New Leader Josh Block Gives Makeover to The Israel Project

Brings In-Your-Face Style and Launches New Publication

New Approach: The head of The Israel Project, Josh Block, right, and David Hazony appear at a launch of the group’s new publication, The Tower.
Nathan Guttman
New Approach: The head of The Israel Project, Josh Block, right, and David Hazony appear at a launch of the group’s new publication, The Tower.

By Nathan Guttman

Published April 02, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.

(page 3 of 3)

Block, while stating that TIP’s mission and goals remain unchanged, comes to the organization with strong convictions about threats that pro-Israel advocacy faces from critics. He sees many of those critics as aligned with the liberal camp. And he paints them in stark terms.

“There exists today a well-coordinated and financed, albeit fringe, echo chamber of organizations and individuals ranging from anti-Zionist conspiracists and apologists for Iran, and [for] terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah, to anti-Israel advocates and those hypocritically and relentlessly critical of Israel, seeking to spread and mainstream distortions and misinformation in pursuit of their misguided and often hostile agenda,” Block said. TIP’s work, he said, “blunts the spread of false, malignant, even anti-Semitic claptrap.”

Still, for Block, this is a painstakingly cautious choice of words. Known to many in the media world for his blunt style, Block went to war as recently as last year with CAP and Media Matters, accusing the groups of “borderline anti-Semitism” for using terms such as “Israel firsters.”

Armed with an impressive contact list of national journalists, Block has at times also taken on the Obama administration for its policies on Israel by sending massive email blasts and circulating publications critical of these policies. Most recently, Block got involved in the controversy over Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel to be his defense secretary. In interviews, he attacked Hagel’s record on Iran and described his views as “well outside the mainstream.”

Block says that his intervention regarding Hagel was not partisan; rather, it was a policy opinion given before the nomination became official. By going to battle at that stage of the process, he said, “we were able to be descriptive of the facts and record, which helped lead to an important public conversation and a reversal [by Hagel] of views on the key Iran-related issues we identified.”

Block argued that national Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee took harsher positions against Hagel. But a former administration official noted that Block’s actions did not seem in line with TIP’s previous strict policy of not taking sides, at least directly, in ongoing partisan political clashes in Washington. The group’s departure from acting merely as a helpful source for pro-Israel information “calls into question what the role of TIP is, could be and should be,” said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, so as not to appear to be reflecting an official administration view.

Block, 39, was chosen to head TIP last summer after a lengthy search process following Mizrahi’s departure. He served previously as spokesman and strategic communications director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for a decade, but the biographic detail he tends to highlight most is his stint in the Clinton administration as a spokesman at the U.S. Agency for International Development. This role, and his work in Democratic politics earlier, is frequently brought up as a response to claims of partisanship. Block’s father, Rabbi Richard Block, was recently installed as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

“He is a Scoop Jackson Democrat,” said William Daroff, vice president of public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America, when describing Josh Block’s views. “In his time at AIPAC and at TIP, he has done a yeoman’s effort in joining me in the post-partisan caucus of Jewish officials.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman



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