The image of Israel and its place in the international community is always a hot topic, perhaps even more as 2012 looms as a historic year.
Against that backdrop, Jersey City-born businessman J. Harvey Karp is ratcheting up what he calls his “ongoing mitzvah project,” the webzine Israel Up Close (www.israelupclose.org).
You will not find Karp’s name mentioned anywhere on the site. He prefers to keep the spotlight squarely on the Jewish homeland through professionally produced video segments illustrating the myriad ways in which Israel and Israelis contribute to the world and work toward peace.
“We produce stories on a news platform and don’t bother about politics, conflict, or religion,” says Karp, a California resident who established one of the world’s first commodities funds before devoting himself to the non-profit IUC in 2003.
|Jersey City-born businessman J. Harvey Karp has an “ongoing mitzvah project” – improving Israel’s image on television and computer screens the world over.
“We are trying to open minds and eyes of people who are not familiar with Israel – and even those who are. At least 50 percent of our stories are not known by Israelis themselves. We want to make sure leaders in Congress and in Europe get this view.”
IUC reports get play on national and international television networks, including CNN World News and the Israel Broadcast Authority. They also are aired on LeSea Broadcasting, Eurovision, and Mideast TV, as well as various cable TV channels, and websites. Organizations such as Christians United for Israel and European Friends of Israel make frequent use of IUC material.
Based in Jerusalem, IUC’s staff of part-timers is headed by Executive Director Rabbi Joel Landau. It includes researchers, editors, reporters, a cameraman, and a sound engineer.
The English-language videos are now being translated into Arabic. “We’ve done 112 films, and about 17 of them are on relationships between Israelis and Arabs, mostly about children,” said Karp.
“For example, there is one about the Ministry of Health opening a clinic for children in Umm el-Fahm, an Arab community, run by a Jewish woman psychiatrist. There is another about how Israel is helping Bedouin women abandoned by their husbands. My object is to let people know we’re working toward peace and that Muslims and Jews come together in a variety of things like [children’s martial arts clubs] Budo for Peace, and the Hand in Hand [bilingual] schools.”
IUC will work to get these translated videos aired on Arabic stations in Israel and in the United States. Spanish translations will come next, aimed at the large Hispanic population in the United States and also in countries such as Argentina.
Growing up in the 1940s in Jersey City and Weehawken, Karp recalls, he experienced physical and verbal anti-Semitism. “I was often asked where were my horns; they really believed Jews had horns.”
The idea for IUC began percolating during a six-week mission to Israel during the second intifada, around 2002. “He became frustrated that everything he saw on TV was about conflict and politics,” explains Landau, who was Karp’s rabbi in Irvine, Calif. for 12 years.
“There was nothing positive on the air, though he was aware of many positive things going on. So he felt the world was getting a distorted perspective, and he went to talk with ministers in the Knesset and officials at the Israel Broadcasting Authority.”
The IBA liked Karp’s idea for good-news English programming, but did not have the budget for it. As a government-sponsored station, it could not accept a donation from him, either. However, the officials said they would welcome quality material from an independent production company.
“That was the impetus to start his own company,” said Landau, “to provide IBA and anybody else with a perspective that, unfortunately, the main networks haven’t been contributing.”
Karp puts a philosophical spin on it. “If I had been born in Europe instead of here, I’d probably be dead. This is my payback to the people who died.”
But it is very much a living project. Until 2006, IUC simply produced films and sent out a newsletter to about 5,000 schools, synagogues, churches, lobbyists, and other organizations with a link to view them. The website was launched in 2006 and now gets about 70,000 monthly hits. Last year, IUC began producing education guides to accompany the films, at the suggestion of teachers.
“From 2003 to 2008, I funded this entire project,” says Karp. Support now also comes from private donations and four foundations.
He noted that IUC sees tangible results. In July 2010, the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel requested videos to present at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly in Minneapolis to counter calls for sanctions against Israel. “I sent about eight of them, and got a call the day after from the director, who said the videos were a factor in the decision not to label Israel as an apartheid state.”
IUC has also begun producing films for the European Jewish Fund on European Jewish communities. A 25-minute documentary on Swedish Jewry went viral, and there is more to come.