Founded in 1985 as the National Jewish Coalition, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is a Republican lobbying group that claims to serve as a "unique bridge between the Jewish community and Republican decision-makers." The organization is a central component of the Republican Party's outreach to Jewish voters and increasingly a source of organizational muscle for Republican campaigns.
Alongside an economically conservative and "small-government" agenda characteristic of many other Republican advocacy groups, the RJC places an interventionist and Israel-centric U.S. foreign policy at the heart of its advocacy.
Channeling standard neoconservative rhetoric about the United States being a unique arbiter of good and evil in the world, the RJC casts national and international security in staunchly exceptionalist terms, once stating on its website: "Only America can and must lead the world in standing for the cause of freedom and democracy. The likely outcome of an America not intervening would be darkness overcoming light. Keeping the world free and safe for democracy is critical to our ability to be free citizens of our own country. Imagine a world without American strength—what would it be? All of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa could be under Nazi or Communist rule. America would be alone and the rest of the world would be in darkness."
It added: "We fully embrace a pro-Israel foreign policy. … As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel shares our values and is a bulwark against the forces of repression and anti-human rights regimes."
These memes are at the heart of neoconservative ideology, and have been consistently repeated by its core representatives for decades. As Elliott Abrams, the Iran-Contra veteran who served in the George W. Bush National Security Council, once argued: "Since America's emergence as a world power roughly a century ago, we have made many errors. But we have been the greatest force for good among the nations of the earth. A diminution of American power or influence bodes ill for our country, our friends, and our principles." Midge Decter, Abrams' mother-in-law and the spouse of neoconservative trailblazer Norman Podhoretz, clearly identifies the source of this belief in American exceptionalism: "In a world full of ambiguities and puzzlements, one thing is absolutely easy both to define and locate: that is the Jewish interest. The continued security—and in those happy places where the term applies, well-being—of the Jews, worldwide, rests with a strong, vital, prosperous, self-confident United States."
Despite its clear connection to a much-maligned political ideology, the RJC has in recent years become a critical player in Republican Party politics, in part because of the support of mega-donors. In 2014, for example, the RJC hosted leading Republican Party presidential contenders at its convention in Las Vegas. The event, which one journalist dubbed the "Adelson Primary" because of the central role played by Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kaisch, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "A single billionaire (Sheldon Adelson) held a cattle call, and potential Republican presidential candidates showed up," NBC's Chuck Todd said.
RJC regularly issues opinions and policy recommendations on current events. These often take the form of short quotes published on RJC's website by the group's executive director, Matthew Brooks. Most of its recommendations concern Israel or U.S. policy towards Iran and the Palestinians.
In 2015, after House Speaker Rep. John Boehner controversially invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to challenge President Obama's Iran strategy before Congress, Brooks declared his organization's determination to denounce Democratic members of Congress who had said they would skip the speech. "This is, I think a critical visit by the prime minister. If these Democrats would rather put partisan politics ahead of principle and walk out on the prime minister of Israel, then we have an obligation to make that known," said Brooks. "We will commit whatever resources we need to make sure that people are aware of the facts, that given the choice to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a nuclear Iran, they chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama."
RJC has vociferously opposed the Obama administration's focus on diplomacy in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. After an interim nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1 in November 2013, Brooks bemoaned: "President Obama's diplomacy is giving cheer to Tehran's rogue regime and causing alarm among our friends in the region—including Israel, Saudi Arabia and most other Gulf states. Congress and the American people need to speak out against this flawed deal."
In January 2015, the RJC applauded efforts by the Republican-led Senate to pass new sanctions on Iran that would likely scuttle negotiations. "Congress needs to place enhanced sanctions on Iran to demonstrate that we are serious about halting their nuclear weapons program," a January 2015 post on RJC's website read, even though experts agree that Iran halted work on nuclear weapons-related technology years ago.
RJC also lambasted Hillary Clinton for her opposition to more sanctions, stating: "For four years Hillary Clinton proved to the world that her foreign policy judgment and skills are clearly lacking. Now, former Secretary Clinton fails to realize that after exhaustive negotiations with Iran, rewarding them with more time is a catalyst to empower and embolden the Iranian regime further."
In early 2015, after both President Obama and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) argued that donor pressure played a role pushing some members of Congress to support certain Middle East policies, RJC bemoaned "these troubling episodes are occurring more and more frequently from Democrats, including the President." Said Brooks: "It seems that President Obama and Congressman Yarmuth live in the some parallel universe where any support for the state of Israel is the result of 'donors' or 'fundraising' and not genuine concern or support for Israel and its security."
After the failure of the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, RJC sharply rebuked Secretary of State John Kerry for what it deemed his "outrageous" attempt to "blame the Jewish State" for the collapse of the talks. "Secretary Kerry's testimony today is a troubling consequence of the Obama administration's assumption that increasing the pressure on Israel will bring the Palestinians back to a process they have repeatedly rejected," read an RJC statement.
During the 2014 Gaza War, RJC released a statement saying it was "deeply disappointed" by President Obama's decision to call for an "immediate, unconditional, humanitarian" ceasefire in the conflict. "It seems the administration is focused on pressing Israel to halt hostilities without recognizing Israel's imperative need to end the threat of the terrorist tunnels," contended a post on RJC's website.
