New European Pro-Israel Group Aims for Low Profile

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 12, 2008, issue of June 20, 2008.

Washington - A fledgling European pro-Israel advocacy group is looking to American Jewish donors to jumpstart low-profile efforts at empowering local leaders.

The head of the year-old European Leadership Network was in Washington earlier this month for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. But while it was a return home of sorts for Raanan Eliaz, who worked for the pro-Israel lobby in 2004, the message he brought with him from Brussels was that a different kind of activism is needed across the Atlantic.

“We’re not coming to build a lobby, we’re finding partners that we can help and giving them the right energy and the right direction,” Eliaz told the Forward. The key to such efforts, he stressed, is for American donors to maintain as small a footprint as possible, letting local European activists remain at the forefront.

The European Leadership Network, or Elnet, was founded last year to counter the widespread criticism of Israel in Europe since the outbreak of the second intifada. Unlike many Jewish advocacy groups in the United States, the four-person operation puts a premium on maintaining a low profile — a reflection, Eliaz says, of the different political culture in Europe.

Contrary to the American tradition of highlighting contributions to politicians and public causes, many Europeans prefer to maintain a separation between money and politics, at least formally. This traditional separation has stymied pro-Israel advocacy efforts in the past, as funding has been harder to come by in Europe.

“Europeans aren’t as open to the idea,” Eliaz said. “They feel awkward with giving money for political advocacy.”

Such considerations weigh little on the minds of American Jewish donors, and it is to them that Elnet is turning for help in furthering efforts at empowering local pro-Israel leaders and educating Europeans on political advocacy.

“If each one of the groups like ours working in Europe had 10% of the budget pro-Israel lobbying has in the U.S., we could change the world,” Eliaz said. “We could change the European policy and make it more cooperative on our issues.”

Eliaz, 33, splits his time between Israel and Brussels, where Elnet’s headquarters are located. His first taste of pro-Israel activity was at the Aipac offices in Washington, where he worked on European issues. He later worked at Israel’s National Security Council as a specialist on Europe.

While Elnet is adamant about maintaining a low profile, one of its first efforts was anything but: co-sponsoring “Rambam,” a reality television show in Spain that follows Spanish doctors interning at the Rambam medical center in Haifa.

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