"If we lose public support in the United States or Europe, Israel would be in serious trouble," said Marcus Sheff, executive director of the Israel Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing accurate information to journalists reporting on Israel. The group, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem, provides press releases, photographs, videos and source material to members of the media covering the Middle East.
Earlier this month, for example, when eight students at a Jerusalem yeshiva were murdered, members of the Israel Project provided contacts, figures on terror attacks and even explained to reporters what goes on inside a yeshiva.
Speaking to about 30 people at the Union League on March 20, Sheff said that the Israel Project is particularly focused on the ongoing rocket attacks in Sederot, a story he believes is being underreported because there isn't "enough blood on the streets."
The Israel Project is now successfully pitching three to four stories per day about Sederot to news outlets, he said. One way they have gotten the attacks into the news is by helping to place reporters for overnight stays with families in the town, so they can experience what happens when parents and children are awakened late at night, then forced to rush into a bomb shelter within a matter of seconds.
During his presentation, Sheff noted that his group works with numerous news outlets, though would not disclose names on the record, claiming that it might hurt their working relationship.
The Israel Project does not create its own news stories; instead, it "works within the news cycle" to provide accurate information and frame a news event once something happens.
One challenge of his job, Sheff explained, is that pro-Palestinian media organizations — working within the Palestinian territories and the greater Arab world — have better infrastructure and more funding than pro-Israel ones. "They have an enormous amount of resources to pummel information at the media," he stated; the Israel Project is "about getting a level playing field."
Another news story he highlighted in his talk was Hamas' contention, widely disseminated to the media, that Israel cut off electricity to Gaza.
After a closer look, said Sheff, the amount of electricity provided from a plant in Ashkelon had not changed. He and his staff then provided news organizations with quotes from the head of the Israel Electric Corporation, who said that the dial had not been moved and that electricity was still flowing.
"They bring in an Israeli voice on the story, as well as the facts, and journalists [start] saying that Palestinians are saying one thing and the Israelis are saying another. That's okay. That's balance."
Perhaps the group's most sophisticated piece of equipment is a helicopter, which it uses to show journalists how geographically small Israel really is, and that 97 percent of the security wall is actually chain-link fence.
Sheff said that he does not believe that reporters covering Israel are intent on writing negative stories or even lies about Israel, and expressed his admiration for reporters.
"I trust journalists to use the information they get in a professional way," he said, adding he believed that "they do."