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The Israel Project, Federation in Philadelphia Agree to Disagree

March 22, 2005
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The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and The Israel Project have dissolved a partnership they had formed to promote Israel’s image. Their reason for doing so isn’t entirely clear.

The federation withdrew $100,000 it donated to open an Israel-based office for The Israel Project, a Washington-based firm that tries to promote Israel’s image in the media.

That office would have served as a media-resource center in Israel, furnishing reporters with translators or camera crews so they could gain a better understanding of the Jewish state.

The Israel Project says it still hopes to open the office.

Today, its efforts to promote Israel’s image are focused on the government’s “disengagement” plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements this summer.

The federation liaison to the project was Lori Lowenthal Marcus, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, which vehemently opposes disengagement. The ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein, characterizes his group’s position as “anti forced deportation.”

But Marcus insists disengagement wasn’t the reason for the partnership’s collapse.

“It was a difference in methodology, not ideology,” she told JTA. The federation wanted a project without a political agenda, she said.

Roy Freundlich, public-relations manager for the Philadelphia federation, said the idea for an “on-site media support operation” grew out of federation activists’ frustration at news reports they considered biased against Israel.

The Israel office would have been about “ensuring and promoting credible reporting, not about advocating one thing or another,” Freundlich said.

Federation official Gary Erlebaum told the Forward that “the minute it appears you’re an advocate, that’s it, you’ve lost your credibility” with journalists.

But Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the Israel Project’s president, said, “it’s always been clear since the beginning that The Israel Project is about bringing more support for Israel.”

“The Israel Project is just like AIPAC,” she said, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.

“We never campaign for a policy,” she said, but once a policy is decided, “we help educate people about that.”

The Israel Project released polling data last week showing that support for Israel increased when people became aware of the disengagement plan.

The federation and The Israel Project issued a joint statement saying that they “have different visions for a potential operation in Israel and have decided to pursue them independently. Each organization understands that the other is working to help Israel and the Jewish people and each wishes the other success.”

Both organizations told JTA they’re seeking new partners to further their goals.

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