Founded in 2002, the Israel Project (TIP) is a Washington- and Jerusalem-based advocacy organization that aims to disseminate information about Israel and the Middle East with the goal of giving a "more positive public face" to the country. TIP supports the controversial wall along the West Bank, advocates a hard line on Iran, and actively promotes the work of hawkish think tanks and writers—even as it claims to be a non-profit educational organization that "gets facts about Israel and the Middle East to press, public officials and the public."
TIP's core activities include publishing talking points, issuing action alerts, promoting speakers, and commissioning public opinion polls and television advertisements. Since 2013, it has also published The Tower, an online news magazine on Middle Eastern affairs.
A sign of the Israel Project's pull in Washington is the long list of senators and congressional representatives from both parties who apparently serve as advisors to the group. As of late 2013, TIP's Board of Advisors included about a dozen members each from the House of Representatives and the Senate. Current advisers include Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) along with Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), among others. Past advisers have included former Sens. Rick Santorum and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), as well as Rep. Allen West (R-FL).
TIP's president and CEO is Josh Block, a former spokesperson for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and fellow at the hawkish, Democratic Party-aligned Progressive Policy Institute. Block has helmed the organization since August 2012, when he replaced TIP founder's, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. Commenting on the change in leadership, Nathan Guttman of Forward wrote: "Block's reputation as a pro-Israel bulldog seems to stand in stark contrast to that of Mizrahi, who chose mostly to engage with journalists and policymakers rather than fight with them."
Block has helpedsteer the group away from the global focus it maintained under its former president and toward a more parochial, Washington-centric approach. "There exists today," Block said shortly after taking over the organization, "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." TIP, Block added, "blunts the spread of false, malignant, even anti-Semitic claptrap."
Under Block's leadership, TIP has engaged directly in divisive partisan battles in Washington, sometimes staking itself in opposition to the White House. For example, when Block derided future Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's "realist" views on Iran as "well outside the mainstream" during Hagel's confirmation battle, a former administration official familiar with TIP remarked that Block's confrontational style "calls into question what the role of TIP is, could be and should be."
Action Alerts and Talking Points
A key item on TIP's advocacy agenda has been to warn of "threats" to Israel, including everything from Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program to international aid flotillas attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In 2013, for example, Block announced that TIP opposed the Obama administration's 2013 negotiations with Iran, arguing in favor of increasing sanctions even while talks are underway and warning that any agreement that allows Iran to peacefully enrich uranium on its own soil—a right under the Nonproliferation Treaty—would be an "unacceptable outcome."
In an August 2012 "TIP Take Action Alert," the group proposed a number of alarmist "talking points" for a message that TIP followers could send to U.S. leaders, including that "Iran's leaders are defying U.N. resolutions and world opinion by continuing to develop nuclear weapons while issuing frequent threats to destroy Israel." However, at the time of the action alert, U.S. intelligence agencies held that there was no evidence indicating that the country had begun work on a nuclear weapon.
The petition also claimed that by "attending the Non-Aligned summit in Tehran on August 26,  world leaders and the U.N. Secretary General are sabotaging … peaceful efforts to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program"; that "any leader that shakes hands with [then Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is condoning his anti-Semitic attacks on Israel and the Jewish people"; and that "the United States should make its friends and allies aware they should not attend this meeting and their attendance would be viewed by Washington as a negative and unfriendly act."
In July 2011, the project issued a dire warning about a then-impending flotilla planned by pro-Palestinian activists to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and the West Bank: "Almost two months after Lebanese and Syrian protesters stormed Israel's northern borders threatening Israel's national security, activists are again ready to challenge Israel's legitimacy by air and sea." TIP quoted Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch as saying, "The same hooligans who tried to break the law and disrupt the peace will not be allowed into Israel and will return to their home countries."
TIP has heavily criticized the Obama administration's policy on Israel. During the 2009 settlements row between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama administration officials, TIP claimed that anti-settlement policies amounted to "a kind of ethnic cleansing to move all Jews" out of the West Bank.
