While introducing herself at the start of a presentation, Halie Soifer shows a picture of her and her father, 31 years ago, in Washington, D.C., at a rally in support of Soviet Jewry, contrasting that with a picture of her and her oldest son at the March for Our Lives in March, 2018. For Soifer, it’s values like those that she is bringing to the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
Soifer was in Minneapolis recently to help promote the group, which formed 13 months ago after the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Soifer became the group’s first executive director about four months ago after leaving her position as a staffer for California Sen. Kamala Harris, which she started in January 2017.
“This is about values,” she said. “My parents taught me to speak up.”
Soifer has served in various national security roles working for Democrats in the Senate, House and in President Barack Obama’s administration.
“I’ve wanted to change the composition of Congress,” she said. “What I left in 2014 is very different to what I came back to in 2017. But one of the reasons I left the Hill, despite working for a great member, it had this feeling of Groundhog Day. Being on “The Resistance Treadmill” I called it: It’s totally exhausting and you get nowhere. Despite voting no as Sen. Harris and so many other Democrats do, these bills get passed and people get through. I decided that I could do a lot more if I turned off C-SPAN and focused on an affirmative agenda. JDCA does that.”
One of the founding board members — and the only Midwest-based board member — is Minneapolis Jewish community leader Beth Kieffer Leonard. Leonard said that the group has received backing from members of Congress who talked to her about how much the group means to Democrats.
“Our reach outweighs our numbers,” Leonard said. “We’re a tiny organization, but the part that’s been so amazing is that the members of Congress are saying, ‘We need you.’ We’re punching above our weight.
“The board has a lofty set of goals. We can’t sit and watch TV and complain. We have to do something.”
In the first midterm election cycle, the JDCA has endorsed 31 Democrats around the country and counting — that number could grow by Election Day. The organization looks at several criteria, including viability and whether the candidate’s views align with the values of the organization. With the endorsement comes an investment in a digital strategy to support their candidates.
“We have to choose candidates who are within a small margin in order to ensure that the Jewish community can play the role in determining the outcome,” Soifer said. “We are not just looking at candidates who are assured victory.”
Soifer cited Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas who is running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Kathy Manning, who is running for the house in North Carolina’s 13th district. Locally, they’ve endorsed Dean Phillips, who is challenging Rep. Erik Paulsen in the 3rd District, and Sen. Tina Smith, who is being challenged by State Sen. Karin Housley.
One trend that Soifer talked about is that the Jewish community has strongly supported Democrats — at least in presidential elections with a 71 percent-25 percent split since 1968.
“It’s about Jewish values in how we treat others,” she said. “Whether it’s those in our own community, or perhaps just as importantly those in need, we being refugees once ourselves understand the importance of not turning away the stranger and the refugee, and the importance of the value such as love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“I think these issues, these fundamental values, for some people, have formed the foundation of their political views. Those values are much more aligned with the Democratic party.”
The four platform planks are: civil liberties, economy, foreign policy, and human rights, with many topics under each part of the platform. Israel is listed among the foreign policy topics, but the organization isn’t a solely pro-Israel organization.
“Candidates will ask us about that: ‘Oh I was endorsed by J Street; is that a problem?’ Soifer said. “We don’t use that as a litmus test.”
She did point out that any suggestion of Democrats being less supportive of Israel than Republicans is a “total misconception.”
“If anything it’s the other side where Trump has made no sense, but has somewhat of an incoherent strategy in regards to Israel, but has definitely tried to politicize it,” she said. “It’s not in Israel’s interest, and Israel doesn’t believe it’s in its interest.”
Soifer kept coming back to the idea of an affirmative agenda, which is based on issues.
“You didn’t hear me talk about impeachment or in negative terms about the Republicans. I am looking to build something positive in terms of what I believe will be a Democrat-controlled Congress,” she said. “I see that goal within reach. I’ve devised a plan to get there with the Jewish community. I think we’re making progress that exceeds our own expectations.”