Bend the Arc, a progressive Jewish social organization, launched a political action committee last week, calling it the only Jewish PAC totally dedicated to using Jewish political clout, access and money for domestic issues only.
"There are 33 other Jewish PACs," noted Bend the Arc director Hadar Susskind. But those are dedicated almostly exclusively to the support of Israel. One other, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, is a national PAC that gives money to congressional members who support a strong United States-Israel relationship as well as a sprinkling of domestic issues including reproductive choice and separation of religion and state.
"The American Jewish community has an unprecedented amount of resources and political clout," noted Bend the Arc CEO Alan Van Capelle during a two-hour gala packed with speakers from his organization and Congress that was held July 18 in the basement of the Capitol Visitors Center.
"Jews have been there" whenever there is a struggle for civil rights, Van Capelle said. His group plans to make sure Jews continue to have a voice and be an advocate for those who are struggling, he said.
"It is just not in our DNA to sit on the sidelines."
Its first project will be a push to repeal the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts to those earning $250,000 or more. In August, Bend the Arc hopes to fill a bus with young Jewish men and women and drive into the districts of the 10 wealthiest members of Congress who are against repealing a tax cut on the top 2 percent in this country and spread its message throughout those districts, Van Capelle said.
The group also initiated a 613 Pledge, playing off the number of commandments in the Torah, which is designed to get 613 people who earn more than $250,000 annually to support what it considers to be a more equitable tax system, adding more tax brackets for wealthier taxpayers.
During the event, which featured chicken and mushroom hors d'oeuvre as well as soda, wine, and beer, three people became the first to sign the pledge. They were Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria; Greg Rosenbaum, chairman and CEO of Empire Kosher Poultry; and Susan Turnball, former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Moline said he believed the newly formed PAC is "really going to make a difference. There has never been a Jewish community who hasn't focused their attention on those who need attention."
"I live a good life. My wife and I, thank God, each of us make enough of a living," he said. His family has experienced a good educational system, good roads and "when I call the police and fire department, they show up." This, he said, is due largely to tax dollars used by his community.
Fellow signee Rosenbaum said he added his name, because "the true meaning of a society is how it takes care of its less fortunate. It has never struck me as right to fix the deficit on the backs of the poor."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) welcomed the new organization, saying it was starting at "a critical time" in this country. "I hope this will help us bend the arc towards justice a little bit faster," he said, referring to the group's name which was taken from the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice.'"
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) lauded the group's efforts "to bring people together around basic human needs. I love that you are doing this based on faith."
And Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Judaism revolves around "our commitment to family" and this effort, in broader terms, is still about family.
Also speaking at the event were Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who described herself as "a big supporter" and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who noted, "the goals of this organization tend to match President [Barack] Obama's agenda."
When asked if there was any concern that a Jewish PAC not connected with Israel might divert attention away from that country, Rosenbaum said, "There are two sets of concerns that rightly ought to be at the heart of every Jew - concern for our people and that is Israel, and concern for the world around us."
Bend the Arc Jewish Action also plans to work for reproductive choice, health care, unions, and immigration, Van Capelle said.