Jewish-organization watchers were surprised last week by the apparent collapse of The Israel Project, more often known as TIP, which describes itself as “the only organization dedicated to changing people’s minds about Israel through cutting-edge strategic communications.” First came reports of the sudden resignation of Josh Block, TIP’s CEO of seven years, who cited plunging fundraising efforts as the reason for his unexpected departure. And then JTA reported that 13 staff members in TIP’s Washington, D.C., and Israel offices were let go, without notice and without a final salary payment.
Following a hastily convened board meeting last Friday afternoon, TIP issued a brief, largely uninformative press release, which acknowledged Block’s resignation and reported that leadership is considering the organization’s options.
TIP was founded in 2002, at the height of the second intifada, with the stated goal of addressing and improving media coverage of Israel. In its first decade of operations, TIP achieved impressive results. In 2012, after TIP’s founder, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, left the organization to start the nonprofit disability group Respectability, Block, a former spokesman for AIPAC, was hired as TIP’s CEO. Described as “pugnacious,” he shifted TIP’s focus from providing journalists with background information on Israel to advocating more aggressively for Israel in a Twitter-blast style. But it wasn’t just Block’s change in approach that attracted attention. TIP was also seen as aligning with and advocating for Israel’s Netanyahu government — which troubled some of the organization’s major donors, who were drifting away from Israel’s increasingly right-leaning government policies.
TIP was founded and supported by donors from both political parties. Until recently, support for Israel was wholly bipartisan, and it was unthinkable that Israel would be a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats. The tipping point came in 2015, when the Obama administration and other world powers reached a nuclear limitation agreement with Iran. The deal was opposed by the Israeli government, and Netanyahu worked very openly and aggressively with Republicans to circumvent President Barack Obama in opposition to the agreement.
It was ugly, it was divisive, and Block and TIP jumped in — not to explain Israel’s position to the media, but to blast the Obama administration for the deal. Block’s antagonistic approach to Obama angered some TIP supporters, and may have been a reason the organization lost some of its largest Democratic donors.
It may be too late for TIP to prevent its own demise, but its missteps should serve as an instructive tool to other Jewish organizations.
First, any organization that depends upon financial and other types of backing from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community should be mindful of veering too far to either the right or left, thus risking the disassociation of a large contingent of supporters.
Additionally, organizations that are successfully serving a niche function — as TIP did originally — would be well-advised to stay the course. By shifting its focus away from providing secular journalists with unbiased information to jumping into the political debate about Israel, TIP became just one of several right-leaning megaphones and obfuscated its own relevance.
As the adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” pjc