July 20, 2019

Israeli-American group creates new lobbying arm

From national conferences to a planned community center in Woodland Hills, the Israeli-American Council (IAC) seems to make a big move every few months — and it’s still one of the younger organizations in the Jewish and pro-Israel world.

And in January, the Israeli Americans behind the IAC made their latest move, creating the Israeli-American Nexus (IANexus), an IAC partner organization and lobbying group that will advocate for Israeli-American interests with lawmakers on the federal, state and local levels.

In an interview with the Journal, IANexus chairman and IAC co-founder Shawn Evenhaim said the lobbying group is still working on a budget, and its only employee — for now — is Dillon Hosier, a former senior political adviser at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. Evenhaim added that all current funding is coming from the four members of the board, which also includes Adam Milstein, Isaac Shepher and Danny Alpert.

Evenhaim envisions IANexus not as a substitute for groups like AIPAC and other mainstream advocacy groups for Jews in the United States, but as a complementary group that can reach a large swath of Israeli Americans, who are thought to engage with the mainstream Jewish community at relatively low rates. 

Even as Evenhaim insists that IANexus’ focus will go beyond what is perhaps the most talked-about topic in pro-Israel circles — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — IANexus’ first action was to send 2,500 unique letters from Israeli Americans to members of Congress in support of the Combating BDS Act of 2016, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Feb. 25. IANexus has also advised state Rep. Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) in his effort to get an anti-BDS bill through the California legislature, and Evenhaim said IANexus will aim to make anti-BDS bills the law in all 50 states.

In an interview, which has been edited for length, Evenhaim muses on IANexus’ goals, what it will add to the pro-Israel community, and where it’s headed from here.

JEWISH JOURNAL: What will IANexus do that the existing cocktail of Jewish and pro-Israel lobbying groups doesn’t do?

SHAWN EVENHAIM: It adds because we believe that we have access, and we know we have access, to the Israeli-American community, which most other organizations do not have access to that community. That’s our goal: engaging and bringing that community to the whole other pro-Israel community and making sure we supplement the great work the other organizations are doing.

JJ: How big a role will BDS play?

SE: Last week, with very short notice and very short time of the organization’s existence, we sent 2,500 letters from the Israeli-American community to the two houses [of Congress]. … Our purpose is not just to fight BDS. Our purpose is much wider — [like] the agreement we recently helped facilitate about stem cell research. We will do many things in the local and state level. There is a void there because there’s a lot of great work on the federal level, but there’s not a lot of work on the local and state level.

JJ: Is water cooperation on the plate?

SE: Yes, for sure. Everything is on the plate. Anything we can do. These are two great countries with great initiatives and innovations, and we want to make sure that these two countries do as many things as possible together. We are not just pushing issues that are against Israel. We are pushing issues that are against any ally of the United States. Today, it’s Israel. Tomorrow, it can be another country. We want to make sure that as Americans we don’t allow people to come and do things that will harm our allies.

JJ: In terms of domestic policy, what are some specific things you want to accomplish?

SE: We’re working currently on some other things that we shouldn’t talk about now because they’re in progress. It’s not just about BDS, although BDS is the biggest problem out there today.

JJ: Will IANexus develop its own network or use IAC’s?

SE: They’re partner organizations, but a separate affiliate, so it will develop its own. But the community is the community. There are no two communities. They will tap into the same community, supplement a lot of the things the IAC has been doing anyhow. The IAC, when it started from Day One, has done advocacy. There are things the IAC should not be dealing with, and that’s when a group of us thought it would be instrumental to start another organization.

JJ: What shouldn’t the IAC be involved in?

SE: We always said the IAC should not deal with lobbying, and it should not.