AJC’s Global Forum in Washington, D.C., addressed the rise of anti-Semitism around the world and introduced the newly formed Black-Jewish Caucus in Congress.
In addition, the AJC created a Community of Conscience, an alliance with groups of people who may also be targets of hate, including people of all faiths and races.
About two dozen people from Greater Cleveland attended, listening to video addresses from presidential candidates and lobbying members of Congress.
Among them was Scott Matasar, who was elected to serve AJC’s National Board of Governors, joining Anne Meyers, Bob Hexter and Bob Gries, the latter two serving on the board for more than 50 years. Gries, at age 90, attended the forum.
Overall, about 2,500 people representing 59 countries attended the conference.
Founded in 1906, the AJC works to combat anti-Semitism in the United States, advocates for democracy and does global diplomacy to safeguard Jews, all people and Israel.
For Lee C. Shapiro, AJC Cleveland’s regional director, one of the proudest moments was listening to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, speak at a plenary session.
Portman referred to his May 5 appearance in Cleveland at the AJC’s 75th celebration, where he was on a panel with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, moderated by AJC CEO David Harris.
“You carry the torch for a mission that is really simple to say but really difficult to carry out,” Portman said. “That’s building a safer and more secure future for the Jewish people, for Israel and for all humanity.
“The cycle of hate has become all too familiar,” he said. “The first obligation of all of us – but especially those of us who are in leadership positions – is to state clearly, ‘Stop the hate now.’ Just state it clearly.”
Portman said he is working on increasing the amount of funding that goes toward securing houses of worship from $60 million to $75 million, with that additional $15 million going toward rural houses of worship.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” he said.
Portman has co-sponsored legislation to fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
“I call BDS what it is, which is discrimination,” he said, adding he is continuing to work on that issue at the international level, specifically naming the UN Human Rights Commission and the European Union.
“I view these international organizations as actually the biggest threat right now on the BDS front,” he said. “They are proposing, as you may know, to blacklist all U.S. companies that do business east of the green line.”
Portman said BDS applies a double standard and strikes at the legitimacy of Israel.
He also spoke of the importance of American leadership on the world stage.
Rachel Uram, president of AJC Cleveland, said highlights included meeting people from the forum’s international audience.
“The people that go to the conference are half of what draws me,” she said, adding that much of what she learned came in off-the-record seminars. “Often, the AJC doesn’t publish their names because they’re coming at great risk to their family.”
The conference included separate tracks for young leaders and campus leaders.
As a regional president, Uram attended the presidents’ meeting, which was attended by all of the presidents of the AJC’s 22 regions across the country.
AJC’s first female president, Harriet Schleifer, was elected, which Shapiro said she found thrilling.
Uram attended a panel discussion on the yellow vest movement in France which she found to be enlightening, she said, adding one of the points made was about going beyond tolerance.
“There really needs to be a respect for individuals,” she said. “There was some discussion about that.”
Of a panel on Iran that she attended, she said, “There were things that came out that you just don’t think about,” particularly the absence of Jews in Arab countries today.
Uram said she was also impressed with the bipartisan nature of the forum, citing Portman’s talk as an example.
On the final day, Cleveland delegates met with staff and U.S. representatives in the nine congressional districts covered by the Cleveland region.
Shapiro said all nine congresspeople had already signed onto the Congressional Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.
“From beginning to end, this year’s Global Forum was riveting – it was thoughtful, enlightening, and inspirational,” Shapiro wrote in an email. “Global Forum provides Clevelanders with an extraordinary opportunity to listen, learn and engage in AJC’s mission through advocacy and diplomacy. Part of the excitement is processing all that we have learned with our leadership and bringing it back to the impactful work we do here in Cleveland.”