Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
Working to protect people and our shared planet.
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Ten commandments for the Washington lobbyist

Obama may not be Pharaoh, but Moses still serves as a prime example for the right approach to swaying a superpower

It’s not yet Passover, but as the AIPAC Policy conference and other major events are coming to Washington soon, we should learn from the original Jewish political lobbyist: Moses.

Moses had clear goals to fight for freedom. He organized his priorities and mustered his courage and went to the government (in his case, Pharaoh) to demand action. He got the right results.

So how can you, sans a rod and a burning bush, act like Moses and make a difference? From my experience working in strategic communications and with The Israel Project (TIP), I offer ten tips on how you, too, can achieve great things for our people:

1. Understand the value of the ‘first-born’

Pharaoh did not give the Israelites what they wanted until he saw that not doing what was right cost him the life of his first-born son. To politicians, losing an election is like losing a first-born. Thus, you need to be able to show an elected official specifically how the issue you support will help them get re-elected (or cause them defeat if they are against it). It is critical for elected officials to know that American voters overwhelmingly support two things: Israel, and stopping the threat from Iran.

Indeed, polls show that 60 percent of American voters want America to stand with Israel, compared to only eight percent who want America to back the Palestinians. Additionally, 70 percent of voters support sanctions on Iran, compared to 12 percent who oppose them; 64 percent also understand that Iran’s nuclear program is for weapons, compared to seven percent who naively think it is for peaceful purposes.

Politicians work for the people –- and the people want a smart foreign policy that will protect American interests.

2. Find an ‘Aaron’ to deliver your message

Moses did not speak well, so his brother Aaron often spoke for him. It was the earliest record of Jews using strategic communications. Today we can use polls and focus groups to learn what people know about key issues such as Israel and Iran. We can see that harping over and over about how “Israel invented the cell phone” has a basis in fact, but serves only to turn off many voters.

We need to focus on messages that resonate with American voters such as the facts that Israelis share our values, are our partners in the war on terror, and like Americans, want peace for all parties.

Make the message resonate. US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: courtesy of White House)
Make the message resonate. US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: courtesy of White House)

3. Get your people to the promised land

Every cause needs a specific destination. “Making the world a better place” has a nice ring to it. It’s sweet — but get real.

Washington is a town that operates by rules and systems. Define specifically who you want to help, how you want to help them, how much it’s going to cost, and which special interests are going to place a black mark by every congressman who votes for or against the bill. If you need help, call the organizations most allied with your vision.

4. Remember the fall of the Second Temple

Many blame the fall of the second temple on infighting among the Jewish people. We still engage in far too much infighting today, and that needs to change. Moses may have been one guy with a speech impediment — but in modern times G-d has given us the ability to create our own “miracles” with coalitions. After all, almost no issue succeeds in Washington with only one backer. Broad and bipartisan coalitions can be forged around common interests. We need to build a team.

Sadly, Jewish groups don’t work as well together as we could and should. We have J Street and ZOA and everything in between. Rather than focusing on issues where there is division (i.e., settlements), we should emphasize where there are core agreements — such as sanctions on Iran. Additionally, a lot more focus should be placed on stopping the culture of hate that teaches young Arabs more about jihad than about how to create jobs.

5. Care about the Egyptian people

Moses didn’t want to cast plagues upon the Egyptian people. Likewise, in an era when Israel has had a peace treaty with Egypt for more than 30 years, it is critical to help the Egyptian people move towards a better future — if only so they don’t look to scapegoat Israel with war yet again.

To that end, our group has created an online jobs toolkit that explains in Arabic how to start a company, obtain a loan, market products, write successful resumes and more. The “how-to” pieces are next to pieces about real-life stories of instances where Jews and Arabs are working together to successfully create jobs and a better future. Already this facebook page has 42 million views and more than 300,000 likes. Half of them are from Egypt.

But why isn’t the pro-Israel community doing more to encourage the US government to engage in such programs? With the government of Egypt holding 18 Americans, including the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, for “illegally” promoting democracy in Egypt, aren’t we better off spreading good things in Egypt via the Web? After all, tens of millions of Egyptians are on Facebook.

6. Don’t let the complaining get you down

When Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites were quite a bunch of kvetchers. As a people we still excel at seeing the glass as half empty.

Moses had help from G-d, who provided water, mana and quail. Today Jewish volunteers need training, empowerment and thanks so they know that they are a part of tikkun olam (mending the world).

7. Help people do a mitzvah

It’s not cynical to say that Washington politicians only do what is in their own interests — it’s realistic. The American system was created to make our leaders beholden to the people. When you are on the side of good, show elected officials that being on your side will help them. Help your friends achieve “the three P’s of every successful politician”: power, prestige and popularity. Help them get on TV, raise money and look like heroes in front of opinion leaders back home. Give them a message to sell and the ability to deliver it.

8. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care

Don’t just flash leaders with a slew of facts and issues. If you really care, you need to focus. Don’t nickel and dime them with small priorities that clutter up their plates and dilute your clout.

9. Tell it to Mom

Women are the ultimate swing voters. They define the outcomes of most close races. If you can’t explain how your issue will improve the lives of mothers in middle America, don’t go public. Women care about improving their lives and their children’s opportunity to survive and thrive. If you can’t help them — they won’t help you.

A top goal needs to be getting American women to connect more deeply with Israel and the desire to stop the nuclear threat of Iran. We can do this easily by stressing shared values and goals.

10. The most important decision may be what you DON’T do

One of the biggest mistakes Jewish leaders and organizations make is trying to do too much at once. Washington is the ultimate town for proving that you have to walk before you run. In an environment that hates radical change, incrementalism is the surest path to victory. Pick your stages and get going.

No matter if you are interested in protecting religious freedom around the world, strengthening the US-Israel relationship, or fighting for the rights of the differently abled here at home — don’t leave politics to a few pros in Washington. It’s our country and we need to stand up and make a positive difference. Take inspiration from Moses. Using proven techniques, you can create your own miracles in our own time.

About the Author
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the co-founder/director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Fund (a DAF). She has worked directly with presidents, prime ministers, 48 governors, 85 Ambassadors, and leaders at all levels to successfully educate and advocate on key issues. In July, 2023 Mizrahi was appointed to serve as representative of philanthropy on the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. She has a certificate in Climate Change Policy, Economics and Politics from Harvard. Her work has won numerous awards and been profiled in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Inside Philanthropy, PBS NewsHour, Washington Post, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Sages of Today, and numerous other outlets. Mizrahi has published more than 300 articles on politics, public policy, disability issues, climate and innovations. The views in her columns are her own, and do not reflect those of any organization.
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