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Monday, July 14, 2008

Media Watch International: some background

Here are some notes on Media Watch International, a pro-Israel advocacy group that has been mentioned in media reports about Prime Minister Olmert's finances.

Israel police on July 9 questioned Sharon Tzur, executive director of the New York-based group. Investigators reportedly asked Tzur about her connection to Morris Talansky, who had told police that Tzur was present on at least one occasion when Olmert received an envelope containing thousands of dollars. Media articles have described Tzur as an Olmert confidante and former Likud activist, and as "the mastermind behind"

In May, the newspaper Haaretz reported that in 2005 Tzur and Media Watch International paid a $2,200 bill for Olmert and his wife, Aliza, at the Peninsula hotel in New York City. According to the newspaper, Tzur said Olmert, who was then a cabinet minister, took part in eight meetings on behalf of her organization.

According to the group's website, "Tzur founded Media Watch International to counter the growing media bias in coverage of the Middle East. She oversaw the runaway success of, until it reached over 50,000 activists and became an independent organization."

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted Tzur in 2001 as explaining that Aish HaTorah helped create Media Watch International: "In December [2000], the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox group focused on outreach to secular Jews, provided close to $150,000 in seed money to create Media Watch International for a dual purpose: to absorb HonestReporting and continue with its activism and media watchdog work, and to educate the media with position papers, Tzur said." HonestReporting began as a project of Jewish university students in London after the Second Intifada broke out in late September 2000.

On its U.S. tax return, Media Watch International states that its primary purpose is to "monitor, review and evaluate the accuracy, quality and fairness of media coverage regarding the Middle East."

In 2006, the most recent period for which its tax return is available, Media Watch International reported it received tax-exempt gifts of $496,468 and spent $522,566. The outlays included $111,430 in salary and pension benefits for Tzur, who is listed as the organization's president. Its assets at the end of 2006 were $29,100 in cash, according to the tax return.

According to the tax return, the group's corporate name is "Media Caravan Inc. D/B/A Media Watch International."

The Media Watch International website states that its flagship program is Caravan for Democracy, which "fosters pro-Israel sentiment about Israel and the Middle East on colleges throughout the United States."

Media Watch International's website lists four other key people in addition to Tzur:

* Laura B. Newmark, manager of programs

* Lenny Ben-David, consultant and writer. A former deputy chief of mission at the Israel embassy in Washington, Ben-David is an independent consultant and publishes a blog at

* Ronn Torossian, communications and marketing consultant. Owner of a New York public-relations business with a Los Angeles office, Torossian publishes a blog at

* "Our ghost writer," described as a New York native who lives in Israel.

How does Media Watch International compare to other pro-Israel organizations engaged in public affairs and media monitoring? Here are some highlights from tax returns for 2006:

The Israel Project, Washington, D.C.
Purpose: "The purpose of the Israel Project is to help protect the existence of Israel and the Jewish people and to combat anti-Semitism by educating the public in the US and in other countries about Israel and situation in the Middle East, and by educating opinion leaders and the media to the same effect."
Total revenue: $6,088,157
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$200,000 - Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Net assets: $2,808,608

Zionist Organization of America, New York City
Purpose: "Public affairs -- to create public awareness in communities around the country about the happenings affecting the Jewish people. Zionist education -- to educate the public concerning the values of Zionism."
Total revenue:
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$279,346 - Morton Klein, president
$170,144 - Meir Jolovitz, executive director
$48,000 - Sheldon Fliegelman, executive director
Net assets: $11,315,771

Middle East Media and Research Institute, Inc. (MEMRI) Washington, D.C.
Purpose: "to serve as a clearinghouse for information regarding news and other cultural media in and on the subject of the Middle East"
Total revenue: $4,078,038
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$87,268 - Steven Stalinsky, executive director
$62,314 - Yigal Carmon, president (20 hours per week)
Net assets: $1,551,622

Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Inc., Boston, Mass. (CAMERA)
Purpose: "To provide the educational services necessary to give members and the general public the ability to evaluate Middle Eastern reporting"
Total revenue: $2,559,469
Officers' salaries and benefits:
$174,368 - Andrea Levin, president
$115,707 - Alex Safian, associate director
Net assets: $4,169,269, Inc., New York City (Middle East Media Watch, Skokie, Ill.)
Purpose: "To monitor and promote objective reporting by the media of events emanating from the Middle East in connection with the Israeli-Arab conflict."
Total revenue: $1,146,018
Officers' salaries and benefits:
Net assets: $230,626
NOTE:, Inc., reported a total U.S. payroll of only $20,880. It listed as key officers [Rabbi] Ephraim Shore, Beitar, Israel, president; Joe Hyams, Beit Shemesh, international director; [Rabbi] Shraga Simmons, Kiryat Sefer, Israel, secretary; and Michael Weinstein, Jerusalem, treasurer. Its largest expense item was a $414,476 payment to HonestReporting Israel.

--Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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