Founded in 1985 as the National Jewish Coalition, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is a Republican lobbying group that aims, according to its website, to "foster and enhance ties between the American Jewish community and Republican decision makers." The group 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, 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 adds: "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."
The RJC avidly 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, 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, another gambling magnate. The group's $6.5-million effort to mobilize Jewish voters against President Obama in 2012, for example, was widely reported to have been funded almost entirely by Adelson.
That figure would appear to represent a significant portion of the RJC's operating budget. In 2010, the most recent year for which its 990s were available as of late 2012, the group reporting raising about $13.1 million. Of that, 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 that year through its political action committee, which is apparently funded separately. The PAC continued to shell out contributions to Republican candidates throughout the 2012 cycle as well.