AACI to Ramp Up Advocacy Efforts

New president says focus will be quality of life issues, not political lobbying

The recently installed president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel says he is introducing an advocacy initiative to breathe new life into its storied history of civic engagement.

"We've been involved in a number of programs over the years, which helped improve quality of life for everyone in Israel," said Asa Cohen, who succeeded Debbie Milgram at AACI's top post in April. "As the new president, I saw that there was an opportunity - and the need - for us to take that legacy that we have of doing things to improve quality of life and to revitalize it."

Cohen, who moved from New York to Jerusalem with his wife Suzanne five years ago, said it is too early to name concrete issues the new initiative seeks to tackle, but added that more than two dozen Anglos - including non-AACI members - already expressed interest in actively participating.

"The Initiative will be made up of a steering committee to identify non-political issues to be addressed; project committees to work with team leaders on specific issues; and a corps of advisors who will offer their expertise to a project," the nonprofit announced in its newsletter last week.

During AACI's most recent campaign, it encouraged members to send faxes to the U.S. Senate urging Congress to eliminate an excise tax on Americans abroad that was a part of the proposed health care overhaul. Rather than reacting in such an ad-hoc manner to arising issues, the new initiative will have permanent professional advisors who will constantly discuss in which areas to become active, Cohen said.

The new initiative will not deal with political issues or engage in or pro-Israel advocacy but exclusively focus on quality of life issues, according to Cohen. "We want to bring in our North American sensitivities and concerns," he said, adding that advocating for enhanced consumer protection laws is one possible area of activity.

"AACI has a long history of taking on various quality of life issues," says Cohen. "Shortly after AACI was put together in 1951 it had its first advocacy program," he notes, referring to the sponsoring of housing projects for Western immigrants in Kfar Haroeh, Holon and Herzliya Pituach in 1957.

In the 1970s, AACI sponsored appeals to the U.S. State Department to liberalize provisions to enable immigrants from America to retain their citizenship, and, some 20 years later, organized an English tutoring program with over 1,000 of its members to assist thousands of new Russian and Ethiopian immigrants.

The organization received the Knesset Award for Improving the Quality of Life in Israel in 1990 for its various civic engagements, according to Cohen. They include lobbying the Knesset for anti-smoking legislations and to include western immigrants who arrived after age 60 within the bounds of the National Health Insurance Law.