Ted Deutch as the new CEO of AJC has his work cut out for him

Rep. Ted Deutch submitted a letter of resignation from Congress two weeks ago and is now the CEO of AJC.

 TED DEUTCH during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in 2020. As the American Jewish Committee’s next CEO, he will be facing a new set of challenges.  (photo credit: KEVIN DIETSCH/REUTERS)
TED DEUTCH during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing in 2020. As the American Jewish Committee’s next CEO, he will be facing a new set of challenges.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Ted Deutch submitted a letter of resignation from Congress, after 12 years in which he served as a representative for Florida’s 22nd congressional district.

The veteran congressman decided not to seek reelection in November’s midterms, but, rather, to join the American Jewish Committee (AJC) as its next CEO, succeeding David Harris, who served in the role for some 32 years.

In a farewell letter to constituents, he wrote: “Your support allowed me to be a loud, proud and consistent advocate for a strong US-Israel strategic partnership, an unyielding voice against a nuclear Iran, and a staunch opponent of antisemitism in all its forms as a co-founder of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism.”

What Deutch did during his time in Congress

During his time in Congress, he served in several positions, including Middle East Subcommittee chairman. With his departure, some argue that Israel has lost a staunch supporter in the Democratic Party during a rocky period for bipartisan support for the country.

 REP. TED Deutch (D-Florida) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, 2019.  (credit: Andrew Harrer/Reuters) REP. TED Deutch (D-Florida) speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, 2019. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Reuters)

“I spent 16 years in politics,” Deutch told The Jerusalem Post in a conversation. “All of that time, in one way or another, I was thinking about Israel, the US-Israel relationship, Iran’s nuclear threat, and I did it as a member of Congress, representing one district in south Florida with a quarter million people.

“I was proud of the work that I did and didn’t have any plans to stop doing it. But then I had the opportunity to come to this position, where instead of advocating on behalf of my district, I now get to advocate on a global stage on behalf of the entire Jewish community around the world on the issues that matter to me and the community and Israel and to do it 100% of the time,” he said.

Last year, when the House of Representatives passed a bill to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome system, one moment caught the attention of members of the House. Deutch gave an emotional speech right after his fellow Democrat, Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), called Israel “an apartheid regime.”

“I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic State of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it,” he said. “The House of Representatives will overwhelmingly stand with our ally, the State of Israel, in replenishing this defensive system. If you believe in human rights, if you believe in saving lives, Israeli lives and Palestinian lives, I say to my colleague who just besmirched our ally, then you will support this legislation.

“Lots of people ask me about why I was so emotional,” he told the Post a year ago. “I was in large part responding to the speech that Rep. Tlaib gave immediately before me. And what was really so upsetting at the moment was that this vote was for a defensive system [whose] sole purpose is to save lives. And to stand and argue against supporting that kind of lifesaving [system] and against Israel the way she did, I thought it [called for] a strong response.”

Asked this week who, in his opinion, would defend the US-Israel relationship in the Democratic Party in the next Congress, he said that “the good news is Israel continues to have many strong, committed friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike.

“The relationship, the support for Israel continues to be broadly bipartisan, and the commitment to standing up for Israel against, and standing up for the Jewish people against, anyone who tries to undermine the relationship or who invokes antisemitism, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats – that willingness continues on the part of many. There will continue to be strong bipartisan support. And from my new [position], I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that that continues, but not just in Congress, but at every level of government, in the United States and in capitals all around the world.”

AJC's legacy

The organization was founded in 1906 and is considered one of the oldest Jewish advocacy groups. With offices across the world, from Rome to Berlin and from Jerusalem to Abu Dhabi, AJC is somewhat unique within the Jewish advocacy world. On the one hand, it is a “traditional” Jewish organization, combating antisemitism, defending Israel and fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. On the other hand, the group focuses much on diplomacy, promoting its advocacy through meetings with hundreds of diplomats at the UN and in global capitals, voicing concern about Iran and other forms of radicalism and human rights violations.

“My goal is to continue and grow that work,” said Deutch. “There are so many opportunities to promote that advocacy.... The Leaders for Tomorrow program, our high school program, has been very successful, and I want to expand it dramatically. We’re training high school kids, hundreds of them every year, all across the country, to become strong and resilient and knowledgeable advocates, so that when they get to college campuses, they’ll know how to deal with an increasingly challenging environment.

“I want high school kids all across the country to be able to participate in advocacy training which will make them stronger advocates, and it’ll make them more comfortable at their high schools, where we also have to focus. It’s no longer enough to focus on college campuses. The challenges that we face are happening more and more in high schools. That’s now an ongoing focus of AJC.”

The Abraham Accords, he said, is another area of interest for him. “I think that AJC is uniquely positioned to be the go-to NGO on the Abraham Accords, and ensure that we’re capitalizing on everything the Abraham Accords have to offer.

“The Abraham Accords provide the opportunity for AJC to use all of this diplomatic skill, all of the connections at the highest levels of government all around the world and in the private sector and on campus, use all of this to really work to deepen the connection between countries and Israel, to bring more countries into the Abraham Accords, to have more opportunities for people to engage with Israel, and to take advantage of Israel’s innovation.

“And [our mission is] also confronting antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion,” he continued. “We’re having the conversation as the Kanye West situation continues to rage. Well, nearly half of American Jews think that antisemitism isn’t treated seriously enough, and that number is closer to 60% among young people. So, we have to be unequivocal in condemning antisemitism. In this case, the social media companies adhered to their own policies, and that’s the right thing for them to do.”

The conversation with Deutch took place as the State Department stated that a nuclear agreement with Iran “is not our focus right now.” The incoming CEO, who as a member of Congress opposed a return to the nuclear agreement, is now leading an advocacy organization that has a similar perspective.

“We need to have a conversation in which we acknowledge that under the JCPOA, billions of dollars will flow to a regime that is currently waging a violent, brutal crackdown on its own people, to crush their democratic aspirations,” he said.

“Those billions of dollars will go to a regime that’s used them to fund terrorism, against Israel, against our allies and partners, and against US troops. Does it make more sense for us to be back in a deal where we were going to roll back the clock for a few months, but at the same time raise the possibility that these dollars will be used to advance terrorism? I think, on both of those questions, we haven’t gotten good answers.”

Asked whether the political crisis in Israel and the fact that there is no functioning coalition are affecting the US-Israel relationship, Deutch responded by saying that the relationship “is not based on what the current government looks like or whether there’s a government at all. It’s based on the shared values of democracy, the shared commitment to human rights, and the shared belief in the future. That’s the basis for the US-Israel alliance. And that doesn’t change, regardless of who the current prime minister is, who the other officials are and whether they’re going to be different in six months or a year. That’s not going to stop AJC from continuing to engage on all of the issues that we care deeply about, because they matter to the Israeli people, the people in the US, and the Jewish community around the world.”