The IAC and Politics

The Israeli-American Council (IAC) was born in 2007 as a local organization in Los Angeles with a dream of becoming a nationwide movement. Our organization’s co-founders had spent enough time in the United States to understand that we could not plan for the future as “Israeli expatriates.” This is why we defined ourselves as Israeli-Americans – Americans of Israeli descent, with Israel in our heart and Israeliness in our blood.

Our mission statement has not changed since the IAC’s birth: to build an engaged and united Israeli-American community that works to strengthen the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generations, the American Jewish community, and the State of Israel.

A broad mission statement like this raises a host of policy questions for an organization. One of the first questions we had to determine was the relationship between our organization and politics.

Israeli Politics

Our Israeli-American community is a mirror of Israeli society, with diverse opinions that span the political spectrum. Thus, to fulfill our mission, it was clear that we had to remain above the fray of Israeli politics.

We also believed that it was important to respect the right of Israelis living in Israel to determine their future through the country’s vibrant democracy. When it comes to complex political questions, no one has a crystal ball to tell them what is right or wrong. Our board was unanimous in believing that those entitled to make political decisions for Israel are the people who living with the consequences of those difficult choices.

We wanted to separate ourselves from other organizations that are often too quick to criticize the State of Israel and its leaders. We were determined to build a community with Israel in its heart no matter what party or leader was governing the country at that specific time.

Of course, no policy like this is ever free from complication.

Many asked the IAC leadership (and have continued to ask over the years): what about political questions that have a direct impact on us as an Israeli-American community?

For example, we were asked whether Israelis outside of Israel should have the right to vote. Very quickly, we learned that this was a question subject to a wide range of perspectives and opinions. As an American organization, we established a policy: we believe that this issue, and any other issue, must be determined internally by Israel’s thriving democracy.

When similar issues come up, we often remind our community that we have the privilege to relocate to Israel and be a part of its democracy whenever we so choose.

Trying to select which issues are within the scope of our community’s involvement and which are not is a slippery slope. Within a fragile coalition system, getting involved in internal Israeli political debates has the potential to break governments, and indirectly can have a tremendous effect on Israel’s decision-making.

American Politics

As an American organization, the IAC cannot ignore American politics either. Just like any organization representing an immigrant community, a religious community, or any organization that defines itself as “pro” anything, we must contend with the politics of our time.

There is no way around it. Yet, “political” does not mean “partisan”.

For instance, in 2008 we started the campaign “Live for Sderot”, which was “pro-Israel” and political by definition. Yet, we featured Presidential candidates across the political spectrum, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, making our effort clearly bipartisan.

We understood back then, what we understand today even better – that to succeed as an advocacy organization we must maintain a bipartisan approach, working with leaders on both sides of the aisle to ensure that Israel remains a bipartisan issue.

The IAC’s board, staff, community and hundreds of donors are very divided in our political views. Undoubtedly, trying to choose one side over the other would destroy our vision of a united Israeli-American community.

2013 was a pivotal movement in the history of the IAC. Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson were introduced to the IAC, and overnight decided to drive its nationwide growth. During an event in their home, several months before last year’s Presidential Elections Mr. Adelson, standing before an IAC crowd, smiled and said: “You all know who Miri and I vote for, it is probably not a secret.” The audience laughed. Then, he became serious, and said that if the IAC ever becomes a partisan organization, it will fail. He continued and emphasized – to win the fight for Israel and the future of the Jewish people, we must have everyone as a part of the IAC – Democrats and Republicans alike.

Being bipartisan doesn’t mean being silent. We must be involved in America’s policy discourse and politics, shaping the future of the country that our kids and grandkids will inherit.

IAC Political Involvement and IAC for Action

Since “Live for Sderot” in 2008, the IAC has mobilized hundreds of thousands pro-Israel activists on social media and in the streets of major cities and small towns across the nation.

Several years ago, we realized that we needed to separate our political activism from our community building and decided to create a sister organization: the Israeli-American Coalition for Action (IAC for Action).

As activists and advocates, our core advantage comes from the fact we have a close affinity with Israel and its people, and can tell a very personal story about it from our own experience. This authenticity – rooted in first-hand experience – allows us to change the hearts and minds of communities and decision makers.

Today the IAC for Action is focused on three key pillars:

  1. Fighting BDS and anti-Semitism: IAC for Action was the leading force behind the historic anti-BDS bill in Nevada and co-led the effort to pass landmark anti-BDS legislation in California. We have worked to convey to policymakers and other communities that hate movements such as BDS are not just a threat to Israel or the Jewish people. First and foremost, they threaten our way of life here in America. In addition to working to pass legislation at the Federal, State and local level to combat BDS and other hate groups, the IAC is the only organization working alongside state governments to implement and enforce the legislation already on the books.
  1. Strengthening Israel and U.S-Israel relations: This includes strategic partnership agreements between state and local government entities to advance collaborative innovation through intergovernmental working groups, sister-city relationships, and exchanges between academics, civil society organizations, and policymakers.
  1. Domestic issues: IAC for Action advocates for a range of domestic issues that are important to the Israeli-American community. Our first focus will be to advocate for incorporating Hebrew into public school curriculum in areas with significant Israeli and Jewish-American populations.

IAC Annual Conference

The IAC’s Fourth National Conference is coming up this November.

It is fitting that our yearly gathering takes place in America’s capital, bringing together prominent elected officials, thought leaders, community and civic leaders, and change makers both the U.S. and Israel. As one big family, we discuss openly, passionately, and thoughtfully the issues that will determine our common future.

This year, the IAC’s role as a pro-Israel big-tent organization has never felt more important.

We will dedicate more sessions to core questions facing the Israel and its relationship with American Jewry, led in conversation by key Israeli, Jewish-American, Israeli-American and American leaders.

As always, the IAC will come together as one family with a range of opinions, focused on a united vision: a strong, resilient and interconnected Jewish People and State of Israel.

About the Author
Shoham Nicolet is the Founding Chief Executive Officer of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), the fastest-growing Jewish organization in the United States.
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