Bend the Arc’s leader speaks about group’s goals

Jewish Journal
August 8, 2012
Ryan Torok

With tax reform on his mind, Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, came to Los Angeles to talk with young professionals during an Aug. 1 house party about what sets his social justice organization apart.

“We are now the only Jewish social justice nonprofit that has a lobbying arm in Washington that doesn’t touch the State of Israel as an issue,” Van Capelle said. There are a lot of groups working on Israel, and we only work on domestic issues.”

Emerging out of last year’s merger between Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) and Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ), Bend the Arc hopes to continue those organizations’ legacies of fighting for economic and social justice as a progressive and Jewish voice. But it’s also carving its own identity, and in July launched Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC and its lobbying arm Bend the Arc Jewish Action.

“We don’t want to be a group that just issues press releases,” said Van Capelle, who traveled from New York to Los Angeles to attend the Aug. 1 event in Century City.

Bend the Arc is planning two campaigns that have already garnered media attention. During the last two weeks of August, the organization plans to hold a bus tour targeting the 10 wealthiest members of Congress who oppose allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire. The organization’s second campaign entails finding 613 Jews who earn more than $250,000 annually who are willing to ask for their tax cuts to be repealed.

Other speakers included Eric Greene, Southern California regional director of Bend the Arc, and New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch, who previously served as PJA’s executive director.

Hosted by attorneys Alex De Good and Nancy Solomon, the party drew attendees with affiliations to progressive synagogues IKAR and Nashuva, Jewish environmental groups Wilderness Torah, Netiya and Hazon, left-leaning Israel organization J Street and Bend the Arc’s young adult leadership-training Jeremiah Fellowship.

Among those mingling in the crowd was 26-year-old employment litigator Michael Frieman, who said his admiration of human rights and of energy advocate Van Jones, whom Bend the Arc honored in May, led him to the organization.

Coming from a background steeped in labor as well as gay and lesbian rights, Van Capelle said his role as CEO of Bend the Arc, which he assumed in January, is a perfect fit.

“Here is the first time that I have been able to be Jewish and out and progressive,” he said, “and do it all in the same place.”