WASHINGTON — The Jerusalem office of leading pro-Israel advocacy organization The Israel Project shuttered on Wednesday, with its local head citing polarization among America’s pro-Israel community as a key cause for its demise.
As previously reported by Haaretz, the U.S. nongovernmental organization has encountered a severe budget crisis and is in the process of shutting down completely. Wednesday’s development, with the office being cleared and all staff laid off, was the clearest indication yet that the organization will cease to exist in the near future.
Some of TIP’s supporters and partners were hoping to maintain the Jerusalem office — which specialized in working with foreign journalists stationed in Israel and had developed an extensive list of contacts among the world’s most prominent media outlets. However, as of now, the office seems unlikely to ever reopen.
“They just have no money left, absolutely nothing,” said one person who has worked closely with TIP over the years. Work at its U.S. office, in Washington, has also come to a halt, with TIP’s board of directors debating how exactly to end operations.
Lior Weintraub, the NGO’s vice president and head of its Israel office, wrote on Facebook Thursday morning (in Hebrew): “After almost 15 years, yesterday was the last day of the Israeli office of The Israel Project.” Weintraub wrote that the organization’s core mission — improving Israel’s image in the international media by working directly with journalists, editors and opinion makers — remains “more important than ever,” despite TIP’s current crisis.
Weintraub, a former Israeli diplomat who previously served as the chief of staff and spokesperson at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, provided the following explanation for TIP’s collapse: “So what happened? A lot. We were the Israeli branch of a U.S. organization that based its work mostly on the commitment and support of Americans, most of them Jewish, from both sides of the political divide — Democrats and Republicans.
Lior Weintraub, The Israel Project’s VP and head of its now shuttered Israel office.
Lior Weintraub, The Israel Project’s VP and head of its now shuttered Israel office.Lior Mizrahi, Baubau
“During the fight over the Iran nuclear deal [in 2015], we fought with everything we had, without any compromises. In the following two and a half years, when the polarization in America reached new heights, we maintained — forcefully and without compromise — a nonpartisan middle ground, because we knew it was the right way to serve Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
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Weintraub described how, in recent years, certain Democratic supporters left TIP “because we attacked the Iran deal; because Israel became part of the internal American political debate; because we didn’t choose sides; and because support for Israel became too complicated for some of them in these times.”
He added that some Republican supporters also left TIP at the same time: “They chose to support initiatives that fully expressed their personal worldviews. There were very few buyers for a centrist approach in 2019.”
According to Weintraub, “TIP became the first casualty of the polarization in the pro-Israel community in America — and in some ways that’s alright. Certain causes are worth paying a price for.”
In recent weeks, Haaretz spoke with former employees, donors and board members who witnessed TIP’s crisis from the inside. They described how the organization, which for years was considered a leading enterprise in the field of pro-Israel advocacy, went from being “the future of the pro-Israel community” to being on the verge of shuttering.
Other Israel advocacy organizations are following TIP’s collapse closely, trying to learn practical lessons from it in order to avoid a similar fate. “The entire combination of things that happened to us over the past years was unique,” said a former TIP employee, “but some of the problems we faced can definitely happen tomorrow at another organization — and maybe they are already happening and people just don’t know it yet.”