Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, delivers a keynote address in New York City at the Power of Peoplehood: The Soviet Jewish Journey, a conference to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
David Harris is one of the Jewish people’s leading advocates and most eloquent spokesmen. The Executive Director of AJC since 1990, he travels the globe meeting with world leaders to advance the well-being of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, monitor the condition of Jewish communities, and promote intergroup and interreligious understanding.
Among the highlights of his work, he was centrally involved in the emigration of over one million Jews from the Soviet Union and was described by The Washington Post as “one of the leading spokesmen” for the Soviet Jewry movement. In the course of this work, he was twice detained by Soviet authorities and once expelled from the country. He was asked by the Jewish community to serve as the national coordinator for the historic Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry, the 1987 demonstration in Washington that drew over 250,000 participants.
Mr. Harris also played a behind-the-scenes role in the rescue of the Ethiopian Jewish community in the early 1980s, before the historic Operation Moses of 1984-1985.
Often described as one of the foremost American advocates for Israel’s political and diplomatic standing, Mr. Harris meets frequently with world leaders to discuss issues affecting the Middle East. In this regard, for example, his efforts were credited by the Japanese government for bringing about change in Tokyo’s position on its long-standing adherence to the Arab boycott against Israel and toward a more balanced approach to the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.
As one of his many achievements at AJC, he was a key figure in the successful sixteen-year struggle to repeal the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1975, only the second time in UN history a resolution was actually repealed. And he spearheaded AJC’s successful campaign to correct Israel’s anomalous status at the UN, where it had been the only nation ineligible to sit on the Security Council, and to include it in one of the UN's five regional groups that determine the all-important committee assignments.
As a leading Jewish advocate, he has been invited to speak at some of the world’s most prestigious forums. He was the first head of an American Jewish organization to address the World Economic Forum in Davos, at a session chaired by Tony Blair. In addition, he has testified before the United States Congress on several occasions on matters related to the Middle East, NATO enlargement, Russian and Soviet affairs, and anti-Semitism, as well as before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the French Parliament.
Mr. Harris has been honored more than ten times by the governments of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine for his many international activities on behalf of the defense of human rights, advancement of the transatlantic partnership, and dedication to the Jewish people. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hebrew Union College.
Prior to joining AJC, Mr. Harris graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania. He pursued his graduate studies in international relations at the London School of Economics and then spent a year as a Junior Associate at Oxford University (St. Antony’s College). He was a Visiting Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (2000-2002) and a Senior Associate at St. Antony’s College (2009-2011). He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Harris is the author of seven books – The Jewish World, Entering a New Culture, and five volumes of In the Trenches – and co-author of an eighth, The Jokes of Oppression. He has written hundreds of articles, op-eds, letters, and reviews in leading newspapers and magazines. Since 2001, he has had a regular spot on the CBS Radio Network, reaching 30-35 million listeners. He also has a popular blog on international affairs at The Huffington Post and The Jerusalem Post and is a monthly contributor to the Spanish daily El País.
Natan Sharansky is a former Soviet refusenik and prisoner, Israeli politician, human rights activist and author.
Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, describes the struggle of growing up Jewish under Soviet dictatorship and his awakening to his Jewish identity and connection to Israel, which spurred a career in activism for Soviet Jewish freedom.