Israeli-American Council: It's all about the future generation

IAC says it’s giving the Israeli diaspora community a bipartisan voice

JOE ZEVULONI: I’m proud and thankful for both countries.  (photo credit: OMRI NAHMIAS)
JOE ZEVULONI: I’m proud and thankful for both countries.
(photo credit: OMRI NAHMIAS)
HOLLYWOOD, Florida – The first thing that you could see when approaching the Diplomat resort in Hollywood, Florida, where the annual conference of the Israeli-American Council took place last weekend, was Joe Zevuloni’s car.
The luxurious Lamborghini drew attention, not because of its sharp curves or shiny black windows. This Lamborghini is apparently the first one in the world to feature pictures of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, side by side.
Zevuloni told The Jerusalem Post that the car, wrapped in a high-quality printed sticker, is a tribute to the leaders of both countries.
“I’m an Israeli American, and I’m very proud and thankful for both countries,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have the leadership of Donald Trump. He’s the most pro-Israel president this country has ever seen. He’s done unbelievable things for the relationship between Israel and America.
“I would rarely get any negative response from someone [about the car],” he said. “One time, when I first had the car wrapped, I had someone try to hit me with his car. I had to call the police, and the police pulled him over, and he received a warning. I could see the hatred in his eyes.”
But he said he gets mostly positive reactions from kids and teenagers. “Some of them have no idea what Israel is, and they don’t even know what the flag of Israel looks like, but they think the car is so cool that they want to take a picture with it. And when they take a picture with it proudly, then they start posting it on social media, whether it’s Snapchat or Instagram or whatever else. Their parents get to see it, their families get to see it, and everybody sees that bond between the two countries. And that was the point of the car.”
Zevuloni is a public insurance adjuster who lives in Florida. He was one of the 4,000 people who attended the conference. Israeli diplomats such as Ambassador Ron Dermer and Consul-General Dani Dayan; Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog; dozens of senior Israeli journalists; Israeli musicians Netta Barzilai and the Shalva Band; and Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, who spent time at the hotel’s grounds with the organization’s activists – all joined together for three days of panels and discussions about Israel and the US.
According to Zevuloni, the organization provides him with a sense of community.
“When I grew up in America as a kid, there was the Italian American club; there was a Polish American club; there was a Portuguese club. I could never belong anywhere, because there was never an Israeli club,” he said. “I was one out of maybe three Israelis in my whole city. I lived in Linden, New Jersey, and we didn’t have that. We didn’t have that culture. We didn’t have Israeli Independence Day celebrations. There was nothing to preserve the culture and make you proud.”
“It’s all about the future generation,” he said. “They want to feel like they belong somewhere.”
DOZENS OF panel discussions were held during the three days. Some of them had heated debates, such as a panel about antisemitism with the head of Meretz, MK Nitzan Horowitz, and Elan Carr, US special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism. But with all due respect, people arrived in Florida to see Trump, who was the keynote speaker last Saturday night.
The Adelsons, GOP mega-donors who are also the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) leading funders, introduced the president, who was welcomed by chants of “four more years.” The part in his speech where he told the audience how he avoided phone calls from world leaders in the days before his announcement about the embassy was described by Channel 12’s Amit Segal as “the best stand-up comedy of the year.”
It was also interesting to watch his condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. For the past few months, administration officials have been learning the facts about BDS and its effect on college campuses. Trump’s decision to invite a college student onstage to share her personal experience might indicate that the administration is willing to take a more active role in fighting BDS.
The president went on to wonder how come, given all these actions, there aren’t more Republican supporters in the Jewish community, saying some American Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”
Some Jewish Democratic organizations said these remarks were offensive.
“We strongly denounce these vile and bigoted remarks in which the president – once again – used antisemitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel,” said Halie Soifer, Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director.
The Democratic Majority for Israel lobby group sharply criticized his remarks as well.
“I was so disappointed to see Jewish groups that condemned him for what he said or how he said it, regarding people that don’t love Israel enough,” said Zevuloni. “The things that he’s done for Israel, none of the people that they support ever dreamed of doing, or ever were capable of doing, any of them. He moved the embassy to Jerusalem, as he promised. He recognized the Golan Heights. I’m very grateful for this president, and I want to strengthen him.”
Shoham Nicolet is the CEO and one of the founders of the IAC. Trump also recognized him by name. “We can take, out of an hour and 20 minutes, six words and focus on that,” Nicolet told the Post about the criticism of Trump’s speech. “To do that, it would be a huge missed opportunity not to highlight that, for the first time, a president of the United States stands with an Israeli-American student, talking about what’s going on in college campuses and to raise a clear voice against antisemitism.”
LAST YEAR, Haim Saban, a business mogul and a major Democratic donor, attended the conference and interviewed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then-House minority leader Nancy Pelosi [it was after the midterm elections but before new Congress was sworn in] on stage. This year, Saban did not attend, and just one Democratic Congresswoman, Debbie  Wasserman Schultz, attended. 
Nicolet said that the organization is bipartisan and will remain that way.
“Every year, including this year, we tried to bring top officials from both parties,” he said. “The fact that we don’t have [high-ranking Democrats] here is technical, not ideological. Without getting into details, we made every attempt, just like in previous years, to bring top elected officials from both parties.”
“There is a clear expectation – that was made very public by the Adelsons and also made in private rooms – that the key for success for the IAC is to make sure that it’s open to any Israel lover: Democrats and Republicans,” he continued. “Everyone understands that for the IAC to be one of the leading Jewish American organizations, it should be open to anyone.”
Is Haim Saban still involved?
“The answer is yes.”
Nicolet estimated the number of Israeli Americans at 600,000 to 800,000. He is convinced that the Israeli community in the US is more diverse than ever.
“Three things have happened to the Israeli-American community [in the last few years]. First, it’s much easier to relocate. Unlike 20 years ago, you have much more rotation, usually of scholars and [hi-tech workers in] relocation,” he explained. “So, we have a much more diverse group of Israeli Americans. People don’t think twice about going back to Israel and coming back here.”
Second, the Israeli-American community became “mature” because of the second generation.
“I’ll talk about myself: As one of the founders of the IAC, I didn’t fully understand the IAC until I had my first boy grown here,” he said. “Only when you have here a kid that you need to raise here, and suddenly you understand how difficult it is to raise him with a Jewish identity, connecting him to Israel, to connect him to Hebrew. Same thing about BDS. Suddenly I think about my kid. Will he be able to go here to public schools? So, I think that this is a big deal when you have the second and third generations. I think this is where things change because then you think about the future.”
Third, he said, “If you are temporarily here, why do you need a community? You don’t need a community. A community is an infrastructure to take care of your future.” If your mind-set is you’ll be returning to Israel, “you don’t need a community. You don’t need the Hebrew language; it’s better that your kids will speak English, because they’re going back to Israel anyway. And who cares about Jewish identity, because there’ll be back in Israel soon – so their Jewish identity is left hanging in the air.”
“Israeli Americans never called themselves Israeli Americans. It was always ‘Israelis.’ And when the IAC started to say ‘Israeli Americans,’ which means we are Americans, people asked, ‘What is going on here?’ This is a big statement, but it’s becoming a real immigrant community,” he concluded.