After ten years at the fore of one of the most well-known Israeli advocacy groups, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi has declared her intent to step down as president of The Israel Project in upcoming months. At a media event held to announce the plans, several representatives of the nonprofit organization took the opportunity to reflect on the popular images of Israel around the globe.
Renowned for its informative polls regarding Israeli policy and its enduring efforts to establish peace in the Middle East and provide a positive perspective on the Jewish state’s democratic government and global economic impact, the Israel Project has earned an impressive reputation during Mizrahi’s tenure and boasted of its achievements in the latest press briefing.
Allan Elsner, TIP’s Executive Director of the Americas, provided instructive information on the American public’s general perspective on Israel. Support for Israel generally stems from Evangelical Christians, republicans, conservatives, and older Americans, explained Elsner, while democrats and others among the “liberal elite” have given more mild attention to the nation. African- Americans have been targeted by The Israel Project, along with Hispanic Americans, a growing demographic which has overwhelmingly negative views on Israel because of their Catholic origins, TIP said. Elsner emphasized how these sectors of the populace would be the subject of TIP’s future efforts, to fix “groups where we have a problem.”
The organization has also strived to intensify Israeli advocacy in Europe, but have experienced little success, said Executive Director of Global Affairs, Laura Kam. Instead of attempting to overhaul anti-Israel sentiments on the continent, The Israel Project has made reinforcing links with European Jewish communities abroad a priority.
In Asia, TIP has been largely successful in providing Russians, Indians, and the Chinese with information on Israeli industries, which have ostensibly been accorded greater respect overseas than on American soil. Americans have images of Israel ingrained in their minds through years of media manipulation, and national discussion has primarily centered on peace talk and the Arab-Israeli conflict. For Mizrahi, molding public perspective in the U.S. will necessarily center on Israel’s “quest for peace, shared values and the common front [, between the U.S. and Israel,] in the fight against terrorism.”
The question of whether public relations firms such as The Israel project actually effect any change in popular perception of Israel and the Jewish nation is a contested one. Some see images of Israel as deeply seated in the Arab-Israeli conflict, anti-Semitic sentiments, and, put more generally, Israel’s activities as opposed to the way they are portrayed by the media. Advocates such as Mizrahi contend, however, that it is precisely the way the media presents information that people formulate their conceptions about Israel, Jews, and other political issues.
The Israel Project stresses relationships rather than outright advocacy, and its approach has translated into a 240,000 member e-mailing list, an 84 employee firm situated in midtown Manhattan, and a multi-million dollar annual budget. The firm has consulted with presidential candidates and prominent officials from the U.S., Israel, and even Palestine, where it continually pushes to clarify Israel’s image in Arabic news media. In an increasingly influential technological age, the organization has demonstrated its success by creating a heavily visited Facebook page, Israel Uncensored. According to TIP, the page is “liked” by 300,000 members, half of them Egyptians.
Rather than meeting with officials on behalf of Israel, the organization works to influence by influencing those who influence—namely, the media. “We share [our] information with all the political leaders across the political spectrum because they’re the ones being interviewed on television,” Mizrahi has said. TIP has files on journalists from a wide range of media outlets, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and continues to offer helicopter rides around Israel, called “intellicopter tours,” to depict Israel’s security challenges to visitors.
Israeli advocacy has exhausted Mizrahi’s engine, she says, and the organization’s president hopes to return to strategic communications after her departure from TIP. “I’m burned out on Israel,” Mizrahi told reporters Monday. “I’ve been doing The Israel Project for ten years without rest. Dayeinu. I’m tired.” She plans to restart Laszlo and associates, the firm she led before TIP, after a five month transition period in which the organization searches for a new CEO, and a two month summer break, which Mizrahi plans on spending with her family. With a special-needs child, she is also considering pursuing advocacy opportunities in the relevant health sphere. Regardless of her future, Mizrahi has implied she will not forget TIP.
“I will always be the founder of the Israel Project,” she said.