Israel has re-branded a government-philanthrophic joint venture, which was supposed to combat the BDS movement, as a semi-governmental arm outside of abroad.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the Concert Company (originally called Solomon’s Sling) has legally moved from the Strategic Affairs Ministry and is now operating under a new name, branding and management under the Foreign Ministry and Deputy Minister Idan Roll.
The company, now called Voices of Israel, will operate with a four-year budget of NIS 100 million, far less than the annual NIS 100m. the Strategic Affairs Ministry received during the few years it existed under the leadership of current UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan and then Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Michael Biton, before current Prime Minister Yair Lapid at the Foreign Ministry shut it down.
“Voices of Israel (VOI) is a non-partisan, apolitical organization that funds and partners with a wide range of Israeli and international NGOs, with the shared goal of strengthening positive perceptions of Israel and combating hate speech and incitement around the world,” a document explaining the old-new entity stated.
Foreign Ministry sources have told the Post that this is a joint venture and that the model of funding is to match private donations of NIS 100m. in public funds over the next four years.
The budget can potentially reach NIS 200m. with matching funds from philanthropists and organizations.
VOI’s new CEO Lior Weintraub is a former diplomat in India and Washington, a pro-Israel opinion leader, strategic consultant and a seasoned adviser to international corporations and campaigns. He served as vice-president of The Israel Project and is a lecturer on diplomacy and communications at Reichman University.
Voices of Israel is chaired by Micah Avni, founder of the Peninsula Group. Its leadership includes prominent Israelis from government, diplomacy and business, like former US and UK ambassadors Michael Oren and Daniel Taub, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former National Security Adviser Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, international financier and former adviser to Israeli prime ministers Josiah Rotenberg, and Olympic judaika medalist-turned entrepreneur Yael Arad.
VOI's mission: Strengthening Israel's legitimacy
VOI’s MISSION is “recognizing that the State of Israel’s international legitimacy is a national security issue of the highest order,” According to an official document. “VOI’s long-term mission is to strengthen Israel’s legitimacy and to minimize the impact among key audiences of the delegitimization campaign against it.”
Avni stated that “we envision a world which is inspired by the diverse voices of Israel.”
“VOI will be the central Israeli address for meeting needs common to Israel’s friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, around the world,” the document stated. It is explained that “VOI isn’t a player in the field of advocacy but actually a funder and an accelerator. By using matching funding, VOI will ensure that pro-Israel non-profits, wherever they may be, have the resources they need for critical new and existing initiatives,” the document stated.
VOI will support “Israel’s friends,” in responding to “global social, demographic and political change; new worldviews and narratives that impact how Israel and Jews are perceived.” In addition, they hope to reach key audiences, “particularly young people and others who are susceptible to our enemies’ distortions, by connecting on issues that they care about.”
According to the internal document, VOI will focus for the year on data and polling, advancing the Abraham Accords, boosting influencer visits to Israel, social media and collaboration on media strategy.
“It is important to emphasize and understand that prime ministers Netanyahu, Bennett, Lapid, and their respective governments, all agreed that Israel’s legitimacy, in the eyes of the world, is an issue of national security and of strategic importance,” Avni told the Post in an interview.
“The establishment of Voices of Israel and its mission is something that all three prime ministers supported fully and wholeheartedly,” he said, adding that “Israel has enjoyed consensus in its legitimacy and existence over many years. But that legitimacy has come under continuously increasing attacks. We need to be investing heavily in fortifying our legitimacy by inspiring the world.”
According to Avni, the goal of VOI, “from the beginning of the project has been to establish a platform that can empower the pro-Israel world in strengthening its messaging, its voices, [and] its ability to communicate Israel’s narratives to the world.”
AVNI EXPLAINED that there are many players in the pro Israel ecosystem, yet “each of them has been running independently on their own, trying to do the best they can. Many are doing amazing work getting these real stories across.”
In his opinion, “this ecosystem is much less effective than if we had a little bit more organized and a little bit more coordinated effort between the government and the pro-Israel world.”
This understanding “is something that the government first recognized four or five years ago,” he said.
Avni has been involved in this pro-Israel ecosystem since 2016 and has led this initiative as a lay leader since then, throughout the different governments and also the re-branding of VOI under the auspices the Foreign Ministry.
Asked if he thinks that this venture can now succeed, Avni answered that “it’s not something that can happen in a year or two. I have a 10- and 20-year vision for VOI and we’re building those cornerstones.
“We’ve met over the past couple of years, in spite of various criticisms, and all sorts of different people who had political agendas along the way. We’ve also met with tremendous success in building the infrastructure,” he said.
“We’ve budgeted, we funded numerous projects, we’ve recruited amazing people... and we have tons of work ahead of us. But so far, it’s been a tremendous success.
“Over the years, I built a huge business; an entire industry of non-bank lending in Israel,” Avni said.
REGARDING THE difficulties of starting this social venture, he said that, “when you build something long-term, large changes are going to affect massive change. It takes time. And it’s the issue of building platforms and building consensus around it.”
He explained that in 2018, when established, VOI (or Concert as it was then) was “an idea. Then it was a [government] decision, then it was a contract. These things seem trivial, but they’re massive.
“When we started off, people said ‘we don’t want anything to do with the government.’ And now we’re at a point where people are working with us; organizations are sitting around the table, and communicating with people in the government who are doing great work.”
Historically, the diplomats at Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry were very negative towards anything connected to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, including VOI. Yet Avni said that the transition of joint venture to the Foreign Ministry has been a positive one.
“When we transitioned from the Strategic Affairs Ministry to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which I think was a natural transition, we were embraced by the people [there],” he said.
He recognized prime ministers Benyamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and later Yair Lapid, in addition to ministers Gilad Erdan, Michael Biton, Orit Frakash and Idan Roll, as leaders who have supported and furthered the establishment of Voices of Israel. “I think that the prime ministers and Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll did a wonderful job pushing this forward and giving it the support that it needed.”
This year, Avni revealed, VOI is looking to put out NIS 30 million to 40m. in funding. Within five to 10 years, “we need to be at half a billion or a billion shekels a year to really be impacting things. But that’s not the kind of thing that happens overnight, right?”
“‘Concert’ was a good idea with a problematic execution,” Roll told the Post. “After a year of hard work to correct deficiencies and strategic change, I am proud to relaunch this company under its new name: Voices of Israel.
“Cooperation between the Foreign Ministry and civilian organizations is a force multiplier in strengthening Israel in the international arena,” he said.