Editor’s note: Alan Greenspan received the AJC’s Milton I. Tobian Community Relations Award Nov. 27. These are his remarks, following his greetings, acknowledgments and thank-yous.
By Alan Greenspan
As important as the mission of the AJC is the commitment to a process, which I creatively call the “AJC Process.” It is a process of dialogue and coalition building with a diverse and inclusive group of people. Then we focus on understanding the facts, because there is factual truth and it is identifiable. Finally, we bring to bear all of the substantial resources the community has to understand the context, the nuance and the perspectives.
We prioritize reaching consensus through compromise. Some organizations file lawsuits. Some agencies organize protests. And these are all valid approaches, but at AJC, if there’s a problem or a challenge, we apply the AJC Process to fix it.
I learned the AJC Process from mentors like Marlene Gorin, Darrel Strelitz, Larry Ginsburg, Maddy Unterberg and Andrea Weinstein.
The people in this room understand the AJC Process. In strong companies and healthy families, it’s the process used to resolve conflict and solve problems. But I’m afraid many others in our community don’t get it.
Community has always been under threat. And I mean community in the broadest sense — the Jewish community, the Dallas community, the national community and the world community.
Charlottesville was not the first Nazi march in America. Steve Bannon is not the first white supremacist to wield national political power. Colin Kapernick is not the first African-American athlete to protest racial injustice, or to be ostracized for it. There has always been intolerance on the right, on the left, in the middle, in every religion and in every political party. Otherwise, groups like the AJC would not have existed for over 100 years. But good people have always stood up for truth, for tolerance, for freedom of speech, for finding common ground, and for building coalitions.
Something seems to be different now. I’m worried that, as a community, we’ve lost the ability to talk to each other. Our conversations have become shouting matches. Or worse, we don’t have the conversation because “you can’t talk to those people.”
I sat in silent sadness last spring at the Pete Sessions town hall. Some in the audience screamed vulgarities at Congressman Sessions. And the congressman responded by insulting the crowd. It was a disgrace to our political process. There are ways to disagree and protest respectfully. We need to encourage that in our community and teach it to our children. We are taking the easy way out by pretending that complex problems can be solved by slogans and tweets. We have to embrace the AJC Process.
I’ll give you an example of the AJC Process: Israel and India are currently very close allies. How did that happen? About 20 years ago, AJC Executive Director David Harris recognized that Israel and India had a lot in common, and so building that relationship became a priority of the AJC. It organized exchanges between the two countries on every level, from cultural, to political, to academic, to military. And over the course of years, a bridge was built based on shared values. Now there is a true friendship between the countries.
We did this in Dallas, too. In the early 2000s, a group of us became concerned that the Dallas Morning News editorial board was prejudiced against Israel. So, we reached out to them and spent years cultivating personal relationships with them. We started to see some moderation in their editorials about Israel, and our op-eds and letters to the editor were regularly published. We made progress not by threatening or boycotting, but by building a relationship and a basis for understanding.
We are facing some very difficult challenges locally and nationally. Immigration, health care, gun control and racial injustice are all really complicated. I guarantee you that there is not a single problem in this country that can be solved in 140 or even 280 characters. We must engage in a legitimate process. And we must demand it from our political and religious leaders.
I want to tell you one more AJC story. Many years ago, I attended a national board of governors meeting in New York. A surprise guest was Shimon Peres, who was the Israeli foreign minister. This was after the Oslo Accords but before the Second Intifada. It was a small group and we were able to have a real conversation. I asked Peres whether he thought Arafat was committed to a democratic Palestinian Authority. Peres was optimistic — as he always was — and he quoted Arafat saying: “Shimon, this democracy. Who invented it? It’s so exhausting!”
We know what happened. Peres’ optimism was misplaced. Arafat rejected democracy, embraced terrorism and became one of the most infamous mass murderers in human history. But Arafat was right about one thing. Democracy, or regular order, as John McCain calls it, is exhausting. But we need to do it. I hope you will all join me in committing to embracing the AJC Process.
Alan Greenspan lives in Dallas and is a former president of the Dallas chapter of the AJC and a former chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council.