Liberal Jewish Nonprofit Gets Into Political Game

National Journal
July 23, 2012
Elahe Izadi

A progressive Jewish nonprofit has officially gotten in the Washington game, with a lobbying arm and PAC launched last week.

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership For Justice started the 501c4 Bend the Arc Jewish Action and Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC last week. Their nonprofit arm has branches across the country and a $6 million operating budget. Although they're promoting the PAC, they haven't raised any money yet, as they plan to officially file within the next couple of weeks.

Alan van Capelle, CEO of the advocacy arm and head of the PAC, says the goal of the lobbying and PAC arms is to become the political home for liberal American Jews. "We're unapologetically progressive but also smartly pragmatic," says van Capelle. "We're not interested in fighting the good fight that's not going to win. We're actually interested in winning."

Among their first campaigns is the 613 pledge, or as van Capelle likes to call it, the Jewish Warren Buffett pledge. They're aiming to get 613 American Jews who are part of the top 2 percent wealthiest Americans to sign a petition calling for tax reform that taxes the wealthier at higher rates. The 613 number comes from the number of commandments in the Torah.

Van Capelle says while mostly all Jewish political organizations include foreign policy objectives relating to Israel, Bend the Arc's 501c4 and PAC will be the first Jewish political groups focused solely on domestic issues. "Jews in the United States have an enormous amount of political clout and we have a tremendous amount of resources to draw upon," van Capelle says. "If we focused our energies on domestic issues, we believe we can be a powerful voice for change in this country."

They don't yet have a battle plan as far as which state races to get involved with, but they will host an event at the Democratic National Convention. They're also organizing a bus trip at the end of the summer in order to attend events held for the 12 wealthiest members of Congress who are opposed to allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on those making more than $250,000.

"We think that's going to be very powerful. We hope to make uncomfortable or difficult for [those] members of Congress in their districts," says van Capelle.