Jewish Journal

Too Big to Ignore

Two groups -- one new, one old -- push thousands of women to become better advocates for Israel.

by Wendy J. Madnick

Posted on Jun. 13, 2002 at 8:00 pm

It was the first cool night in the midst of a heat wave and Rosalie Zalis, executive director of Winnick Family Foundation and former liaison to the Jewish community for ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, was preaching to the masses.

"You should get involved with a political action committee," the longtime activist told the group of mostly women gathered in the chapel at Adat Ari El June 6. "Even if it's only sending a small amount of money to AIPAC [The American Israel Public Affairs Committee] -- they will teach you how to lobby.

"You need to be aware of what everyone who you vote for thinks about Israel. Write letters to your congressperson and to your senators, thanking them when they do something for Israel. Make phone calls, send e-mails. You don't know how important your voice is."

Zalis' speech was part of the kickoff event for a new nonprofit organization called Women in Solidarity. The group comprises a coalition of five of the most prominent women's organization in Los Angeles: Americans for Israel and Torah, the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles, Hadassah Southern California, NA'AMAT USA and Women's American ORT.

"The idea is to educate women to advocate, to make women's voices heard in the state of Israel and to educate unaffiliated women about what each of our groups is doing and involve them in our humanitarian work," said Miriam Hearn, western area director for NA'AMAT USA.

Hearn said the group's intention is not to raise money, although donations to any of the organizations are welcome.

"There are many needs throughout Israel where our organizations are involved," she said. "For instance, NA'AMAT has day-care centers taking care of one-quarter of Israel's preschool-age children, and these 350 centers need guards and security gates. But to belong to Women in Solidarity or any of our organizations doesn't mean you have to have a significant amount of money to donate. "

According to Hearn, members of NA'AMAT came up with the idea for the coalition in early April and representatives of each organization met over the next few months to plan the June conference. The group is currently seeking input for its next event.

"There have been a good many rallies and Israel support events held locally, but nothing that talks about what is going on from a woman's point of view," said Hearn. "I see Women in Solidarity as a channel through which women's voices can be heard."

While Women in Solidarity is just embarking on its mission, the Women's Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee is well-established in theirs. Founded in 1989, the Women's Alliance is a single-issue political action committee with one concern: to seek out and provide funds for congressional and senatorial candidates who will or have fostered pro-Israel legislation. These donations differentiate the group from lobbying entities such as the AIPAC and The Jewish Federation, which are prohibited by law from making donations to candidates.

The organization, which lists between 500 and 600 people as members, raises approximately $500,000 each year for candidates, with disbursements ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Co-President Nancy Klemens said the group has seen an increase in donations in recent months, due in part to the escalating conflict in the Middle East.

Membership in the Women's Alliance begins at a minimum level of $150 a year and goes up several different levels to Founders, who donate $1,000 or more a year.

"Our members research candidates to find out how much they have raised and who is their opponent and how much they have raised, and then our members bring their reports to our meetings," Klemens said. "All things being equal, we usually support the incumbent if they have been a friend of Israel."

She said the group is bipartisan. "Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter. As long as [the candidates] are trying to meet our goal, we are happy to support them."

The group, along with AIPAC and other Zionist organizations, does accomplish its goals -- just ask lawmakers like Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who spoke before Women's Alliance members June 9.

"I would say the strongest lobbying in Washington, D.C., is the Israel lobby," Sanchez told The Jewish Journal. "First, because it is a bipartisan lobby, which is good for its credibility. Second, there are many groups that come to lobby that have differences in other ways -- JACPAC [the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs] vs. AIPAC -- but they all make a concerted effort, even when there are no bills on the floor relating to Israel. They come in consistently to Washington, and that makes the lobby very strong."

Sanchez said the contributions of female advocates for Israel on Capitol Hill could not be overstated.

"This is one of the few lobbies where the majority of people who come to see me on this issue tend to be women," she said.

Zalis said, "We [Jews] are such a small community, and we cannot afford to write off half our population." Zalis said.

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