RJC has also come out against the Obama administration's rapprochement with Cuba. In December 2014, RJC said it had a "deep concern about President Obama's decision to begin normalizing relations with the totalitarian government of Cuba."
RJC frequently highlights polls that appear to indicate growing support for Republicans among Jewish voters, despite the fact that American Jews continue to support Democratic Party candidates by large majorities. Claiming that an "Israel gap" exists between the two parties, a July 2014 post on RJC's website read: "At a time when Israel is clearly engaged in an existential conflict, fighting for its right to exist, it is disappointing that Democrats in this country do not share the same high level of support for Israel that is seen among Republicans."
The RJC strongly supported the 2012 Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan Republican ticket, placing itself at the center of a high-profile GOP effort to win votes from traditionally Democratic-leaning American Jews—primarily by characterizing President Obama's support for Israel as insufficient and suspect.
Reported Politico in October 2012: "Funded in large part by billionaire gaming magnate Sheldon Adelson—an unswerving supporter of Israel and its conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu—these [conservative Jewish] groups have helped place Israel at the core of the GOP message on foreign policy."
The $6.5-million campaign was kicked off in the summer of 2012 and funded almost entirely by Adelson, who serves on the RJC board of directors. It included setting up phone banks, undertaking door-to-door canvassing efforts, and providing grassroots training exercises to reach Jewish voters, particularly in the closely contested states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The organizing effort was accompanied by an ad blitz featuring supposed testimonials from Jewish voters who said they had supported Obama in 2008 but turned to Romney in 2012 over the issue of Israel.
In September 2012, the Huffington Post reported that the RJC was offering free iPads and American Express gift cards to phone bank "volunteers" in a handful of states. RJC executive director Matt Brooks called the incentives an "infinitesimal amount" of what the group planned to spend to defeat Obama.
The RJC's push in key swing states was accompanied by outreach to the 164,000 Jewish American expatriates living in Israel and its settlements in the West Bank—a group that, unlike its stateside counterpart, tilts definitively toward Republicans. When the Romney campaign visited Israel in July 2012, Brooks and Ari Fleischer—an RJC board member and a former press secretary for President George W. Bush—visited West Bank settlements to rally potential supporters.
Brooks and Fleischer were hosted by a purportedly non-partisan group called "iVoteIsrael," an American-Israeli organization which, according to the Daily Beast, "facilitates online registration and collects absentee ballots at its many drop-box locations … which will then be mailed to the U.S. on voters' behalf." The report added, "iVoteIsrael's close ties to Republican officials, demagogic messaging and pro-settlement proclivities all point to a partisan bent—and their handling of absentee ballots may be in violation of U.S law," which requires that ballots be collected by election officials rather than private interest groups.
With polls late in the race showing continued overwhelming Jewish support for Obama, some observers speculated about whether Jewish conservatives had marginalized themselves as a result of these campaigns. Reported Politico in late October 2012: "Conservative pro-Israel groups that have spent millions of dollars targeting President Barack Obama's policies toward the Jewish state are facing a daunting reality: If the president wins anyway, their political influence may never be the same."
RJC's executive director is Matt Brooks, who also heads the RJC-linked Jewish Policy Center. A longtime Republican activist, Brooks frequently appears in major media outlets and once served as the Massachusetts director for the presidential campaign of the late Jack Kemp. Thanks in part to the largesse of donors like Sheldon Adelson, Brooks was one of the highest-paid top executives of a Jewish organization relative to its overall budget in 2012. (The other was Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, another Adelson-funded outfit).
Sheldon Adelson may be the best-known member of RJC's extensive board of directors, but the list also includes former Bush hands like Ari Fleischer, Bernard Marcus, David Frum, and Josh Bolten, as well as former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign.
The group has been associated with numerous hawkish and neoconservative Republicans over the years. Its founding chairman was Lawrence Kadish, a real estate investor who went on to serve as a senior adviser to the neoconservative pressure group Americans for Victory of Terrorism. A former vice-chair is Clifford May, founder of the stridently hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mel Sembler—another real estate magnate who has supported right-wing groups like the American Enterprise Institute, Freedom's Watch, and Keep America Safe over the years—is a longtime board member, as is Walter Stern, who has served as vice president of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy and as a board member at the Hudson Institute.
Funding and Expenditures
Although the RJC purports to be funded by a grassroots network of individual contributors, media reports have often emphasized the outsized role of influential high-dollar donors like Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moskowitz, also a gambling magnate. The group's super PAC offshoot, the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund, received $2 million from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson during the 2012 presidential election.
In 2012, the group reported raising about $10 million. This was down from the $13.1 million the group reported raising in 2010. Of this amount in 2010, it distributed fully $8 million to the "nonprofit" GOP political action committees Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, which spent millions during the 2010 congressional campaign on advertisements attacking Democrats. Crossroads is linked to the GOP strategist Karl Rove, while the American Action Network—with whom Crossroads shares an office space—includes board member Norm Coleman, who is also on the RJC board.
The RJC reported spending another $3.7 million on lobbying and political contributions in 2010 through its political action committee, which is apparently funded separately.