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WASHINGTON—The frontlines of the Arab-Israeli dispute are not just at border crossings, West Bank towns or Gaza streets, but play out in Washington and the world of international politics, newspapers and television screens.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi has been a leader on those frontlines of “hasbara” (public relations) since 2002, when she co-founded the Washington and Jerusalem-based The Israel Project (TIP), a non-profit organization that helps educate the press, policy leaders and the public about Israel and the Middle East.
The woman who came in second on the November 2011 Forward list of America’s 50 most influential Jews, behind only former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, served her final day as TIP’s director April 30. Mizrahi stepped down to spend more time with her family and run Laszlo Strategies (the successor to Laszlo and Associates), a communications and political consulting firm she founded before TIP. Her new focus will be helping non-profit organizations assist people with physical, mental, and developmental challenges, disabilities and diseases.
Mizrahi traveled dozens of times to the Middle East in the past decade and made her last trip to Israel as TIP’s president in March to do what she termed her “exit interviews” with Israeli leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and President Shimon Peres, who she describes as “a mentor.” She then made a stop at the J Street Conference in Washington to speak on a panel, before heading home to the Washington suburbs.
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Mizrahi had been a political consultant and spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee and was a frequent guest on major media broadcasts. After the terrorist attacks, Mizrahi became “post-partisan” overnight and put herself “fully into winning hearts and minds for stopping terrorism, standing with American allies, and against those who would use the deliberate murder of innocent civilians as a media ploy to undermine the West,” she said in an interview with JointMedia News Service.
Today TIP has more than 70 international employees and an $11 million annual budget mainly promoting Israel, educating reporters and politicians, and introducing them to the nation, sometimes through group tours. Its staff works in English, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. Three-dozen bipartisan senators and congressmen serve on its board of advisors.
Mizrahi describes TIP as a 24-7 newsroom with high-performance standards. It provides press kits, creates online action alerts for mass broadcasting to political leaders, and sets up conference calls with experts and makes them available for interviews with journalists. However, she is most proud of and positive about working with reporters and others in the Arab world. Six TIP staffers work in Arabic and many others know the language. The TIP Facebook page has gotten an impressive 47 million hits and has more than 407,000 “fans” in the Arab world. TIP does press conferences with Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
At March’s J Street Conference, Mizrahi said she came to “talk about a plan for a two-state solution that’s trying to get Palestinians to understand it takes mutual respect and we need to be committed to a lasting two-state solution.” She noted that she believes “the American Jewish community should be supportive of Israel and not be publicly questioning Israeli policies,” specifically criticizing organizations that take out political advertisements in the New York Times.
Mizrahi criticized J Street and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) for sharing a similar philosophy that “the role of the American Jewish community is to tell American leaders what Israel should do.” Mizrahi said those decisions are up to Israeli leaders.
“I think the power of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) comes down to the fact that the vast majority of Americans are represented,” Mizrahi said. “They are pro-Israel and see a solution where Iran does not get nuclear weapons.”
Regarding a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran, she said, “I hope it is not needed and the world will use sufficient sanctions quickly enough… There is no need to bomb Iran today… Nobody in the Israeli government wants to bomb Iran.”
Mizrahi is optimistic about TIP’s programs in India and China, two countries that are expanding trade with Israel. She was not so positive about the peace process and said she does not expect progress until 2013, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton retires.
TIP’s new interim CEO is its Chief Operating and Chief Financial Officer Cathy Bolinger, who had been Mizrahi’s “right hand” for the last seven years. Even without the energetic leadership of the person who has always been the one most closely associated with TIP, Mizrahi pointed to its long-serving board members and staff, saying that “TIP is stable enough and it will thrive.”