By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Lillian Pinkus, president-elect of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), recently discussed the key tenets of her upcoming presidency with the Texas Jewish Post.
During this March 9 interview, Pinkus, who will begin her term as president during the upcoming March 20-22 AIPAC Policy Conference, focused her answers on what AIPAC members can look to expect under her leadership.
The child of two Holocaust survivors, Pinkus holds a B.A. from Brandeis and an M.Ed. from Harvard. She and her husband Jon have two sons, Aaron and Jared.
She was the first of several Dallas-Fort Worth residents to be named to the national board of AIPAC.
Her political journey began when Pinkus started writing letters to The Dallas Morning News — troubled about the problems and conditions of Israel.
Unfortunately, Pinkus said, she didn’t feel that particular avenue was making much of a difference.
However, one night, Pinkus met with Ann and Nate Levine — and learned from them about AIPAC.
The organization’s focus is building and strengthening the relationship between Israel and the United States.
She also learned about the importance of procuring strong bipartisan support for Israel.
“All of sudden it was like a light turned on,” Pinkus said during an appearance last October. “ … My first exposure to this was in Ann and Nate’s living room.”
Following is the special Q&A with Pinkus based on a recent interview regarding her upcoming presidency that she granted TJP staff writer Ben Tinsley.
Q: Could you take us through what you see as the key tenets of your upcoming presidency? Your mission statement, so to speak?
A: The work that we do as a pro-Israel community is reflective of American values. And so one of the key things I want to do is continue to make our movement as diverse as America is today.
… We need to grow the number of people who are involved in AIPAC and we need to grow the number of people that are involved in pro-Israel politics.
I have to say our Dallas community is a shining example of that. Because the growth in AIPAC as an organization and the growth of people involved in pro-Israel politics here in Dallas is incredible.
Q: It seems now is a precarious time for a lot of that — for the nation in general.
A: It is a challenging time, and that’s why we have had to come together. It’s certainly reason for people who are progressive and conservative, both sharing those values to support the U.S.-Israel relationship.
We find that time after time, you need people from both parties to impact policy. That’s what AIPAC is about: impacting foreign policy in a way that makes America strong and Israel safe.
Q: Right now, one of the interesting things is, as you transition in, the American president is transitioning out. You’ll have a whole different president whose face has yet to be seen and who has yet to be selected. Does this present any challenges to you? Or had you always prepared for this? Is it just something that comes with the office?
A: It is something we face every four years, right? We are ready and happy to work with any president the American people elect.
Q: Let me get back to your tenets.
A: So really it is growing, the pro-Israel movement in this country is growing in numbers and growing in diversity. Making sure we understand the strength of our movement comes from understanding its bipartisan nature and the fact that we are strong.
It makes tremendous sense for both progressives and conservatives to align on this one issue. Israel embodies progressive values. There’s plenty of reason for folks, whatever their outlook, to align and support.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you see in your way to accomplishing your goals?
A: AIPAC has to function in the greater American political environment. And I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that our political environment today is perhaps more polarized and more divisive than at any other time in recent memory.
So working in a bipartisan manner becomes difficult and challenging in that environment. But we’re committed to it and we make America stronger by doing that. Because that’s how in America, that’s how you get things done. You have to be able to bring people together. To pass a law you have to have a majority.
So you have to bring people together. That’s how ideas become laws in America.
Q: As far as the challenge, I am going to have to say I agree 100 percent with you. I can’t think of a more contentious time to be in your position than right now.
A: But I have to say, it is not intimidating to me. Actually I feel that we have the opportunity to help heal — to help bring people together.
You know, when you look back over recent times over the past decade or so there really has remained only one issue that has brought the two parties together. And that has been support for Israel.
I believe we need to, and I believe we can continue to, bring the parties tighter in our country and we need to because it serves America well and it serves Israel well. It is in the interest of both countries and I believe that helps strengthen who we are as a country.
Q: If I had a lot of time to prepare for the most challenging job I’ve ever had, I don’t think any time would really be enough. If you could stretch it another six months, do you think it would help? Or are you ready to go right now?
A: I don’t know that anyone ever feels they know everything they need to know to do the job they have. But you can’t let that stop you from engaging in the work.