In 2009, the lobby group found itself in hot water for dubious signatures on an anti-Iran petition it commissioned. Reported Spencer Ackerman: "But clicking through that link to take a closer look at those signatories raises substantial questions about their authenticity. For instance, signatories 84,854 through 85,071 are all named 'Vince Vince'—although the Israel Project claims that all those different Vince Vinces are from different states. Well, sort of. Some of them are from states listed by recognizable acronyms like MN or AZ or PA. Others, however, are from the great states of GU and AA and XX. … Nor does the curious reader even have to examine the list that far down. Signatory number five is listed as Comfylovely ……. —and no, those aren't ellipses I've placed in for dramatic effect; that's Comfylovely's listed last name—from the proud city of Davao in the historic state of XX. …That's not even the most disturbing part of the signatories. The Israel Project lists the following as enthusiastic supporters of sanctioning Iran: Viagra Kaufen Viagra Kaufen, London, N.Y. (signatory #84,570); Porn Sex Video from London, N.Y. (signatory #62,751-62,756); Stupidwhiteman V, who declined to list an address (signatory #83,780); and Xbox 360 accessories — that's a first and last name — from New York, N.Y. (signatory #90,046)."
Ackerman quoted TIP's founder and president Jennifer Laszio Mizrahi as telling him, "They're activists and they go through a secure thing. We have 140,000 activists who work with us, so yes. A lot of them have similar names, because they're related."
Polls and Advertisements
TIP's other core activities include funding public opinion polls on U.S. views of Israel and its neighbors and producing TV commercials promoting an Israel-centric view of the Middle East. In early 2004, for example, the group began running 30-second TV ads across the United States, which according to UPI featured "mothers of victims killed in suicide bombings" in an effort to build support for building the so-called security barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
During the summer 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, TIP hired Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to undertake an opinion poll aimed at measuring U.S. public support for Israel as the country bombed southern Lebanon. According to Christian Science Monitor, the TIP poll found that support for Israel had risen to 60 percent by July 2006, up from 45 percent that January. Asked about the poll, TIP's Jennifer Laszlo Mizrah said: "Americans are so close to Israel that when Israel's at war, they really rally around Israel." She added, however: "You can't expect that that level of excitement will sustain throughout a military engagement."
In 2010, a TIP-sponsored poll found that "pro-Israel" attitudes were purportedly sharply declining in the United States. Haaretz reported, "One of the questions that the poll presented was 'Does the U.S. need to support Israel?' In August of 2009, 63 percent of Americans polled said that the U.S. does need to support Israel. In June of this year, 58 percent of respondents shared the same view; by July only 51 percent of respondents said the U.S. needed to support Israel."
According to Haaretz, an explanation for the some of the results was the shift in governments at the time. "Another question posed by the pole was 'Is the Israeli government committed to peace with the Palestinians?' In December of 2007, 66 percent of respondents said that the government, then led by Ehud Olmert, was committed to peace with the Palestinians. In June of 2009, a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House, only 46 percent of Americans said they believed the Netanyahu government was committed to peace."
Influence and Connections
Soon after it was founded, TIP quickly generated enormous attention and support from the "pro-Israel" community. In August 2004, for example, when Ambassador Arye Mekel, Israel's then newly appointed consul general in New York, made his first public appearance in the United States, it was at an event organized by TIP and held on a yacht at New York's Chelsea Piers. Reported the New York Sun: "The Israel Project, founded in 2002, is a newcomer to the already crowded field of American pro-Israel organizations. But it seems to be welcomed by the established groups: also in attendance at the event yesterday were the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, and the executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Michael Miller."
More impressive was TIP's July 19, 2007 press conference held on Capitol Hill to publicize the "Iranian threat," at which a number of current and former congressional members and well-known neoconservative pundits spoke, including Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. According to TIP's website, among those speaking at the event were Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. (now Sen.) Mark Kirk (R-IL), Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Engel, who serves on TIP's board of advisers, told the audience: "This is our Munich. We need to stand up to Iran and tell them they cannot thumb their noses at world opinion."
Many 2008 presidential candidates contributed statements to the press conference, including Sen. Joe Biden, (D-DE), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), former Sen. John Edwards, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). In his statement, Obama said: "Allowing Iran, a radical theocracy that supports terrorism and openly threatens its neighbors, to acquire nuclear weapons is a risk we cannot take. All nations need to understand that, while Iran's most explicit and intolerable threats are aimed at Israel, its conduct threatens all of us."
Although the organization is not represented by any of the usual neoconservative suspects who populate the boards of other like-minded organizations, TIP's website prominently promotes many hardline groups and personalities. Its website has promoted the work of the Meyrav Wurmser-founded Middle East Media Research Institute; Clifford May and Walid Phares of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Gaffney and CSP; David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Ilan Berman; and Ken Timmerman of the Middle East Data Project.
According to TIP's 2011 Form 990, the group collected around $2.8 million in revenues—down from over $19 million the preceding year.