Head of Israel lobby group exposed by undercover film resigns
|Asa Winstanley – 3 July 2019|
The CEO of one of America’s most influential Israel lobby groups has stepped down, amid reports of a funding crisis.
Though unacknowledged in the reporting, Josh Block’s resignation as head of The Israel Project comes less than a year after an undercover documentary revealed many of the group’s covert activities.
Donors and trustees are likely to have viewed how the organization allowed itself to be infiltrated by a reporter as a serious lapse.
In a note to supporters, however, Block blamed “the polarized political climate in the United States” for making it more difficult for the group to recruit.
The note was seen by the JTA, an American Jewish news agency. Block refused to speak on the record to the JTA.
Funding to The Israel Project dropped by almost half from 2015 to 2016, the JTA reported, based on the group’s most recently available tax returns which predate the undercover documentary.
One of The Israel Project’s funders is convicted tax cheat Adam Milstein, the undercover investigation revealed last year.
In it, the group’s fundraising director at the time privately admits that Milstein “funds The Israel Project,” as well as Canary Mission – an anonymous anti-Palestinian blacklisting website.
The film, The Lobby – USA, was made by Al Jazeera’s investigations unit, but never broadcast by the Qatari channel, after a massive censorship push by the Israel lobby. Their undercover reporter observed The Israel Project from the inside, becoming an intern in 2016, later even being offered a job.
The Electronic Intifada released all four parts of the film last year.
Secret influence campaign
The film reveals that The Israel Project is running a massive online influence campaign.
The group runs a series of Facebook pages which appear to be about subjects unrelated to Israel, such as history, women’s rights and environmentalism.
But in reality, the pages are run by The Israel Project, and they have produced content that has reached millions of viewers.
“A lot of it is just random topics and then maybe like 25 percent of it would be like Israel or Jewish-based,” explained a staffer who worked for The Israel Project on the pages.
“We have a lot of side projects that we are trying to influence the public debate with,” Jordan Schachtel told Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter.
“That’s why it’s a secretive thing,” Schachtel admitted. “Because we don’t want people to know that these side projects are associated with The Israel Project.”
You can see the relevant section in episode four of the film above.
In February, The Electronic Intifada revealed that Facebook had given a green light to this secretive influence campaign on behalf of a foreign state.
A Facebook spokesperson claimed to The Electronic Intifada that the influence campaign’s pages “don’t violate any of Facebook’s pages policies.”