The North American Jewish community is not monolithic in its priorities, which means we must work hard each year to reach consensus on our communal public policy agenda as a Federation system. With 154 Federations from New Hampshire to San Diego, our process of deliberation and consultation on the issues is daunting but in the end, we find much common ground. Doubtless, this is because the stakes are so high. We all want to have as much of an impact as we can on the challenges and values that drive our work and, as we work toward consensus, this goal is paramount.
The result is the annual Jewish Federations of North America Public Policy Priorities, which become the principles that shape the advocacy efforts of Federations. They inspire and guide the professional and volunteer leaders who knock on the doors of their elected officials at home and here in Washington on behalf of Federations and their partner agencies.
As a second-term administration and a new Congress begin their work, we continue ours. Our agenda is full and pressing, especially against the backdrop of fevered efforts in our nation’s capital to reduce the deficit by proposed spending cuts and tax code reform.
One of our key priorities is preserving and protecting the social safety net to care for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. As President Obama put it in his State of the Union address, we want to help “make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few.” This means that, while we know that the solutions to the debt crisis require shared sacrifice, solutions have to be carefully calibrated so that we protect those most at risk from budget cuts – children, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities. We are pushing for continued support of critical programs providing social services, affordable housing, job training, counseling, health care and energy and food assistance.
Another of our top priorities is promoting a strong and vibrant Israel and robust U.S.-Israel relations. We must remain steadfast in the face of Israel’s growing threats from the outside, particularly Iran. We advocate vigorously against Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations and in other international bodies. We also are stepping up our efforts to combat an intensifying domestic assault – from college campuses, some faith groups and political organizations – on Israel’s legitimacy and sovereignty. We have partnered with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) to establish the Israel Action Network, dedicated to educating and mobilizing communities who may be vulnerable to this pernicious campaign so they are able to combat and counter these attacks on Israel.
Finally, we are working to protect and maximize incentives for charitable giving at a time when the demands on nonprofits continue to grow. As Congress deliberates comprehensive tax reform, we have played a leadership role in the effort to maintain the charitable contribution deduction. Indeed, on behalf of JFNA, I was invited to testify recently before the House Committee on Ways and Means, where I said that any effort to curb deductions for charitable gifts would “cripple” charities and hurt the needy they serve. As the second largest philanthropic network in the nation, collectively raising more than $2 billion a year, our testimony carries weight.
Throughout the year, there will be dozens of additional opportunities to make our voices heard on issues that reflect our core values and priorities. In the first six months alone, 22 advocacy missions are scheduled to come to Washington; in February our Government Affairs Institute, which included 50 professionals and volunteers from Federations and affiliated Jewish Family and Children’s Services Agencies, convened in the capitol from every corner of the country and fanned out to 75 different congressional offices to advocate for our agenda.
Together we make a bigger difference than we ever could as individuals. Join us as we raise our voices to make the world a better and more just place for ourselves, our neighbors, and our children.
William Daroff is Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America. He can be followed on Twitter at @Daroff