David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has been awarded by France with one of the country's top honors. On March 15, at a ceremony at the French Consulate in New York City, Harris was named an Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honor, France's highest order of merit.
French Ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Étienne awarded the prize to Harris on behalf of President Emmanuel Macron. Harris was recognized for his "unwavering commitment to strengthening ties between the United States and France, his deep friendship for France, as well as his extraordinary work to combat anti-Semitism and hate speech – an effort highly valued by France."
Harris said that after the U.S. and Israel, France has had the most impact on his life. As the son of Holocaust survivors, his family has a personal connection to France. His late father and mother met there as refugees from Austria and the Soviet Union.
"France, which offered my parents a new start before the war, has loomed large in my life, essentially from day one," said Harris. "My father served in the French Foreign Legion before being imprisoned for three years in a French Vichy labor camp, my mother actively supported French war relief after arriving in America during the war, I grew up in a French-speaking home, and much of my family remained in France after the war."
Harris also mentioned AJC's lengthy relationship with France over the last 100 years. During Harris's 30-year tenure at AJC, ties between the advocacy group and the European nation have only grown stronger.
"We at the American Jewish Committee shall continue to attach the highest priority to engaging with France and its leaders on many issues of mutual concern — often in agreement, sometimes in disagreement, always in friendship," said Harris.
Etienne commended Harris for his work with AJC, which has he said has become "one of the most influential" Jewish organizations in the world.
"You have maintained a lively and open dialogue with the French government over the past decade and a half, with each of its successive administrations and ambassadors. And in recent years, you have always stood by my country when it was vulnerable, notably when it was the victim of terrorist attacks," Etienne said.