American Jewish Committee CEO Interview: “We Will Not Be Cowed or Intimidated”

November 13, 2018
Matina Demelis

David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) since 1990, spoke to TNH about the recent mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. The interview follows:

TNH: There have been three recent incidents – the shooting in Pittsburgh, a swastika and racial epithets drawn on a Broooklyn  brownstone, and similar anti-Semitic graffiti at a historic Brooklyn synagogue, prompting the cancellation of a political event scheduled there. Are these all some type of message from extremists?

DH: Yes, we know there are certainly extremists out there, and they seem to feel empowered by the divisions in our country, the declining public discourse, and the reach of cyberspace. In assessing the dangers to the Jewish community, we are focused on three main sources – the far right, the far left, and jihadists. At the same time, in the wake of the Pittsburgh tragedy, we must also remember the extraordinary outpouring of solidarity and support from Americans of all walks of life, including the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC) and the Greek Orthodox Church. What a powerful and heartwarming response to those who seek to divide and intimidate us! Together, we are affirming the best of American values – unity, mutual respect, and common destiny.

TNH: Leaders of all over the world expressed their support for the Pittsburgh attack, some saying that  “anti-Semitism is our worst existential enemy and we must fight it with every conceivable means.” What will that fight be like?

DH: It has been extremely gratifying for us at AJC to receive messages of solidarity and support from so many around the world, including, among others, Austria, Azerbaijan, Cabo Verde, Colombia, France, Germany, Japan, Kurdistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia (yes, Saudi Arabia!), Singapore, South Korea, and Ukraine. That said, the struggle against anti-Semitism, arguably the world’s oldest social pathology, continues. And it requires sustained focus by governments and civil societies, clarity of purpose, and the combined voice of what we call the coalition of conscience. Anti-Semitism is a disease that begins by attacking Jews, but, left unchecked, metastasizes and seeks to destroy the very fabric and fiber of democracy and pluralism.

TNH: The late Israeli President Shimon Peres described you as the “foreign minister” of the Jewish people. What message do you send to Jewish people that feel fear after these incidents?

DH: It is understandable, of course, to worry after such a horrific event in Pittsburgh, but our view is that we must continue to affirm life, go about our daily activities, show no fear, and take pride in our vibrant Jewish life presence in America. The anti-Semites must know that we are far stronger and more resilient than they are. We will not be cowed or intimidated.

TNH: Ηοw would you describe the relationship between Greece and Israel?

DH: In a word, excellent. Until the end of the 1980s, this was not the case, but in the past 28 years, the bilateral ties have taken off and now cover a very wide range of issues. Indeed, the link has become a robust strategic partnership. What’s most striking is that Greek governments can change – from PASOK to New Democracy to SYRIZA – yet the relations not only endure, but also continue to get stronger.

TNH: Is there any interest from the Jewish-American community to invest in Greece?

DH: American Jews, like other Americans, invest overseas based not on sentiment, but rather on sound business decisions. The more Greece restores confidence that it offers a favorable investment climate, the more likely it will be to attract new investors, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

TNH: What do you admire about Greece?

DH: I grew up surrounded by the political, philosophical, cultural, literary, and aesthetic contribution of Ancient Greece to our world. I am forever enriched by this extraordinary legacy. Moreover, my wife and I both love Greece, indeed we first met because of a trip she took in 1975 to the island of Kefalonia. The country’s breathtaking beauty, enhanced by the natural warmth of the people, creates an inseparable bond for us, and reminds us again and again of the natural affinity between Hellenes and Jews.


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