Ardmore native Jonathan Schanzer — a scholar of Islamic fundamentalism and Middle East history who has written about the operations of Al Qaeda and other terror groups — has been appointed the director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank tied closely to the Republican Jewish Coalition.
The hope is that the 34-year-old can help the center — founded in 1985 — become a player in the ongoing policy debate about how best to use American power to confront radical Islam.
One of his main tasks will involve revamping the organization’s quarterly publication, formerly known as Details, which was last published a year ago. (The powers that be haven’t yet decided upon a new moniker for the magazine.) He will also organize lectures and programs.
“And there will be my own writing and speaking. The job will be an amalgam of all those things,” said Schanzer.
A graduate of Lower Merion High School, who became a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Beth Am Israel, Schanzer recently completed a two-year stint with the U.S. Treasury Department, where he worked in intelligence and analysis, and helped the government track the financial transactions of organizations that have funded terrorist activities.
Unlike its sister organization, the Jewish Policy Center is nonpartisan and focuses solely on issues, both foreign and domestic, according to Matthew Brooks, director of both the Jewish Policy Center and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Brooks hopes the addition of Schanzer will help the center grow in reach and influence.
“We’re not sort of a one-note band,” said Brooks, also originally from Lower Merion. “In the past, we’ve focused on a number of domestic-policy issues, social-security reform, education. But right now, there is so much focus and attention on these critical foreign-policy issues.”
Schanzer, a graduate of Emory University, had visited Israel several times growing up, but became fascinated with the place after spending a summer there while still in college. Several years later, he returned to Jerusalem, where he earned a master’s degree in Middle Eastern history at Hebrew University.
While there in the late 1990s, Schanzer said he began to see growing similarities between the ideologies of Hamas and Al Qaeda, and the danger both of these groups posed to the United States and Israel. This marked a change in a young man who’d wanted to be “the next Dennis Ross” — someone who would concentrate all his efforts on forging peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I realized that America’s battle was beginning to look like Israel’s battle,” he said.
Schanzer returned to the United States shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, less than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks. He got his start in the think-tank world here in Philadelphia at the Middle East Forum, run by Daniel Pipes. He then moved on to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, during which time his work was published in several media outlets, including The New Republic and The Weekly Standard.
His byline virtually disappeared while he worked for the Treasury Department.
“I really missed the think-tank world,” said Schanzer. “I missed the writing and publishing, and being able to speak to a wider audience.”