American Jewish Committee Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Through its fund-raising and the work of its national and international subdivisions, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has exerted a major influence on the welfare of Jews throughout the world for more than a century. According to its mission statement, the AJC is committed to countering world anti-Semitism and terrorism; promoting human rights, religious pluralism, and interfaith relations; strengthening Jewish life in the United States and abroad; and seeking an enduring peace for Israel.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC)–not to be confused with the American Jewish CongressAmerican Jewish Congress, another advocacy group–was founded in November, 1906, by wealthy German American Jews in the wake of deadly anti-Jewish pogroms in czarist Russia. The founders included members of such socially prominent American Jewish families as the Strauses, Sulzbergers, Warburgs, and Schiffs. Among its original goals was to “prevent infringement of the civil and religious rights of Jews” and “alleviate the consequences of persecution.” One way of accomplishing the latter was to facilitate the emigration of Jewish immigrantsJews to the United States or other countries of their choice.Jewish immigrants;American Jewish CommitteeAmerican Jewish CommitteeThink tanks;American Jewish CommitteeAnti-Semitism[antisemitism]Jewish immigrants;American Jewish CommitteeAmerican JewishCommitteeThink tanks;American Jewish CommitteeAnti-Semitism[antisemitism][cat]FAMILY ISSUES;American Jewish Committee[00170][cat]REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS;American Jewish Committee[00170][cat]ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS AND MOVEMENTS;American Jewish Committee[00170][cat]RESEARCH;American Jewish Committee[00170]

During the early years of the organization, one of its stated tasks was to ensure that the U.S. government did not attempt to limit the influx of Jewish immigrants, most of whom were coming from eastern Europe. President Roosevelt, TheodoreTheodore Roosevelt was enlisted to help in this cause and proved to be very cooperative. In fact, he had appointed one of the AJC’s founding members, Oscar Straus, to his cabinet. Straus is believed to be the first Jew to serve in such a capacity.

One of the main activist Jewish organizations in the realm of immigration policy, the AJC played a prominent role in aiding Jewish victims of both world wars. Toward the beginning of World War I, the AJC established the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Welfare Board to assist both Jewish and non-Jewish servicemen and war victims. To those displaced coreligionists who looked to America after surviving the horrors of the HolocaustHolocaust, the AJC offered material assistance in facilitating immigration. After World War II, the AJC supported increased immigration for the purpose of family reunification, opposed the denial of government benefits to noncitizen but legal immigrants, and called for increasing the intake of refugees from countries where continued residency can pose a danger to their lives.

During the 1980’s, the AJC launched a campaign to pressure the Soviet Union;Jewish emigrationSoviet Union to allow its Jews to emigrate. To this end, the AJC organized the Washington, D.C., Freedom Sunday Rally in December of 1987, attracting an estimated 250,000 people. Ultimately, Soviet Jews were allowed to leave, and thousands came to the United States, with particularly large contingents settling in New York and Los Angeles.

In the early twenty-first century, as Jewish immigration became less of an issue, the AJC added its powerful voice to combating what it considered anti-immigrant views and vigilantism against Hispanics, urging cable television stations to reveal the backgrounds of “so-called immigration experts” to their viewing public and stating that “issues such as immigration can be explored legitimately . . . without demonizing an entire group of people.” The AJC has also been a strong proponent of increased funding for the acculturation of new immigrants as part of a sound immigration policy, including the learning of English and an “American values education.”

The AJC’s ongoing influence was amply demonstrated at its hundredth anniversary celebration in 2006, which U.S. president George W. Bush, U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, and German chancellor Merkel, AngelaAngela Merkel attended. In 2009, the AJC’s membership was estimated at more than 100,000, with branches in more than thirty U.S. cities as well as eight overseas offices. It was also the first American Jewish organization to establish a full-time presence in Germany. The organization continued to involve itself in various humanitarian causes, raising significant amounts of money to alleviate the consequences of crises such as the South Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.Jewish immigrants;American Jewish CommitteeAmerican Jewish CommitteeThink tanks;American Jewish CommitteeAnti-Semitism[antisemitism]

Further Reading
  • Cohen, Naomi W. Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1966. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1972. Discusses the founding and history of the American Jewish Committee up to the mid-1960’s, including the role it played following the world wars and in helping Israel to become an independent state in 1948.
  • Ivers, Gregg. To Build a Wall: American Jews and the Separation of Church and State. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. Examines Jewish advocacy groups such as the AJC, B’nai B’rith, and the American Jewish Congress that are strong advocates of church-state separation.
  • Robin, Frederick. The Pursuit of Equality: A Half Century with the American Jewish Committee. New York: Crown, 1957. Provides an overview of the first fifty years of the AJC’s accomplishments.
  • Sanua, Marianne R. Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945-2006. Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2007. In its coverage of the post-World War II activities of the AJC, this book overlaps with Cohen’s. Thus, it is most useful in its account of the history of the AJC in the four decades following 1966. As an official publication of the AJC, its tone is generally laudatory.

Anti-Defamation League

Anti-Semitism

European immigrants

Holocaust

Jewish immigrants

Religion as a push-pull factor

Russian and Soviet immigrants

World War I

World War II

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