DAYTON, Ohio (The Dayton Jewish Observer) — The US Conference of Mayors has entered into an agreement for the American Jewish Committee to host a delegation of US mayors on a structured tour of Israel each year.
Leading the initiative for the Mayors Conference is Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, chair of the conference’s international committee. She and AJC CEO David Harris participated in the signing ceremony on January 24 at the Mayors Conference winter meeting in Washington, DC.
Whaley said the Mayors Conference tested the project with two trips over the last year and a half. She chaired the second trip in May 2018.
“These kind of trips, that are really well done and full of content, help mayors understand the world more,” she says. “Cities are places with really diverse populations. And having contacts with those populations is important.”
AJC will fund and present the bipartisan trips through its Project Interchange program. Melanie Maron Pell, assistant executive director and managing director of AJC’s regional offices, says the project sends thought leaders from around the word in small delegations to Israel for firsthand experiences. It aims to present leaders with “a wide range of viewpoints and expressions of what it means to know Israel,” including high-tech, education, culture and the conflict that surrounds Israel.
“With a couple of those trips going really well — the mayors being really impressed with just the thoughtfulness of the content and how strong the week was, how much they learned — the conference then said we should really offer this in partnership with AJC every year,” Whaley says.
She anticipates eight to 12 US mayors will join the week-long trip each year.
“I will help encourage other mayors to go,” Whaley says of her role. “I’m putting together the delegation for this May.”
Whaley gives much credit to Pell, who began engaging with the Mayors Conference in 2015.
Pell says AJC is looking for diverse “leaders among leaders” to join the mayors’ trips to Israel.
“The timing of the formal arrangement worked out because we’re seeing a renewal of interest in international relationships on state and local levels,” Pell says. “The lines between local and global are blurred. The mayors understand the local impact of international connections. And people who live in their cities are interested in what’s going on in Israel. We’re going to connect them to Israeli technology and how Israeli cities handle challenges.”
Whaley adds that the AJC partnership marks the only formal annual international trip for the Mayors Conference.
“The relationship between America and Israel is an important part of the political conservation, especially right now,” Whaley says, “and so, making sure they [US mayors] get a fair assessment of the area by visiting it, I don’t think you can replace that.”