America’s largest Jewish social justice organization is getting political. On Wednesday, Bend the Arc, which describes itself as a national movement that pursues economic opportunity and social justice “as a core expression of Jewish tradition,” announced that it is setting up shop in Washington.
Hadar Susskind, a veteran government affairs professional whose resume includes stops at J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), has been tapped to run Bend the Arc’s new lobbying outfit and an affiliated Political Action Committee (PAC). In the US, PACs are organizations that raise funds for individual political candidates.
“We plan on being an aggressive new voice dedicated to mobilizing Jewish Americans to advocate on behalf of the country’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Susskind. “Our campaigns will be bold and based on the Jewish tradition that everyone deserves dignity and the right to live in a fair and compassionate society.”
Susskind says the progressive group’s first big political push is a mobilization against those who support a tax cut extension for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, when former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts expire in December.
“We want the line drawn at $250,000 a year,” he said. “Tax cuts should remain in place for anyone making less than that annually. Above that – the top 2 percent of Americans – they need to be willing to pay their fair share.”
In addition to a petition and ongoing lobbying efforts on the issue, Bend the Arc plans to circulate a letter from 613 Jewish Americans in the top 2 percent who support paying taxes at a higher rate. (Six-hundred and thirteen is the number of commandments in the Old Testament).
“Although few, if any, in the group have earnings similar to billionaire-investor Warren Buffett, I suppose you could call this the Jewish equivalent of the ‘Buffett Rule,’” said Susskind.
The so-called Buffett Rule is a tax plan proposed by President Obama that would apply a higher tax rate on millionaires to ensure that they do not pay a lower percentage of income taxes than less-affluent Americans. It’s named after American investor Warren Buffett, who has said that wealthy individuals like himself should not be paying taxes at a lower rate than middle income Americans.
To reinforce the message, Susskind said his group plans to deploy young Jewish activists in August to the congressional districts of about 12 of the wealthiest members of Congress who oppose the expiration of the tax cuts.
The formal launch of Bend the Arc’s lobbying organization and PAC will take place on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 18. Members scheduled to attend are all Democrats and include Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). Ellison, who co-chairs the House Progressive Caucus, is the lone Muslim member of Congress.
Bend the Arc says its focus is entirely on domestic issues. Susskind, a former IDF soldier, says the issue of Israel is not on the group’s lobbying agenda.