And I have to say I hear that frequently from people: “Oh, I can’t go lobby this senator or that member of Congress, I don’t know enough.” But if you ever wait until you know enough, you’ll never get around to doing anything. “Do I know enough? Do I know everything?”
I don’t know everything but I have the confidence that there are incredible people around me — from the AIPAC professional staff to AIPAC’s national board — to let me know I am not alone in my work.
Q: How many Dallasites — as in, how many of your friends from Dallas — are going to be there (at the conference)?
A: It is the third largest contingent in the country. And it is over 300.
Q: Before you thought of being president, did you ever dream of having a duty this intense around this time in your life?
A: I never aspired to it. It’s all about the meaning of the work to me — all about making sure we strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. … I grew up in a household where my parents taught us they loved America. They loved this country and the opportunities it afforded them and they were so grateful their children could live in a country like America. They have explained what it was like to live in anther country.
And I also learned from them the importance of the state of Israel, the Jewish state of Israel. So, for me to be able to work in a manner that benefits both, that is what I care about.
Q: Is there anything you bring from your background to employ in your job that is really going to serve you the best now? Some aspect of your character and knowledge you will rely on?
A: I’m a listener. I think it is important to listen to both perspectives and I think it’s important to try to see where people are coming from, why they carry that perspective, I believe in trying to bring people together to solve problems. I believe that is what we need at this moment in time and we all work together to meet our goals.
But while doing that, you can’t compromise your core principles. You work together in a way that accomplishes the mission. The mission is to ensure the relationship between the United States and Israel is strong.
Q: Do you have any special techniques for staying calm when things get rough?
A: Very honestly, for me, being the president is less stressful than not being involved. I’ll tell you why: In life, we always have challenges, right? And as long as you feel that you have some measure, that you can make some impact on the challenge you are facing, you feel better, and AIPAC allows you to do that. And you don’t have to be president. This is why I got involved with AIPAC in the first place.
Q: Any takeaways you might wish to share with our readers?
A: (AIPAC is) for people who care about Israel. It is for people who want to be involved. It takes really responsible American citizens getting involved in AIPAC to accomplish both. You really then become able to shape the destiny — shape the future — because we help advance policies favorable to America and favorable to Israel.
I have to tell you: I moved to Dallas in 1974 and I came from New York. It was a very different environment for me. When I first got involved in AIPAC, you know, the pro-Israel community in Dallas was just waking up.
I am so proud of Dallas, I am so proud of our community and the people who are here and the leadership of Dallas. I just want to say I am thankful to Dallas because, very honestly, one of the ways I got recognized in AIPAC was the growth of Dallas, the things Dallas is doing, the number of people involved in pro-Israel politics, the birth of AIPAC as an organization.
Nationally, Dallas has been recognized as a growing center of pro-Israel activism. There is so much more. I am so very proud of our community.
(Editor’s note: Pinkus asked at the end of the interview to dedicate a little time to praise her husband for his support of her AIPAC presidency.)
I know I’m getting a lot of attention from this but this is a family affair. My husband Jon is right there with me all the way; he calls himself the “First Dude” now.
And I have to tell you, I couldn’t do it without his support. He has to let me go to Washington for four or five days a month, go to Israel four or five times a year for over a week, and travel to different cities.
He is so supportive and so encouraging of our work. It’s a family effort.
Some 2,000 Israel supporters from Dallas and Fort Worth gathered at the Winspear Opera House Feb. 28 for AIPAC Dallas’ annual event. The crowd was one of the biggest in AIPAC history across the country, rivaling much larger communities. Chairs Sherry and Kenny Goldberg and Lori and Mike Cohen welcomed guests and shared insights into the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. A highlight of the evening was when Staff Sergeant Robert Bartlett, Retired, a veteran who was wounded in Iraq in 2005, spoke about why he supports Israel. Local AIPAC Council Chair David Veeder moderated a brief congressional roundtable. Lillian Pinkus shared her vision as president-elect of AIPAC national. Rabbi David Stern made the case for AIPAC and the keynote speaker was Rabbi Daniel Gordis. A stirring rendition of Oseh Shalom was sung by first- and third-grade students from Akiba Academy.