Pro-Israel NGO The Israel Project Could Shut Down in Days as Fundraising Stalls

Ever since its founding in 2002, TIP has focused on working with international media outlets to influence media coverage and improve Israel’s international image

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A man silhouetted against Israeli and American flags, Washington, March 25, 2019.
A man silhouetted against Israeli and American flags, Washington, March 25, 2019.Credit: \ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON — The pro-Israeli advocacy organization The Israel Project could shut down by the end of the month as a result of severe budget difficulties. Several sources who work in pro-Israeli advocacy told Haaretz on Wednesday that TIP, which was founded during the days of the second intifada in order to improve Israel’s international media coverage, would either shut down completely or significantly scale down its operations and keep only an office in Israel.

Earlier this week, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the organization’s CEO, Josh Block, was stepping down after seven years in the role. Block wrote in an email to TIP supporters that fundraising had become a serious obstacle for the group in recent years. Block was paid close to $440,000 in 2016 for leading the organization.

One source who has closely worked with TIP said on condition of anonymity that “this is not just about Josh leaving the organization. Their very existence is uncertain.” The organization’s board will convene in the coming days to decide on its future. TIP has offices in Jerusalem and Washington; employees in both locations have been briefed about the situation, and one person affiliated with the organization said that “it would take a miracle” to keep it running.

Ever since its founding in 2002, TIP has focused on working with international media outlets that cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its main mission was to influence media coverage of Israel and improve Israel’s international image. The organization also worked to create a positive image of Israel in the Arab world and the Middle East through social media and online projects.

The organization was founded in Washington in 2002, and opened its Jerusalem office in 2005. Over the years, TIP has expanded its Washington office, which works with U.S. media outlets as well as with members of Congress.

The organization received support from prominent donors who are identified with both political parties in the United States, but it lost some of its largest Democratic donors after the Washington office adopted a line of very strong criticism against the administration of former President Barack Obama.

The organization’s problems were not all about politics, however. “It was more about a sense that the organization was losing its direction,” said a source from another pro-Israel group that had worked with TIP. “Their original mission was limited to something that many Jewish-American donors deeply care about: helping Israel improve their media portrayal. It expanded too far away from that mission.”

If the group will survive its current crisis, the Washington office will likely disappear and TIP’s focus will be solely on its original mission: working with foreign journalists and diplomats through their Jerusalem office. “There is an effort to save the operation in Israel, but it’s difficult,” said a person in Israel who has cooperated with TIP on various projects.

The Israel Project’s Jerusalem office is led by Lior Weintraub, a former Israeli diplomat who had served at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Weintraub had good working relationships with officials in the Obama administration and in both parties in Congress during his years in Washington.

Keeping only the Jerusalem office running would require less funds than the organization had to raise in past years, when it operated out of both Jerusalem and Washington.

Last year, TIP made headlines after it was revealed that an undercover Al Jazeera reporter became an intern at the organization’s Washington office in 2016 and secretly filmed Block and other employees.

This story was corrected on July 4th after originally stating that TIP had an office in Jerusalem before it opened an office in Washington.