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Bend The Arc, Jewish Advocacy Group, Launches PAC To Turn Conversation Away From Israel

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WASHINGTON -- Aiming to change the perception that American Jews are one-issue voters, a national advocacy group will expand its operations with a political action committee to promote a more rounded, progressive agenda.

Bend the Arc, the social justice organization that emerged this spring from the merger of Jewish Funds for Justice and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, on Wednesday will announce the opening of a Washington office and the creation of a PAC and a non-profit arm.

The group will have Democratic firepower to usher in the new era. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, will be in attendance, along with former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair and House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

The new entities will allow Bend the Arc to exert more influence on elected officials. And the predominant focus of the lobbying will be on moving the dialogue away from America-Israel relations and more toward domestic topics.

"I think there is lots of tactics [to influence politics] and I think the PAC is a tactic," said Alan van Capelle, the organization's chief executive officer. "Right now, most elected officials think that if they want a check from a Jewish American, they talk about one issue and they get the check. ... We want to make it that in addition to talking to Israel, they talk about the poor in this country or higher education.

"Imagine what the world would look like if the world said, 'Oh I'm speaking to a group of Jews, I better brush up on my tax policy.'"

The first issue that the revamped Bend the Arc will tackle, said Capelle, will be to pressure lawmakers to allow taxes on income over $250,000 to revert to pre-George W. Bush levels. A petition drive is being launched on the group's website, along with a pledge signed by American Jews earning more than $250,000, to support letting the top-end Bush tax cuts expire.

Bend The Arc's idea is a "domestic version of J Street," the advocacy group promoting a peaceful end to Arab-Israeli conflict, said a source with knowledge of Bend the Arc's mission. The four-year-old nonprofit has emerged as a leading promoter of a diplomatic resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But its advocacy hasn't been without a price, as its public and internal operations often end up the target of attacks from some of its more hard-lined brethren.

Bend the Arc seems likely to have a receptive audience. The progressive leanings of Jewish voters on domestic matters are apparent in opinion polls, even if they are often are drowned out by debates on international matters.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, is expected to make a trip to Israel in the coming weeks in which he will hammer the idea that President Barack Obama's policies have hurt that country. But while Obama has been dogged by this criticism throughout his administration, his standing in the Jewish community, remains strong despite a slip.

Capelle, who hails from the labor and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender advocacy world -- he worked both at Service Employees International Union and New York's Empire State Pride Agenda -- isn't endorsing the president's campaign. The group is officially non-partisan. But he said he wants to change the conversation away from the usual tops of Obama's Israel policy.

"If you would ask any elected official or a lot of journalists, what Jews care about more than anything they will say, 'They are a single-issue constituency and all they care about is Israel.' And I just believe that that's not true," said Capelle. "I want to invert the narrative that Jews in this country only care about one issue."

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