American Jewish Committee Cuts Israel Staff Amid Tensions

Jerusalem Chief Axed In Shake Up — No Explanation Offered

Change Agent: AJC executive director David Harris was reportedly unhappy with the performance of the Jerusalem office.
getty images
Change Agent: AJC executive director David Harris was reportedly unhappy with the performance of the Jerusalem office.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 12, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The American Jewish Committee, which proclaims advocacy for Israel as the core of its mission, has quietly sacked some of its Israel staff, without offering any explanation.

The decision to lay off the Jerusalem office director and three other staff members, made by AJC headquarters in New York, has thrust the office, based in Jerusalem’s Beit Moses building, into a state of confusion. It effectively shut down the group’s core activity in Israel, although AJC officials have made clear that they intend to continue operations and could possibly hire new staff to replace the laid-off workers.

Though the recent actions came as a surprise, there is a long history of tension between AJC’s Jerusalem office and the New York headquarters.

The termination process began in late January, after the AJC’s board of governors’ annual mission to Israel and neighboring countries. The top leadership’s otherwise successful five-nation tour ended on a sour note for the employees staffing the AJC’s Jerusalem office. They were left with letters summoning them to a hearing in advance of termination, a procedure required by Israeli labor laws before firing an employee.

The AJC has positioned itself as the “State Department of the Jewish people,” a self-proclaimed foreign affairs arm of the Jewish community, focused on global Jewish advocacy. As such, the Jerusalem office was viewed as the organization’s frontline in dealing with the Israeli government and, at times, as the base for back-channel talks with neighboring Arab countries. Reasons for firing the entire staff working on these issues were not provided to the employees or to the media.

Following the hearings, three women staff members, each working for the AJC for more than a decade, were sent home. A final decision regarding the future of the office director, Edward Rettig, has yet to be announced, as sources with the AJC have said that the organization’s executive director, David Harris, was dissatisfied with his performance. The decision guts the AJC Jerusalem office of all its professional staff who were tasked with representing the organization to Israeli society and government and maintaining contacts with the international diplomatic community based in Israel.

Two of the other programs run by the AJC’s Jerusalem office will continue to operate: Project Interchange, a key AJC program that brings foreign politicians and civil society leaders to visit Israel, and the group’s inter-religious program, which is responsible for ties with other faith groups across the world.

The AJC declined to respond to specific questions presented by the Forward regarding the layoffs in the Jerusalem office, citing a “long-standing policy not to discuss personnel matters the media.” In a statement, Harris said: “We are immensely proud to have been the first American Jewish agency to establish a full-time office in Israel over a half-century ago. Our commitment to a robust presence there, housed in Beit Moses, our headquarter building in Jerusalem, continues to grow and flourish.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.