An organization that claims to speak for “American Israelis” is being criticized by the local branch of Democrats Abroad for a series of statements attacking the Obama administration, and has also been described by Republicans Abroad here for sounding an overly critical tone in one of its press releases.
In a statement on April 8, the American Israeli Action Coalition (AIAC) condemned what it described as “the recent announcement by the Obama administration that it has the right to set the terms for any upcoming Middle East peace negotiations.” It headlined its press release, “American Israelis Condemn Obama Administration’s Power Grab... Demand Immediate Apology.”
The AIAC has also issued recent statements backing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies on construction in Jerusalem, urging all US Jewish groups to endorse World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder’s letter of concern to President Obama about deteriorating US-Israel ties, criticizing the J Street lobby, and pressing Obama “to immediately apologize to the State of Israel for the vicious slurs against it recently expressed by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”
In its press releases, the AIAC describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, issue-oriented NGO whose purpose is to represent the united voice of the more than 250,000 Americans living in Israel on issues which affect Israel, Israel-US relations, and the Jewish people worldwide.”
AIAC Chairman Harvey Schwartz said the group was “an important voice to be heard.
“We don’t say that we represent all of the Americans, but what we do say is we’re trying very hard to get Americans to speak with a united voice,” he said.
Schwartz reiterated that the group was “not political, not partisan. We’re not Republican, not Democrat, don’t back political parties. We speak to the issues. When we think something affirmative is happening we’ll comment favorably. If we view something unfavorable, we’ll comment accordingly.”
Schwartz said the group, set up a year and a half ago, has more than a thousand members, signed up via a form on its Web site and at its events. It has held two American-style presidential debates, including one between the Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad in Israel.
Before commenting on an issue, the AIAC will speak with various members, “about 25 or 30 people” from the group, said Schwartz. “If we don’t get unanimity [in response], we won’t release the statement.”
It then prefaces press releases with such statements as “American Israelis Express Full Support...,” or “American Israelis Condemn...”
Responding to whether AIAC can accurately be said to speak for “American Israelis” as a whole, Schwartz, a former tax lawyer from New York who made aliya with his wife two and a half years ago, said that “while it isn’t scientific, we think [our group] is a good representative statement of what American Israelis think.”
But the chairman of Democrats Abroad Israel, Joanne Yaron, was critical of the group and of the assertion that it fairly reflects the thinking of American Israelis. “How can they speak for all Americans?” she asked. “Who do they think they are?”
Regarding the group’s membership base, Yaron derided it as “a paper organization. They don’t really exist. It’s all make believe.”
She described the AIAC’s statements attacking the Obama administration as offensive. “I think he’s attacking Israel’s best friend,’ she said of Schwartz. “I think it’s the wrong thing to do, and he’s not helping the situation whatsoever by doing that.”
The chairman of Republicans Abroad in Israel, Kory Bardash, said he regarded the Obama “power grab” statement as overly critical. “While I understand the sentiment of being critical of [Obama’s] Middle East position – which is consistent in polls with the majority opinion [of Israelis],” he said, “I take issue with the tone of the statement.”
David London, executive director for the similarly acronymed Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), stated that he supported all organizations that gave voice to Americans in Israel, but that “there’s no way that any one organization can speak for the entire [American] population in Israel. There’s just no way you can cover them all.”
Schwartz said responses from AIAC members and readers to the group’s statements were “overwhelmingly positive. We send our statements out to a mailing list of over 20,000 people, and they are picked up from time to time in the media.”
Other, more established US-linked groups trying to make their
membership heard and to effect change both in Israel and abroad include
Republicans Abroad Israel, which has a data base of 7,500 e-mail
addresses of Americans living in Israel who are registered with it to
vote in the US elections. “There are 10 million Americans living
abroad,’ noted Bardash. “Israel is the fifth largest [country], with
250,000 Americans living here. It’s my job to mobilize the vote here.”
Yaron said she did not know how many people were registered to vote
through Democrats Abroad Israel, and could not divulge how many members
the group has.
Pressing for change within Israeli society rather than abroad,
meanwhile, is Hadar, a new organization that launched in November.
Shalom Helman, program director, said that the group “represents
English speakers who are citizens of Israel. Our focus is mobilizing
them to affect public policy in Israel.”
Hadar has focused mainly on education reform and public safety. It has
put on two major public events that attracted a total of 700 people.