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People welcome the opportunity to be free, to make their own decisions, not to be controlled by a dictator. Sometimes they were more comfortable with outsiders than other times.
EASTON, MD, July 07, 2022 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Celebrated political consultant, Lesley Israel, knows all too well that democracy is not an accident, it is not something that just happens. It is hard won, and therefore must be protected and preserved at all costs, because nations slip into tyranny more easily than they slip into freedom. Having spent many years of her career overseas, aiding in foreign elections and the implementation of democracy, Ms. Israel has a unique insight into this process.
Lesley Israel was involved with the International Foundation for Election Systems, where she served as both Treasurer and Director. Lesley's passion for her faith came to the forefront at this time perhaps more than any other. She was able to watch countries and lives change in real time, as democracy took root in these places and not only changed countless lives, but saved many in the process. This went on for over twenty years, many of which she spent in Bosnia, where she even adopted a couple of dogs—but more on that later.
This isn't about the glory for Lesley Israel. It isn't even really about the teachable moment in which this content is arriving in 2022. This is mostly about her work having mattered. How does Lesley define work that matters? Well, to begin with, it means certain countries are better off now than they were before Lesley and her team arrived years ago. Has democracy been maintained in these places? Are the people living there still free? Work that matters also means that the younger generation (particularly young women) and Lesley's grandkids are finding inspiration in what Lesley has managed to accomplish in her life.
This goes beyond Bosnia, beyond being a one-time "Humphrey Delegate" and even beyond her appointment to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad by President Barack Obama himself. Passing the torch to the up-and-comers is essential, because it is they who will shape the world of tomorrow and define what America is right now and in the days ahead.
This is work that matters. And so is this:
On May 6, 2022, Lesley Israel's podcast, fittingly titled Work That Matters, debuted to nearly a half-million news impressions to date—and climbing. With a still-forming audience spanning the Americas, Canada and large portions of Europe and Asia, Lesley's first podcast installment was a success by many different metrics.
We caught up with Lesley Israel again by phone in order to discuss her contribution to democracy through her activism and election efforts abroad, as well as some more lighthearted stuff like her pets and Fred, the love of her life. This is how the interview went:
TSR NEWS GROUP: During your career, Lesley, you spent a number of years in eastern Europe and central Asia. What was the purpose of these visits, and how did you get involved in this type of work?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well, I had volunteered to work for the State Department, and that's where they primarily sent people. These were international teams, my partner was always somebody from another country, and the purpose was to introduce democracy into newly democratic countries, help them write and then run their elections, and then ultimately to help monitor their elections, to make sure they were free, fair and legal.
TSR NEWS GROUP: I know that this included, but was not limited to, writing election laws, organizing elections, supervising—
LESLEY ISRAEL: Help them write their election laws, whatever it took.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Is democracy, in your opinion, a 'one-size-fits-all' concept? In other words, when implementing election law and such, is it simply a case of applying the United States model of democracy elsewhere, or is it a more complex and nuanced?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well, there are details that are going to vary in a lot of places. But the idea of democracy is the freedom to have your voice heard, to vote independently and secretively for the candidate you want, and to support the causes that matter to you. That's basically what we do here in the United States. Now, the actual implementation obviously is going to vary from country to country, depending on how far along they are in the process.
TSR NEWS GROUP: You spent some time in the former Soviet Union, albeit a more westernized version by the time you arrived. My question is this, do you think that Russia ever truly got out from under the spirit of communism? In other words, have they ever truly been a free society in modern history?
LESLEY ISRAEL: From a governmental ruling point of view, probably not. The people want to be... I've had a lot of friends who are Russian and they all like to live independent, free lives. But, you still had a Putin or whoever there at the head, right?
TSR NEWS GROUP: What would you say was the most challenging country that you worked in, and why? 'Challenging' can mean any number of things here. It can mean physically dangerous, stubborn in terms of adopting democracy itself, or even unwelcoming on a personal level.
LESLEY ISRAEL: Oh well, of course, dangerous in the early days was Bosnia when there were still a million landmines in the ground. If you were in your car and you had to go to the bathroom, you didn't pull off the road, you stayed on the cement, because there could be one right tucked in under there. But, I never felt totally threatened except by the unseen.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Landmines are very serious.
LESLEY ISRAEL: Landmines are serious. And they had been put there so many years ago. I'm sure nobody kept a record that said at the intersection of here and here, there's a landmine beneath the building.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Of course. Well, that sounds challenging to say the least. Did you run into people resisting western influence a lot?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Not really, no. People welcome the opportunity to be free, to make their own decisions, not to be controlled by a dictator. Sometimes they were more comfortable with outsiders than other times—sometimes they weren't sure who you were. That's how they grew up, in a world where they didn't know. But, I never felt as though I was unwelcome or resented for being there.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Now, by contrast, what would you say was the friendliest, most easygoing experience you had in these countries?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well, the country where I spent the most time was Bosnia, where I got to know the people and I'm still friends with them, I've adopted two dogs from there, that kind of thing. So that's probably the place I'm most comfortable.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Didn't your dog from Bosnia die not too long ago?
