Jane Harman to receive NJDC's inaugural Tzedek Award

Jane Harman.
Courtesy of Congresswoman Jane Harman.

The National Jewish Democratic Council is presenting its inaugural Tzedek Award tonight – and the first recipient is former Congresswoman Jane Harman.

Rep. Jane Harman, born Jane Lakes, is the daughter of a physician who fled Nazi Germany in 1935. For 16 years, she represented California's 36th congressional district, an area that includes Greater Los Angeles and Redondo Beach. Harman, who left Congress in February, currently serves as director, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which calls itself “a living memorial, a gathering place for some of the best and brightest scholars and experts from around the world.” She is a the widow of the late Sidney Harman, founder of Harman International Industries and Chairman of Newsweek magazine.

A Smith College and Harvard Law School graduate, Harman began her political career as chief counsel and staff director for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and later served both as special counsel to the Department of Defense and Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet under President Jimmy Carter. Harman is one of a number of Jewish politicians to have held significant positions with the Democratic National Council – she acted as counsel for the 1984 platform committee and chaired the DNC’s National Lawyer’s Council from 1986–1992.

Elected to Congress in 1991, Harman was sworn in the following winter and served the 36th district until 1999. Toward the end of that period, she ran for governor of California under the slogan “the best Republican in the Democratic Party,” a reference to her progressive social views and more moderate views on issues of defense and intelligence. Upon losing the Democratic gubernatorial bid, Harman later ran for – and won back – her old Congressional seat.

During her time in Congress, Harman was a force for progressive politics and social change. In her first campaign, she ran against conservative, anti-choice candidate Joan Milke Flores on the slogan "pro-choice and pro-change," and went on to serve on the executive committee of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues. She was (and remains) a vocal advocate of reproductive choice, consistently opposing efforts to restrict abortions, and a supporter of the rights of the LGBT community, opposing the controversial Defense of Marriage Act and a bill that would have discharged HIV-positive members of the military. Harman was also an outspoken supporter of church/state separation, especially in her opposition to school prayer – one of the few members of Congress to take such a vocal stance.

Harman served on every major House security committee, including the National Security Committee and the Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, where she became the ranking Democrat; following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the committee was takes with heading all congressional responses. For her work in the field of security and defense, Harman was recognized with the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Service, the CIA Seal Medal and the National Intelligence Distinguished Public Service Medal in March 2011.

Earlier this year, Harman left Congress to take on the top position at the Wilson Center. Her resignation came following allegations that she was caught on a wiretap offering to lobby the Justice Department to go easy on two AIPAC officials caught in an investigation; in exchange, wealthy AIPAC supporters’ reportedly committed to lobbying then-House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to name Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Harman and the Democratic Party denied these allegations: ‘"I have great confidence in Jane Harman," Pelosi said. "She's a patriotic American. She would never do anything to hurt her country."

For her part, Harman said it was simply time for a change - but one that would allow her to continue to work on important policy issues. In a letter to congressional colleagues announcing her departure from the House, she wrote, "I have always believed that the best solutions to tough problems require a bipartisan approach, and bipartisanship is the center's 'brand.' Serving at its helm provides unique opportunities to involve the House and Senate, top experts, and world leaders in 'great debates' about the most pressing foreign and domestic policy matters."

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How to cite this page

Bigam, Kate. "Jane Harman to receive NJDC's inaugural Tzedek Award." 7 September 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/jane-harman-to-receive-njdcs-inaugural-tzedek-award>.

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