This Israeli-American philanthropist is advocating for IHRA definition in 7 US states

The Israeli-American Coalition for Action, headed by chairman Shawn Evehaim will promote legislation laws based on the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Here is his interview.

Chairman of the Israeli-American Council Shawn Evenhaim. (photo credit: ISRAELI-AMERICAN COUNCIL (IAC))
Chairman of the Israeli-American Council Shawn Evenhaim.
(photo credit: ISRAELI-AMERICAN COUNCIL (IAC))

The Israeli-American Coalition for Action will promote the legislation of laws based on the IHRA definition of antisemitism in up to seven states over the next year, according to the chairman of the organization.

“We are focusing [promoting legislation of IHRA] in seven states, and are already working in four of them,” Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of IAC for Action and real-estate mogul, said from his Los Angeles home. “There is one state where we are already in very advanced stages, but in other states we just recently began to work. We hope that this year we’ll be able to pass an IHRA law in between four and seven states.”

"We hope that this year we'll be able to pass an IHRA law in between four and seven states."

Shawn Evenhaim

IAC for Action is the policy and legislative arm of the Israeli-American Council (IAC), the largest organization of Israeli expats in the world, which has become the umbrella organization of Israelis living in the US.

More than half of the American states have already adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism on a state level, in different ways. Evenhaim said that the IAC for Action was involved in some of these campaigns, in order to convince elected officials to support this legislation.

A Ben & Jerry's ice-cream delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel, July 20, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZVULUN/FILE PHOTO)A Ben & Jerry's ice-cream delivery truck is seen at their factory in Be'er Tuvia, Israel, July 20, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZVULUN/FILE PHOTO)

“We’ve educated state officials, across the country, of the importance of the IHRA definition,” he said. “Some [of the elected officials] already adopted this agenda, and we hope that other states will also join.”

The Working Definition of Antisemitism of IHRA is a non-legally binding statement on what antisemitism is, adopted by the IHRA Plenary (consisting of representatives from 31 countries) in Bucharest on May 26, 2016. The statement reads: [1] Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Who is Evenhaim? 

Evenhaim is founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based California Home Builders, a Division of Evenhaim Industries Corp. He was also one of the founders of the IAC organization as a lay leader and as a visionary.

“In the US you can attack Israel and not be called an antisemite, which we know is not the case,” said Evenhaim, explaining the need for the IHRA definition. “If we want to define if this person is an antisemite or not, it is now very simple: we can go to the IHRA definition for antisemitism. It’s been used by many governments across the world and in the US, and now we need to make sure that it becomes part of the law in many states, as many states as possible, so they can use it to enforce the law and to prosecute people that violate it.”

“In the US you can attack Israel and not be called an antisemite, which we know is not the case.”

Shawn Evenhaim

Which states will adopt it? 

Evenhaim would not disclose the list of states that his team will be promoting the law on antisemitism, but said it “isn’t a secret. But we don’t think that this is the right approach in order to make the legislation happen. We approach a lot of states, and it depends on so many factors to actually succeed in the legislation. The question always is, how open they are to take on such a bill - not because they’re always in favor or against, [but] because they tend to be limited to how many bills they can try and promote.”

Evenhaim was born as Sharon Even-Haim in Beersheba, and later moved to Los Angeles, where he built his real estate empire and began getting involved in Jewish life as a lay leader and a philanthropist. He was one of the first heads of the IAC organization, which wasn’t automatically accepted by local American Jewish organizations.

“We have a unique position,” Evenhaim said of the Israeli-American community. “As Israeli Americans again, our unique position strengthens the overall Jewish community which we are a part of, because we have personal connections to anything that’s happening in the US, but we also understand Israel. It’s not just that we love Israel. It’s not just that we care for the Jewish people. We have families there. We talk to our family members every other day; we watch the news from Israel and we therefore really understand what’s going on there – not because we are smarter, but because we have a personal connection and because we grew up there.

"As Israeli Americans again, our unique position strengthens the overall Jewish community which we are a part of, because we have personal connections to anything that's happening in the US, but we also understand Israel."

Shawn Evenhaim

“When we talk to politicians, we bring our personal story. “I don’t have to say ‘hey, I care for my brother and sisters in Israel,’ just because it’s a given. Every time we speak to a politician, they tell us that they are listening because it’s an angle that they typically don’t hear.”

Evenhaim said that IAC for Action is also working, as are many other Jewish organizations, promoting legislation against BDS in many states.

“One of the unique things that we have done is that after these anti-BDS laws were established, we started thinking of enforcement, which no one else was doing. As a matter of fact, hardly anyone was dealing with enforcement of BDS laws, and that’s where we filled the gap. We told ourselves, ‘let’s make sure there is effective enforcement of the laws against BDS.’”

Evenhaim said that he and his team were involved behind the scenes during the Ben and Jerry’s crisis, during which the company decided to stop its affiliation with an Israeli franchise since it also sold ice cream in Jewish settlements.

After Unilever, Ben and Jerry’s current owner, decided in June to allow the continued sale of its ice cream throughout Israel, IAC for Action released a statement saying that “the decision by Unilever to allow the sale of its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to all Israelis represents a major victory over the anti-Israel, antisemitic BDS movement that seeks to destroy the Jewish state. We thank the state governors and treasurers across the US who have boldly enforced local laws against boycotting Israel, helping convince Unilever to reverse the Ben & Jerry’s board action targeting Israel.”

One of IAC for Action’s moves was convincing Arizona State to sell Unilever bonds because Ben & Jerry’s stopped selling its ice cream in Judea and Samaria. ABC-TV reported that Arizona sold off $93 million in Unilever bonds, and planned to sell the remaining $50 million invested in the global consumer products company.

According to ABC, Arizona was “the first of 35 states with anti-boycott laws or regulation to have fully divested itself from Unilever following Ben & Jerry’s actions.”

Evenhaim said that he and his team will continue to fight for Israel across the US. “That is our role as Israeli-Americans,” he said.