Nonie Darwish’s views on Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict have changed a great deal since she was a young girl living in the then-Egyptian–controlled Gaza Strip. For Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi, there was no conversion to the cause of Israel and Zionism. Growing up an American Jew, she has always been there. As the founder of The Israel Project, Laszlo-Mizrahi focuses her efforts on improving the image of Israel and helping to mold pro-Israeli attitudes in the U.S.
The two women were featured speakers at a banquet and public forum on April 30, sponsored by the Women’s League of Herzl-Ner Tamid. KOMO-TV consumer reporter Herb Weisbaum moderated the public forum.
An author, lecturer, and the founder of the Arabs for Israel Web site, Darwish has become one of American conservatives’ chief spokespersons for the pro-Israeli position. She has given talks for the Heritage Foundation on why many Muslims have embraced jihad and cheer for al Qaida and Hamas, and been interviewed on Glen Beck’s show on CNN, the Fox News Channel and MSNBC, among other media appearances.
She is also prominently featured in the documentary film, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West. The movie has been denounced by both Anti-Defamation League Northwest regional director Rob Jacobs and Muslims of Puget Sound president Jeff Siddiqui.
Darwish’s most recent book is Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. In it she recounts her evolution from learning to hate Israel and Jews as the daughter of the Egyptian Army officer responsible for organizing fedayeen guerrilla actions against Israel in the 1950s to becoming an outspoken supporter of the Jewish State.
A graduate of Emory University with degrees in International Relations and Judaic Studies, as well as having studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Laszlo-Mizrahi uses up-to-date advertising and polling methods to affect the way opinion leaders and the media view Israel and its ongoing struggles. Before forming TIP she founded and served as the president Laszlo and Associates, Inc., referred to on the TIP Web site as a strategic communications and public policy company. She also worked as a foreign affairs legislative assistant in the U.S. Congress.
To spread its message TIP regularly hosts face-to-face press briefings for journalists with Israeli leaders and spokespeople, such as Ambassador Daniel Ayalon and former Prime Minister (and current Minister of Foreign Affairs) Shimon Peres.
“What we see is that there are some messages that work, on Iran [for example] and some messages that don’t,” Laszlo-Mizrahi said. “We share [our] information with all of the political leaders across the political spectrum because they’re the ones being interviewed on television. I’m leaving on Saturday to go to Israel again. I’ll meet with every major leader from every political party that could be prime minister or that could be on national television.”
TIP also distributes fact sheets and maps to journalists and talking-points papers to spokespeople for leading Jewish organizations around the U.S. with the goal of putting a more positive public face on Israel for the rest of the world.
They quote Peres saying: “The Israel Project has given Israel new tools in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the world.”
Darwish described how her father, Lt. General Mustafa Hafez, was sent by Gamal Abdel Nasser to serve as commander of the Egyptian Army Intelligence in Gaza and launched raids across Israel’s southern border between 1951 and 1956. When she was 8 years old, Darwish says, her father was killed by Israeli commandos in what she said was the first targeted assassination carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Afterward she returned to her birthplace of Cairo, Darwish attended a Catholic high school before earning her BA in Sociology/Anthropology from the American University. In 1978 Darwish and her husband immigrated to the United States, where she converted to Christianity, attending an evangelical church.
She said that when the al Qaida plotters flew jet planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, she called a number of friends in Cairo to express her outrage. She said she was shocked to find they all believed the attacks were the result of an Israeli conspiracy, since they could not believe that Muslims would have done such a thing. About a year later, according to her biography, Darwish began writing columns criticizing radical Islam.
While Darwish began her talk with a nod to the fact that not all Arabs and Muslims are supporters of terrorism, she focused her words on those who are, often referring to Arabs and Muslims interchangeably.
“What is radical Islam?” she asked, answering her own question next. “It’s when mosques put aside and cease to teach religion as tolerant and neglect the personal relationship with God. They neglect teaching tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and they start teaching only the conquering ideology of jihad as being violence and hatred and intolerance and terror.”
Darwish made several assertions in her talk about the Islamic world, stating at one point that the definition of jihad as a personal, internal struggle to better oneself and work toward perfection was a “redefinition” that she had never heard spoken of before 9/11. Before that time, she said, the concept was universally taught as meaning a violent conflict against unbelievers, aimed at conquest.
She also claimed that not one mullah or mosque had publicly denounced the suicidal terrorist attacks carried out on that day, even up to the present.
Darwish described her view of the situation in the Middle East and the War on Terrorism as a global struggle between Western civilization and values and a backward-looking autocratic worldview, determined to impose religious “Sharia law” as widely as possible around the globe.
“Radical Islam has become a global problem and it is not just a problem for Israel,” she told the audience. “Israel has suffered from that ideology for 58 years and it must be that God’s protective hands [are] over Israel for it to just survive, and it hasn’t just survived but kept it thriving and strong. And I hope that it will keep its strength forever.”