fbpx

AJWS Leader Talks Global Aid Under a Nationalist President

Eitan Arom is a Jewish Journal senior writer, covering a range of local Jewish issues such as civic engagement, culture, Holocaust memory, faith-based activism, politics and people. Before that, he worked as a freelance journalist in Jerusalem, Washington D.C and Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA with bachelor's degrees in mathematics/economics and communication studies.

https://jewishjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/jj_avatar.jpg
Eitan Arom
Eitan Arom is a Jewish Journal senior writer, covering a range of local Jewish issues such as civic engagement, culture, Holocaust memory, faith-based activism, politics and people. Before that, he worked as a freelance journalist in Jerusalem, Washington D.C and Los Angeles. He graduated from UCLA with bachelor's degrees in mathematics/economics and communication studies.

From the viewpoint of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), President Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan has the wrong emphasis. Rather than seeking to maximize American interests, AJWS’ goal is to use American resources — specifically, American-Jewish resources — to support human rights and anti-poverty initiatives abroad.

That mission put Robert Bank in a tough spot when, five months into his job as president and CEO of AJWS, Trump was elected on a platform of economic nationalism. Besides its work in the developing world — AJWS distributed more than $40 million in 2016 — the organization lobbies Washington decision-makers for policies and foreign aid to help vulnerable populations, which Trump has promised to cut.

Bank, 58, the grandson of Lithuanian Jews who grew up in South Africa, came to New York in the 1970s as an aspiring musician, earning degrees from the Juilliard School. Later, he earned a law degree and worked in city government and public interest law before joining AJWS as executive vice president in 2009. When longtime CEO Ruth Messinger stepped down in 2016, Bank took charge.

During a visit to Los Angeles on Nov. 15 he spoke with the Journal about the challenges presented by the shifting global landscape.

Jewish Journal: What’s been keeping you busy since you took your current position?

Robert Bank: I became the president and CEO of AJWS in July 2016, and in November there was a huge change in American politics as we have never seen before. We work in the areas of advancing the rights of women, girls and LGBT people all over the world. We work on climate change and climate justice. We also work on civil political rights and response to disasters. The Trump administration has had huge fundamental impacts on those areas.

JJ: Could you give me a specific example of how Trump administration policies have affected a project that AJWS is involved in?

RB: Let’s take women and girls. The Trump administration within its first few weeks instituted what’s called the global gag rule, which gags the potential of women to receive family planning services in organizations funded by the U.S. government. This is huge. It’s going to cause the death of millions of women.

JJ: It seems AJWS’ focus on global citizenship runs counter to the “America First” mentality.

RB: Totally. I don’t think it’s just AJWS that thinks that way, but I like to think that we all understand that we are all interdependent and there’s no way that the world can just live with “America First.” It’s a very Jewish value to believe in sisterhood, brotherhood and partnership, and that we can only be successful together.

JJ: Does it put you in a challenging position as the new director of a nonpartisan organization to challenge the new administration? Are you worried about alienating conservative donors?

RB: Most of AJWS’ donors really stand for the principle of b’tselem Elohim [humanity created in the image of God] — the idea that women should have access to determining their own future; that people should have food to eat; that we should build democracies, not close them. So when President Trump uses rhetoric about hatred and bigotry and meets with dictators and doesn’t criticize their human rights record, we will absolutely speak out against it.

JJ: AJWS is working to forestall cuts to American foreign aid in the upcoming budget cycle. How do you convince lawmakers to spend money on people who can’t vote in the United States, let alone in their districts?

RB: When we’re talking to senators and members of Congress about why you should care about Rohingya Muslims being slaughtered, babies being thrown into fire, women being gang-raped, people living in the most squalid conditions in refugee camps, whether it be in Bangladesh or Uganda — any part of the world — it is not about the near and the far, it is about human dignity. Many politicians understand the importance of America as a leader. And ultimately, we’re not an island. There are enormous risks to our security if there’s political unrest in other parts of the world. So it’s not only about human dignity, it’s about peace and security for the United States.

Did you enjoy this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Culture

Latest Articles
Latest

Can We Celebrate July Fourth If We’re the “Disunited States” of America?

America will never survive as the United States unless the exhausted majority starts to make more noise.

My Friend Jan Perry

Drawing an analogy between the neighborhood she once lived in and the neighborhood in which Israel lives, she says people can learn to live together, but it’s the actions of those who have been hostile, not words, that are important.

What Israel’s Ethiopian Jews Can Teach Us About Balance and Diversity

The Ethiopian Israeli community deeply loves Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people and are able to hold that love at the same time that they confront discrimination and fight injustice.

The Leadership Legacy of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

This week marks 28 years since the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of blessed memory

Jewish Groups Criticize CUNY Chancellor for Not Appearing at NYC City Council Antisemitism Hearing

Jewish groups are criticizing City University of New York (CUNY) Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez for not appearing at the June 30 New York City...

Hollywood

Podcasts

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap