AJC Turns Towards Israel, Global Advocacy

Century-Old Group Plans To Shift From Domestic Issues

Changing Focus: The American Jewish Committee is moving away from research and domestic advocacy. Part of the plan involved phasing out its famed library.
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Changing Focus: The American Jewish Committee is moving away from research and domestic advocacy. Part of the plan involved phasing out its famed library.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published December 17, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
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The century-old American Jewish Committee is cutting back on its domestic political agenda and on its research functions in favor of a focus on international advocacy.

That shift follows a strategic plan that the AJC approved in 2009. Though the changes at the AJC have been broadly noted, the content of the blueprint itself — which the AJC shared with and described to the Forward — was previously unreported.

Once known for its civil rights work, its scholarly conferences and its original research, the AJC has consolidated and reorganized its activities, trimming old programs in favor of global advocacy efforts, often in support of Israel. Old areas of interest, such as the church-state divide, are being set aside. Founded in 1906, the group faces diminishing financial resources and increased competition from newer Jewish organizations.

“There are some things that we’ve done and we do that are not core, and we have to cut down and train a laser focus on things we do uniquely and best,” said Victoria Schonfeld, the AJC’s chief operating officer, who was brought on to lead and implement the group’s strategic plan.

The realignment has led to some turmoil within the ranks of the legacy Jewish organization. “Just because some elder members and former leaders of the agency wish to see the agenda more in line with what it was years ago doesn’t mean that that’s the appropriate agenda for this day and age,” said E. Robert Goodkind, a former president and current board member of the AJC, defending the changes. “Every agency, just like human beings, has to evolve and change, and that’s what AJC is doing.”

The AJC’s strategic plan came at a time when other Jewish organizations of a similar vintage were struggling. The American Jewish Congress, founded in 1918 as an alternative to the AJC, closed in 2010, after the Bernard Madoff scandal. The Zionist Organization of America, founded in 1897, lost its tax-exempt status this year, amid a growing organizational crisis.


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