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!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • 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.