A partnership between two American Jewish organizations dedicated to selling Israel’s story to the world has broken up after disagreements emerged over what that story should be.
The Philadelphia Jewish Federation withdrew its $100,000 donation to a Washington-based group, The Israel Project, which had planned to use the money to set up an office in Jerusalem that is aimed at working with the foreign press corps there. The relationship between the two groups ended after it was revealed that the Philadelphia federation had named a critic of Israel’s Gaza disengagement plan to lead the project.
The federation is sticking with the critic, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, and planning to open its own office in Israel, which will provide resources for the 400-plus members of the foreign press corps.
The Israel Project is looking to members of its board of trustees to replace the $100,000 gift that was withdrawn. The board is set to decide at a meeting next month whether to go forward with the organization’s plan for an office in Israel.
“The Jewish Federation of Philadelphia and The Israel Project have different visions for a potential operation in Israel and have decided to purse them independently,” wrote Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, in an e-mail to the Forward. “Each organization understands that the other is working to help Israel and the Jewish people, and each wishes the other success.”
The co-chairman of the Philadelphia Federation’s Center for Israel and Overseas, Gary Erlbaum, said his organization was seeking to partner with other local Jewish federations. Erlbaum said the federation’s new program will be “fully supportive of the Israel government,” even though Marcus remains in charge of the initiative.
Marcus is the president of the local chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, an organization that has been a leading voice in America against the Israeli plan to pull out of Gaza and Jerusalem’s recent talks with Palestinian leaders.
Mizrahi said that promoting the Gaza disengagement plan would be a major task of any office established by her organization in Jerusalem.
“We’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about the disengagement plan,” she said. “We’re enthusiastically supporting the disengagement plan.”
Erlbaum countered that it would be a mistake for an organization dealing with the foreign press in Israel to be seen as advocating for a particular government policy.
“If you’re advocating, it may be wonderful and you may influence opinion, but you won’t be advocating and getting the attention of foreign journalists,” Erlbaum said. “The minute it appears you’re an advocate, that’s it, you’ve lost your credibility.”
Gideon Meir, deputy director general for public affairs at the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said that both groups are welcome to set up offices in Israel. But he noted that “it’s the raison d’etre of the Foreign Ministry to deal with the foreign press.”
“No one can compete with us,” Meir said.