JCA at the AJC hosting the AJC

August 4, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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More than 600 supporters of the JCA [Jewish Communal Appeal] packed a function room at Sydney’s AJC  [Australian Jockey Club] to listen to David Harris, the Executive Director of the AJC [the American Jewish Committee…].

David Harris m pic: Henry Benjamin

Harris, who advocates internationally on Israel’s behalf, has held his position at the AJC since 1990. Introducing him, JCA vice-president Michael Graf said: “David Harris meets with world leaders to advance the well-being of Israel, to combat antisemitism to monitor the condition of Jewish communities and to promote inter-group and inter-religious understanding.” He added that Harris is currently involved in meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barak Obama.

He spoke about the common bond that unites Jewish communities. He said: “I meet with Jewish communities around the world and I have a sense that there is a certain pervasive gloom and doom…especially as to how it affects Israel and the Jewish people…a sense that Israel is in danger. Israel is not well understood, Israel is losing the battle for public opinion…our enemies seem to be growing in number in boldness and assertiveness. We are so few and they are so many. Do we have a future and is it a bright future or not?”

He delved into history to answer the question…transporting the function back in time to May 1945. Harris said:  “How the world must have looked if 600 Jews from Sydney had gathered at the AJC to assess the state of the Jewish people. We would have begun by celebrating  the end of the Second World War.  We would then have focused inwardly and begun to despair. They would have realised that one third of the Jewish people had been annihilated. Two thirds of the Jewish European community had been destroyed One and half million children had gone up in smoke and flames.”

He said that too many in the world,  aware of what was happening to the Jews, had failed to come yo our rescue, had failed to come to our assistance and had failed to divert one single plane on a bombing raid across Poland in order to attack one single rail line to stop one single train even for one single day.  Survivors returning to their home towns were made unwelcome. Bergen Belsen continued to exist under British rule as a displaced persons camp as Jews had no place to go. He added that some had lived for years “in striped pyjamas in Bergen Belsen after the war”.

Harris pondered as to how it felt for Jews seeking a new life in Palestine when the British Mandate did everything in its power to prevent survivors reaching Palestine with many of them being incarcerated in camps in Cyprus.

Gus Lehrer watches as Peter Phillipson hands Marika Weinberger her award

He told how 5 million Jews in the United States had voted for the “iconic President Franklin D. Roosevelt” and yet, fearful of triggering domestic antisemitism …930 passengers, fleeing Nazi Europe on the ship  “St Louis” were sent back to Europe…rather than accepting them on American soil.

The Jewish community, the source of 500,000 soldiers for the U.S. armed forces could do absolutely nothing to change the mind of the Roosevelt administration..

Harris went on to say that after the war the Jewish people found their faith and their footing.  He said: ” On May 14 1948,  three years after witnessing the lowest point in Jewish history we witnessed its apex.   In just a span of 1000 days the Jewish people returned to sovereignity in the land of Israel. The State of Israel had been established.

He said that the same people who could not defend themselves except in isolated cases during the war defended themselves against five Arab armies during the War of Independence. Israel was determined to thrive and with no natural resources, build with its human capital… Harris said: “in 60 years it has become one of the top nations in the world, a member of the OECD with more Nobel Prize winners than all its neighbours collectively, advancing the frontiers of human knowledge and human experience for all people.”

David Harris continued by saying that in the United States the Jewish community which could not find the political means to move the 930 people off the St Louis on to the shores of Florida  determined “never again” and set about organising themselves to become a formidable political force and we would do it smartly by seeking to engage other Americans in this great cause. including president Harry Truman, a Christian, who made the fateful decision against the advice of his own Secretary of War to recognise the State of Israel.

Harris acknowledged that America’s support for Israel is bipartisan irrespective of who sits in the White House. He added: “If there is one other similar country I know of today it is Australia.”

He reflected “As we look at the world today and wonder How bad is it? Will me make it through.  We made it through worse. We established miracles.”

JCA President Peter Phillipsohn and Rebecca Ehrlich

Harris went on to say “Europe rebuilt. Years later the Berlin Wall fell and we reconnected with Jewish communities which had experienced a second powerful attack…the attack of Communism. If you visit Eastern Europe you will find established smaller scarred communities.” He said they reflected Jewish life Jewish belief Jewish faith commitment and indominability.

He added: “Wherever I look, I see signs of hope, optimism and progress.”

Harris brought the meeting sharply into the focus of today’s world saying: “As we face the risks and the dangers today in the new vocabulary including words like delegitimisation, demonisation of Israel, UDI – Unilateral declaration of Independence for Palestinian, BDS – Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, lawfare and all the other elements of the new lexicon of the enemies of the State of Israel who wish to deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination which has been ours for over 3000 years.

We need to stand up need to stand tall need to stand proud need to stand unafraid

This is the moment for each of to stand up to the moment and dig deep into that reservoir of courage and commitment which has been an essential part of the Jewish people for over 3000 years.”

He continued: “We have defied all the odds at every stage of our  history and we will continue to defy the odds because we are here to stay. Israel is here to stay. Our presence is permanent.”

Stating that “our job is unfinished”, Harris said that our job is not simply surviving or of proving our enemies wrong  but “to try and repair a broken world”.

David Harris then moved to the future.

He said “I see the challenges you do.”

Michael Graf and Lori Levin pic: Henry Benjamin

He said he loses sleep because he believes every word Iran’s Ahmandinejad and Khamenei say about a world without Israel…as does the Hamas Charter. And Lebanon’s Hezbollah  wants a world without Israel…and Jews.

Harris concluded by saying thatwhat shapes our thinking is our conviction that we have the right to be in Israel saying “we shall stay in Israel…we have the right to live in peace and normality anywhere.”

He said a world which cannot find a place for the Jewish people and the State of Israel is not a world in which any civilised human being who respects the basic tenets of human freedom, rights and dignity should want to live either

Our cause is not our cause alone. It is the cause of  every self respecting proponent of human rights and human dignity who cares about the state of the world

His closing remark…”Our best days are ahead of us.”

Special JCA community awards were presented by JCA president Peter Phillipsohn to Josie Lacey, accepted by her daughter Rebecca Ehrlich, and Marika Weinberger after an acknowledgement of the visionary work of JCA founder Hal Goldstein who passed away last week.

A presentation was also made by Lori Levin who participates in the Big Brother, Big Sister mentoring program. Levin went into great detail about a case she is involved in…an emotional reminder that there are many in need in communities in which success flourishes and masks its dark places.

The Jewish Communal Appeal will distribute $10.8 million to its 21 constituent members this year.



2 Responses to “JCA at the AJC hosting the AJC”
  1. k. Stone says:

    I wish I had the same optimism as Harris has. Unfortunately the Israeli policy is alienating Jewish supporters, ex-Israelis and avid Zionists who feel uncomfortable with the rabbis turned politicians.

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