LESLEY ISRAEL: The second one died just a few weeks ago, and I will be rescuing another dog, but not from Bosnia. My first one was named Tuzla, because that's the town where I was when I rescued her from the side of the road. You had hundreds of thousands of people who were dead and fled and they couldn't take their pets. So, there were these very nice pets. One dog had puppies and I checked with the airline and they would only let me take one on board, so I brought one. And then when she died, my friend in Bosnia rescued another one and sent her to me, and we had a very nice life together.
TSR NEWS GROUP: That's great.
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well-fed, good medical care and much love.
TSR NEWS GROUP: And wasn't the name shortened to Missy?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well, it was originally Misika, which meant 'little mouse'. That was the name they gave her there, I just shortened it to Missy.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Looking at these different countries now, all these years later, which ones do you think maintained healthy democracies and which ones did not?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Most of them, if they could, did. But, again, the Russian influence was—and remains—very strong in many of these countries. I spent a lot of my time in what was Yugoslavia, now a bunch of different countries like Serbia and Bosnia and so forth. Serbia, I'm not sure, it's a little iffy still. But, most of them have moved forward. They're at least well on the path [to democracy] and many of them are there.
TSR NEWS GROUP: You've said that your parents were Republicans... Republican journalists if I'm not mistaken.
LESLEY ISRAEL: Yes.
TSR NEWS GROUP: You've also said that they would not recognize the GOP today, and would likely not be a part of it. Can you explain what you meant by that? What has changed about the Republican Party between then and now?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Well, the Eisenhower party was a lot different from the Reagan party. They were much more inclusive, much friendlier to everybody. Today, the party is about its leaders, and they're about themselves. Obviously, there are people who believe in much of what they believe, but I'm not sure what it is they believe.
TSR NEWS GROUP: That's interesting. Now, on the other side of the same coin, you are a lifelong Democrat. Do you think that the Democratic Party of today is the same party as it was yesteryear? Some have criticized modern Democrats, same as Republicans, saying that both parties have gotten too radical in their own ways. Do you believe there's any truth to that?
LESLEY ISRAEL: No, I don't think that Democrats are too radical. I think we are a liberal party, we're an inclusive party, both for people and for ideas... and that's a good thing. Ideas will change, will vary and evolve with time, and so do we, and we just adapt to that.
TSR NEWS GROUP: What are your thoughts on the January 6th insurrection and Donald Trump in general?
LESLEY ISRAEL: We should be free to do and think whatever it is that we do and think. Unfortunately, the Republicans are trying to control who we are and what we want to be, and I don't think that's appropriate.
TSR NEWS GROUP: As far as Donald Trump is concerned, do you believe that he's going to run again in 2024? If so, is Joe Biden up to the task of running against him a second time and winning?
LESLEY ISRAEL: I don't know whether Trump will run or not. For Donald Trump, it is only about one thing: Donald Trump. Of course, Biden can win. Trump will use whatever he can, because he has no morals or standards, but that's him. Republicans are decent people. It's not because he's Republican, it's because he's Donald Trump.
TSR NEWS GROUP: You've run many campaigns including presidential. You've been involved at every level. Ideology aside and speaking hypothetically, let's say you were Donald Trump's 2024 campaign manager, what would you advise that he do?
LESLEY ISRAEL: Go home and hide under the bed!
TSR NEWS GROUP: [laughs] Point taken. Next time around, we're going to discuss some more personal matters to do with your life, Lesley, as a family woman. Lesley the wife, the mother, the grandmother. So, I want to leave off today's interview with a little story that I know to be charming and funny, because I've heard it before. Lesley, you've been married for some time now. Some might even say you're a pro when it comes to being part of a couple.
LESLEY ISRAEL: We celebrated our 62nd. We're married 62 and a half years now. So yes, at this point, I'm settled.
TSR NEWS GROUP: So, how did you meet Fred, the love of your life?
LESLEY ISRAEL: I met Fred on a blind date with a college classmate. I had fixed her up with somebody that she had fallen for, but in the course of it, she met Fred at something and said, 'I think I have a girl for you!' and it turned out she was right! I was living in Philadelphia at that point, he was in Washington [D.C.]. But, he went to Philadelphia to visit some friends over the weekend, over Easter, and he called me, and we had a first date that was... perfectly acceptable.
But then, a month or so later I was going to Washington, so we had a second [date]. Of course, I love to tell the story. That was in April, we got engaged in September, and when my mother called my grandmother, she said, "Lesley's engaged!" and Mima said, "Well, when are they getting married?" And mother said, "December!" And grandmother said, "Why so soon?" And mother said, "Well, they have to!" There was a long silence, because in those days, that meant something specific.
TSR NEWS GROUP: [laughs] Indeed it did.
LESLEY ISRAEL: I was not pregnant. Fred was in law school and he had a three-week break there, so we could have a real wedding and a honeymoon and all that stuff—spring break was a week. In those days, you didn't live together until you were married, not like today. And so, we got married in December and it worked out fine. Got it right the first time.
TSR NEWS GROUP: Got it right the first time, can't complain about that. That's wonderful.
LESLEY ISRAEL: You guys are so hard to train, I couldn't start a new one!
TSR NEWS GROUP: [laughs] That's what we hear.
For additional information about Lesley Israel, please click here. If you'd like to jump directly to the latest installment of her Work That Matters podcast, follow this link.
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