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American Jewish Congress

AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS

Organization founded in 1917 to secure Jewish civil, political, and religious rights in Central and Eastern Europe and in Palestine.

The American Jewish Congress (AJC) is the second Jewish defense organization established in the United States. It was founded during World War I in order to fight antisemitism and help find a solution to the problems facing Jews in Europe. Its early history helped shape its present political perspective and its approach toward Jewish affairs.

Responding to the plight of millions of Jews caught in war-torn zones and suffering from antisemitic outbreaks during World War I, proponents of the idea of a congress sought to create a democratic institution that could represent the views and will of American Jewry. Supporters of the congress opposed what they considered the self-appointed leadership of the American Jewish Committee, which in their view represented mainly the wealthy and influential segments of the community. After much debate, the two sides reached an agreement allowing for the formation of a one-time-only congress in which one-quarter of the delegates would be appointed by the American Jewish Committee and three-quarters would be elected by U.S. Jews. In 1918, for the first and only time, some 330,000 Jews throughout the United States elected delegates to an American Jewish Congress. The AJC sent a delegation to the Paris Peace Congress. Once the conference was over and the delegation submitted its report, the congress, in accordance with its agreement with the American Jewish Committee, was dissolved.

In 1922, however, proponents of the congress idea formed a second American Jewish Congress, which was to become a permanent body within the organized Jewish community. Unlike its predecessor, this new AJC was a membership-based organization that did not purport to represent the views of all U.S. Jews. But, like its predecessor, the new AJC continued to seek support for its positions more through mass appeals and public protests than through the quiet intervention of well-connected individualsthe style that typified the American Jewish Committee.

Since the Holocaust, the U.S. Jewish community and the state of Israel have constituted the main centers of the Jewish people. The AJC is headquartered in New York and maintains an office in Jerusalem; it has 50,000 members. It continues to fight antisemitism throughout the world and to support liberal causes in the United States and Israel. On the U.S. scene, the AJC is an active supporter of civil rights and civil liberties and an advocate of church-state separation. A supporter of Zionism since its founding, the AJC seeks to ensure the security and prosperity of the state of Israel and supports Israel's quest for peace with the Palestinians and with her Arab neighbors. It took a lead in supporting the 1993 Oslo Accords. Although the AJC generally supports the Israeli government in power as the democratically elected representative of its citizenry and is wary of interfering in Israel's domestic affairs, the AJC's policies and positions are viewed as reflecting a liberal perspective in both the United States and Israel.

see also american jewish committee; paris peace settlements (19181923).

Jerry Kutnick

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