A year ago, as the Trump administration was working with a Republican-controlled Congress to enact its legislative agenda, the speakers’ roster of the annual national conference of the Israeli-American Council (IAC) featured Nikki Haley, the avidly pro-Israel U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and other Republican politicians.
What a difference a year — and a midterm election that gave the Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives — makes.
Topping the IAC’s speakers list at its conference last week in Hollywood, Fla., was Vice President Mike Pence — and two prominent Democrats: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, soon to become majority leader; and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, soon to take the gavel as House speaker.
The change is symbolic of IAC’s recognition that the political winds have shifted in Washington, said an Israeli-born actor and activist here who works closely with the Israeli-American community.
Gili Getz told The Jewish Week that the IAC outreach to the pair of Democratic leaders in Congress reflects a growing sense of bipartisanship in the organization, and an attempt to include liberal-minded Israeli-Americans, who comprise a large part of Israeli community in this country, under a single “umbrella.”
“It’s a welcome effort … a welcome sign,” said Getz, who serves on the executive committee of the J Street, the “pro-Israel/pro-peace” lobbying group. “It’s more than cosmetic.”
Getz said the participation by Schumer and Pelosi in the IAC conference is seen in his liberal Israel émigré community as both an attempt to bring in Israeli-Americans who favor a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and a recognition of the increased influence that Democratic legislators will wield when the new Congress is sworn in next month.
While the IAC presents itself as a bipartisan organization, many left-leaning Israelis here have viewed it as narrowly conservative, primarily aligned with the conservative, Republican-oriented policies supported by IAC co-founder Sheldon Adelson, a prominent donor to Republican causes and candidates, Getz said. (Israeli-American entertainment magnate and philanthropist Haim Saban, who leans left, is the other co-founder.)
Getz said his circle of Israeli friends will judge the substance of changes in the IAC effort by its upcoming lobbying efforts, particularly the group’s position on the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, whose definition of anti-Semitism would include attempts to “demonize” or “delegitimize” Israel.
First Amendment advocates say they fear that the bill’s language may threaten free speech.
While many mainstream Jewish organizations favor the legislation, J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose it.
Israeli-Americans, who are similarly split, are waiting to see — after last week’s IAC conference — what position the group will take, Getz said. “A single gesture,” he said, will not suffice.