Equally well known in Washington’s corridors of power as at government tables in far-flung countries including North Korea, Cuba, Pakistan, China and Russia, American businessman Jack Rosen, 60, serves as chairman of both the Council for World Jewry, which he founded, and the American Jewish Congress. Rosen, a New Yorker, is a member of the Hudson Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations. In September, he hosted 60 participants in Jerusalem at the International Conference of Mayors.Q. Why did you initiate the Conference of Mayors?
A. [I realized] we must mobilize government leaders all over the world to better understand our issues, to help end hatred against Jews and to defend the interests of the State of Israel. Specifically, we need allies to stop the scourge of individuals like Iran’s [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. We need to form alliances. One key avenue to achieve this is to bring government leaders on board. This mission is a perfect example of how we identify a certain level of leadership that has the ability to communicate in their countries.
Often, mayors go on to become leaders of their national governments. The former mayor of Warsaw came to this event years ago; he became the president of Poland. The current mayor of Panama City was here a few years ago and is now running for president of Panama. They have a far different experience here than they ever imagined. They see Muslims and Jews coexisting in many places in Israel. They work with us, a Jewish organization, and we continue the dialogue after they leave.
Q. What is the mission of the Council for World Jewry?
A. I started the council four years ago when we witnessed increasing violent attacks against Jews in France and elsewhere in Europe. We saw a role for us to play in defending overseas Jews. If 60 years after the Holocaust the French government was standing by idly when [Jacques] Chirac was president and Jews were attacked in the streets because they were wearing a yarmulke, well, we had better act as a united community to help stamp this out.
Q. How does the council network function globally?
A. In France, the alliance we formed was very active in [Nicolas] Sarkozy’s [presidential] campaign. We showed them how our U.S. experience in the electoral process… has amplified our voice. When you are active in national campaigns you have much more of a say in which candidate is elected and what their positions are regarding Israel. We work closely with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, where we have top business leaders on our board. Too many American Jewish organizations fly down to Buenos Aires to explain that they represent an organization sitting in New York, and would you consider doing X on such and such issue. As I see it, it’s far more effective to involve individuals on the ground who already have relations and tools: business leaders, community leaders, religious leaders. It’s also a two-way road. We help our overseas partners in making their case on special issues in America as well.
Q. Why do you also represent Jewish concerns in countries without significant Jewish populations?
A. China, for example, is one of the most important countries when it comes to…Israel. It has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Trade with Israel is growing dramatically, but at the same time, China is one of two mega-countries holding back on sanctions against Iran. The Council for World Jewry must have the ability to speak as the representative of the Jewish community to China’s leadership. We just published Jews: The Secret to Their Success with the Chinese government on the history of Jews in China. These are the types of positive, bridge-building initiatives we are working on.
Q. Why have you invested so much energy in Pakistan?
A. Pakistan is a huge country, and it is the only Muslim state in the world today with nuclear capabilities. Our goal was not simply to bring some Jewish VIPs to [then] President [Pervez] Musharraf, have a photo op and go back home. We made contact, built a relationship that grew and strengthened over time. We became friends. Yes, he is no longer president and the situation there is fragile and fluid. But the forces we set in motion still exist and Musharraf remains our friend. Who knows what the future might hold?
Q. What is the nature of the danger posed by a nuclear Pakistan?
A. If the new government is not successful and an Islamist government that is more fundamentalist emerges, there is a major risk that the bomb will be under control of a more pan-Islamic regime that will have a whole different view [regarding] their alliance with America and who might well turn increasingly to Iran. Should that come to pass, it would present us with a very different, very dangerous new threat.
Q. Who is on the Council of World Jewry?
A. Our board includes Herb London, chairman, the Hudson Institute; Maurice Ohana, president, the Shanghai Jewish Community; Rabbi [Pinchas] Brenner in Caracas; and Rabbi Berel Lazar in Moscow, along with top tier business leaders. We need someone with whom Putin will sit down, respect, admire and listen to.
Q. Why is it that Jews are able to play a role that the Irish or the Portuguese, for example, do not typically play?
A. It all derives from our unique history of being dispersed around the world: Spain, Poland, Germany, India. We have also historically had no choice but to rely on our community network to reach out to and relieve the plight of Jews in need. When Jews had to flee Europe, they always found a cousin or a friend or a distant landsman. We have been dispersed, yet fortunate enough that Jews help each other. That commitment has by necessity manifested itself globally, and the level of engagement today has never before been deeper or as interconnected. We aren’t running a conspiracy, but rather friendships based on shared values.
Q. How are you also a Washington insider?
A. Both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush named me to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and President Bush made me a U.S. representative to the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] meeting on anti-Semitism held in Berlin. I attended the annual meeting of the Organization of American States at the behest of President Clinton.
Q. What is your take on North Korea?
A. I brought a small delegation there. [We said] we are urgently concerned about the notion of [North Korea] selling missiles to Syria and Iran along with nuclear technology. Such moves can stop our dialogue dead in their tracks. I thought that was an important message, that they shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that here comes a couple of Jews and great, we are going to have good relations with America. We made it crystal clear that the missile and nuclear sales were of extreme importance to us and our community and could not be ignored.
Q. You were born in a Displaced Persons camp, and part of your family perished in Auschwitz. How do you think that shaped your role in the American and global Jewish communities?
A. I found myself at a point in life where I realized that having succeeded in business while enjoying solid contacts with political leadership around the world—well, the time had come that I should think about what to do with these tools to help my people. Clearly, the history of my family…had a profound influence on shaping my community role. When you talk about Auschwitz, my father was there.
As I walked with some of the mayors through Yad Vashem, I told them: You probably think some of these horrific things happened here or there to this Jew or that one. But I am telling you that all of these incredible blows happened to all the Jewish families of Europe, so many of which had not even one survivor. They began to understand the depth of this tragedy for the first time in their lives. H