In 2006, Halie Soifer was working for Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), George W. Bush was president and the Iraq War was raging.
“That feels like a long time ago” she said with a laugh last week at WeWork on G Street, where the Jewish Democratic Council of America has its office.
Soifer, the JDCA’s new executive director, said Democrats were able to win back the House of Representatives that year because of unified opposition to the war. She thinks a similar result is possible in this year’s midterms due to the current president’s policies.
“Donald Trump has done more to unify Democrats in advocating for change than perhaps we [Democrats] have done in the past,” she said. “The outrage that we see… there is a desire for change that crosses generational lines.”
Soifer, 39, who began the job this month, is a veteran of Capitol Hill and a former adviser to United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. She said she hopes to use her background in Democratic politics and foreign policy to her advantage in her new role: mobilizing Jewish voter turnout in key races, expressing support for candidates on social media and making connections with consultants and other important political figures.
A native of East Lansing, Mich., Soifer said she grew up in a family of loyal Democrats. She remembers her father often talking about the Kennedys as political icons in the Democratic Party. In college she studied in Israel and interned at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. After that, she knew she wanted to have a career that combined her affection for Israel with Democratic politics.
Since moving to Washington 18 years ago, Soifer has worked for Wexler, along with Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), advising them on foreign policy matters.
She said that among her goals at JDCA is to make sure the organization backs Democratic candidates who have voiced strong support for Israel. She decried U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s recent comment that the Republican Party is more supportive of Israel. Friedman, she said, is trying to turn the Jewish state into a “partisan football.”
About one quarter of Jewish voters cast their ballot for Trump in 2016, many of whom did so believing his promises to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and move the embassy to Jerusalem would be good for Israel. Asked whether too many Jews are voting Republican, she said no.
“Those 20 to 30 percent of the Jewish community that tend to align with Republicans will continue to do so, but that’s not our focus,” she said. “Our focus is on Democrats.”
JDCA was formed last year in part as a response to the policies of the Trump administration, and to serve as a resource for Democratic candidates seeking support from the Jewish community. The organization replaced the National Jewish Democratic Council, which had been the main organization for Jewish Democrats in Washington but was no longer active.
Soifer said she was not part of the NJDC, although some of the JDCA’s board members were part of the old group.
JDCA, Soifer said, has positioned itself “in the center” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is not a competitor to the dovish, pro-Israel J Street, whose PAC almost exclusively funds Democrats.
“We’re not forcing anyone to choose between AIPAC or J Street,” she said. “We’re fundamentally different, in that we’re a partisan organization. We’re a Democratic organization.”
Dede Feinberg, who chaired the search committee for an executive director, wrote in a statement that Soifer’s set of experiences working in government set her apart from the other candidates the committee considered.
“Her strong record working on issues of importance to the Jewish community, coupled with her extensive experience on Capitol Hill, make her a perfect fit to lead our organization,” Feinberg wrote.
Aaron Keyak, managing director of the Washington communications firm Bluelight Strategies, knows Soifer from their days when both worked on Capitol Hill. (Bluelight Strategies handles public relations for JDCA.) Keyak said he would sometimes seek Soifer’s advice.
“Whenever there was a foreign policy issue, she loomed over it,” he said.
Asked what role her organization would play this election season, Soifer pointed to House Democrat Conor Lamb’s special election victory in Pennsylvania this past spring, decided by about 700 votes. That race, she said, is an example of when the Jewish vote is critical to Democrats’ success. Lamb, who is running for re-election in November, was one of six congressional Democratic candidates in four states the JDCA endorsed last week.
“We’d like to think that our role in some of these key races can be determinative,” she said.
Once more reflecting on the days of the Bush administration, Soifer remembered feeling angry about the war and the direction she thought the country was taking. But those emotions “pale in comparison” to her reaction to Trump.
“At least the Bush administration did share a certain respect of government in terms of the structure, agencies and staff,” she said. “I feel more concerned than I ever have before about this administration.”