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on October 26, 1943, the move sparked outrage, prompting three prominent AJC members to resign in disgust. They pointed out that the AJC move “threatens to disrupt American Jewry at a time when unity is vital in our efforts to save the remnant of Jewry in Europe, to safeguard Jewish rights everywhere and to assure the fulfillment of Jewish aspirations in the Jewish National Home.”
But that hardly seemed to matter much to the AJC leadership of the time, which was more concerned with distancing itself from Zionism than anything else.
Even today, on the AJC website, the words “Zionism” and “aliya” are nowhere to be found in the sections defining “Who We Are” or the organization’s “Guiding Principles.”
And this is what makes the AJC’s decision to carp about the future of Israel so incredibly impudent and impertinent. They are too afraid to declare themselves Zionists, but not at all hesitant about calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Unlike Harris and his ilk, I chose to move to Israel and raise my children here. This past Sunday morning, I watched as my 19-year-old son crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., slipped on his military uniform, and headed back to his base to continue his training in an elite infantry unit.
Should he and others like him ever have to go into combat, the knowledge that David Harris and the AJC will be issuing press releases and chasing after television cameras to offer their opinions will do little to hearten those of us who reside in the Jewish state.
So let Harris talk all he wants about the future of the land of Israel.
Ultimately, it is those of us who live here who will decide.