Israel activists get message out in New Hampshire

Israel Project staff have visited candidate events to ask them questions on Middle East policy and push their views about creating a strong Jewish state.

McCain 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
McCain 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Campaign staff and political advertisements have blanketed the diners and community halls of this small New England state the way a thick winter snow envelopes its barns and pine trees. Indeed, the front lawns of Granite Staters' homes are so covered with election placards that even the snowmen are holding signs. Frosty, like everyone else, wants in on the action, and there was a lot of action to get in on Tuesday as New Hampshire voters headed to the polls in the country's initial primary. It is the first open vote at polling stations - as opposed to the smaller party caucuses in Iowa last week - and it is expected to significantly influence which candidate each party nominates. The importance of New Hampshire has drawn candidates, analysts, journalists and hundreds of activists who want to take advantage of the media frenzy to get their issues in front of the glaring spotlight. Among the environmental groups, health care activists and senior citizens' representatives could be found some dozen Israel advocates brought by The Israel Project. "The whole world, literally, is focused on Manchester, New Hampshire - tiny, normally quiet Manchester," said Meagan Buren, one of The Israel Project staff in town Tuesday, "and you get the opportunity to tell the world that there are issues that Americans care about - the threat of Iran, the security of Israel." Buren and her colleagues have visited candidate events to ask them questions on Middle East policy and push their views about creating a strong Jewish state. "The next president of America is here. We now all know the next president of the United States," she said of The Israel Project team, which has seen all of the candidates in person this week. "That's an unbelievable opportunity, because once he's the president, access is a little more difficult." In addition to approaching the candidates, The Israel Project has staked out the Radisson Hotel here in New Hampshire's largest city, which has hosted makeshift TV studios and hundreds of roving journalists in the run-up to the primary. "Political reports become like odds-makers - [covering] who's up, who's down," according to The Israel Project founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. "Issues can get entirely lost. This isn't American Idol. There are real stakes to this contest that will impact the security of America and the security of Israel for years to come... We're keeping the issues in front of them." The issue on which Mizrahi and her staff are primarily focusing is the fast-ticking "nuclear clock" in Iran, in an effort to convince candidates to do their utmost to use financial pressure to stop it. "There are 2,500 journalists here right now, and to have an opportunity to speak with them about important issues is an incredible opportunity," Buren said. The Israel Project has attempted to supply them with handouts, interviews and sometimes merely a friendly face. "Hasbara is public diplomacy," said Mizrahi, speaking from the Radisson's tavern Tuesday morning after staying up late Monday night to hang out with the big-name journalists at the hotel. "Sometimes it's 'has-beer-a' - sometimes it's good just to have a beer with them [members of the media], to be a friend so when there's breaking news on Israel, they'll call us," she said. "It doesn't hurt that our staff includes a lot of attractive young women who are very friendly." The snowmen don't seem to mind.