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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David Harris, the AJC’s executive director, has shaped and led the group since he took his post, in 1990. Writing and speaking publicly, he is undoubtedly the face of the AJC. His influence and interests have been broadly felt throughout the organization. The roadmap, however, was not Harris’s alone. That process was led by Schonfeld, who was hired explicitly to head up the effort.

When Schonfeld arrived, the AJC was facing some disarray. Schonfeld said that the AJC lacked information technology capabilities and key staff positions, such as a head of human resources.

“The AJC had grown very quickly and hasn’t had time to focus on its infrastructure,” Schonfeld said.

When Schonfeld came on, in June 2007, AJC was in the midst of a financial boon. The group reported $123 million in assets with $53 million in contributions during the fiscal year that ended in mid-2007.

When she first arrived, Schonfeld said, the question was, “Where do we expand?”

By 2010, the group brought in just $38 million in contributions. Net assets were down to $99 million. The change in the organization’s fiscal situation became clear only partway through the strategic planning process, Schonfeld said.

The AJC’s board adopted the new plan in 2009. The plan identifies two core focus areas for the group: advocating with governments, and intergroup relations.

Intergroup relations refers to coalition building with other religious groups and other ethnic groups, according to Schonfeld, who referenced recent AJC outreach to Latinos as an example of this work.

But it’s the government advocacy, and particularly advocacy with foreign governments, that’s now clearly at the forefront of the AJC’s activities. Schonfeld said that the staff dedicated to global advocacy in the AJC’s national office is far bigger than the staff dedicated to intergroup relations. “It’s what we do more uniquely than anyone else,” Schonfeld said. “We have what we think is a unique style, which isn’t just marching in and pounding the table and saying you must listen to us; rather, our advocacy is building on long-standing relationships of trust.”

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