PAC head urges greater political involvement

PAC head urges greater political involvement

Clifton resident Gail Yamner – who will be sworn in as president of the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs on March 3 – attended her first JACPAC meeting in 2006 at the urging of a friend.

A former English teacher and the co-founder of Argyle Press, Yamner was intrigued by the friend’s description of the group as “an amazing Jewish organization that really knows how to get things done through the political process.”

Seeing for herself that not only was the group effective in its core mission of strengthening Israel-U.S. relations but that it had a progressive domestic agenda as well, Yamner told this newspaper that she was sold.

Gail Yamner will be sworn in as JACPAC president March 3.

According to JACPAC’s new president, the group began in the early 1980s, when several members of Congress friendly to Israel were defeated in their bids for re-election.

“A group of women in Chicago active in the Jewish community said, ‘We can do better. We too can reach out, become politically active, help bring attention to Israel, and get candidates elected.'”

Men have since joined the group, which is now nationwide. Its success rate has been good, said Yamner, stressing that JACPAC is not a lobbying group but rather an organization that engages in advocacy and helps elect candidates to Congress. In addition, she said, JACPAC’s support of domestic issues such as reproductive rights and separation of church and state is an important element for her.

“That is what makes us different from all other Israel-supporting groups,” she said, pointing out that Jewish values extend beyond a single issue.

“People don’t understand why I am such an ardent supporter of separation of church and state,” said Yamner, who was raised in South Carolina. “I grew up down south, sitting in a classroom where the teacher said, ‘Who went to church yesterday?'”

Yamner acknowledged that the candidates her group supports may sometimes, because of their particular constituency, find it hard to support the more liberal domestic agenda she champions. Still, she said, through its relationships and dialogue with members of Congress, the bipartisan political action committee “has had a positive impact on issues of concern to the American Jewish community and the nation as a whole.”

She recalls that the first JACPAC meeting she attended in Washington, D.C., brought together several women’s groups to explore ways of securing community funding for programs such as NORCs, naturally occurring retirement communities, which allow seniors to age in place.

“Other groups hadn’t figured out how to get to members of Congress,” she said. “When I saw this group of dynamic women with an agenda similar to my own, I said, ‘I’m there.’ The only way you can cause change is to be engaged in it.”

JACPAC has chapters in some 30 states, with a strong chapter in New York.

“New Jersey doesn’t have as strong a chapter,” said Yamner, “but there are people from our area in the New York chapter. I hope now there will be more.”

Members support candidates through dues as well as through additional donations. JACPAC “bundles” donation checks so that it will be clear that they came from the group’s members.

Yamner said she hopes JACPAC will be able to convince members of Congress to support the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and provides an international standard for protecting and promoting women’s human rights. The United States, she said, is among a small minority of countries that have not yet ratified CEDAW.

“We’ve talked to some senators about partnering on it,” she said.

The new JACPAC president – who has lived in Clifton for more than 35 years – has also chaired the Jewish Family Service of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic and serves on the board of its Riskin Children’s Center. Yamner is also involved with Prize4Life, which offers monetary incentives for scientific breakthroughs in ALS research.

“My daughter chairs the board of the organization and I help out however I can,” she said, adding that Prize4Life supports groups here and in Israel that are “looking into solving the mystery of ALS.”

Yamner said that at JACPAC’s March 3 meeting, where she will formally assume the title of president, delegates will meet with senators and representatives and “help provide Jewish contact for members who don’t have Jewish constituencies.” Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren will also address participants.

The Clifton resident would like to see more people become engaged in political action.

“If people would like to be engaged, have their voices heard, this provides a wonderful platform for them,” she said. “They can join and come once a year for the annual meeting in Washington to learn about the issues, speak to members of Congress, and discuss legislation that’s important in terms of core issues.”

JACPAC, she said, “lets people do more than just write a check or vote. You learn to become engaged.”

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