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Pro-Israel propaganda campaign rolls over CNN


After tussle with CNN, ad campaign trumpeting Israeli democracy on air

By Joe Berkofsky
Jewish Telegraph Agency
18 September 2002


NEW YORK, Sept. 18 (JTA) -- Ads trumpeting Israeli democracy and the
country's cultural and political similarities to America are coming to TV
sets nationwide.

But not without a fight.

CNN rejected requests to run the pro-Israel ads nationally, leaving the
two Jewish groups behind the ads scrambling to buy air time from
individual cable TV operators in local markets.

The operators will be able to place the ads on CNN in local markets, but
not run them throughout the country at once.

"In the end, the ads are running on CNN around the country," said Kenneth
Bandler, director of public relations for the American Jewish Committee,
which produced one of the ads.

The ads will roll out in 100 major cable TV markets in the coming weeks.
The two 30-second spots -- which together cost at least $1 million for
production and air time -- are the centerpiece of an unprecedented public
relations effort by American Jewish organizations to improve U.S. public
perceptions of Israel.

The ads began airing in the Washington area on Sept. 12. They hit CNN and
Fox News in New York and CNN and CNN Headline News in the Silicon Valley
area of California on Tuesday, according to spokesmen for the two groups
behind the ads.

"The ads emphasize that Israel is a democracy, very much like the United
States," Bandler said.

The second ad is being produced by Israel 21C, a group of Silicon Valley
high-tech entrepreneurs based in Cupertino, Calif.

Both ads, which paint similar portraits of Israel as the lone Mideast
democracy with political freedom for all its citizens, began running
back-to-back last week in Washington on CNN, CNBC, Fox News and MSNBC.

The AJCommittee bought slots on CNN and Fox News in New York, while
Israel 21C has bought air time for its San Francisco Bay Area ad on CNN
and CNN Headline News.

The ads are set to run in these cities throughout each day through
December. Beginning Oct. 1, they will appear in dozens of other top media
markets as well.

The ads' imagery and message are nearly identical: Israel is a
pluralistic democracy and shares bedrock cultural and political values
with the United States.

"Israel is America's only real ally in the Middle East," the AJCommittee
ad declares.

"Israel is a democracy that respects the rights of individuals and gives
all its citizens the right to vote in free and fair elections," the add
continues. "And in Israel, unlike in other countries in the region, all
people -- Christians, Muslims and Jews -- enjoy freedom of religion,
press and speech."

The narrator concludes: "Israel and America -- shared values, shared
visions for peace."

The audio is set against a backdrop of images including Israeli
newspapers, the Israeli Parliament building, an Arab woman at a ballot
box, a high-tech scene and the faces of Israelis of all ages and ethnic

Americans "feel a close affinity to the Israeli people because we're both
democracies, and we want to build on that support," Bandler said.

Israel 21C's ad follows the same pattern.

The two ads are "virtually the same, if not identical," said Larry
Weinberg, executive vice president of Israel 21C. "The whole point of our
ad is that we think Americans really don't understand the true nature of
Israel's democracy. Our job is to educate them about that."

That was the central theme of a public relations strategy laid out this
summer by the Israel Project, a campaign led by Washington Democratic
political consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Democratic pollster Stanley
Greenberg and Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

Mizrahi was the initial force behind the effort, stirred by what she felt
were misleading media images of Israel during the Palestinian intifada.

The effort included a series of focus groups and opinion surveys about
Israel and the Palestinians that showed American backing for Israel

While Americans still support Israel over the Palestinians by a 4-1
margin, they have grown frustrated with Mideast violence. About 40
percent of respondents said they support both sides in the conflict
equally or favor neither side, according to mid-summer polls by the
Israel Project.

But Americans see Israel in a more favorable light when they recognize
its common values with the United States, the polls showed.

Their surveys also found that Americans reacted negatively to Israeli
spokespeople who tried to deprecate Palestinian Authority President
Yasser Arafat.

But Americans warmed when told of Israel's efforts to make peace, the
pollsters found.

That revelation prompted the pollsters to craft a series of talking
points focusing on Israel's democracy and its history of peacemaking

The AJCommittee ultimately signed onto the pro-Israel PR campaign, along
with Israel 21C and such groups as the United Jewish Communities, the
umbrella of the North American federation movement.

The public relations comes at a price. The AJCommittee partly bankrolled
the initial surveys and polls for the Israel Project, and earmarked
another $500,000 for the first ad buys in the cable TV campaign, Bandler

Together with Israel 21C's ad, the national TV campaign will cost at
least $1 million, the two groups said.

It was Laszlo Mizrahi, along with Media Ad Ventures, which arranges media
exposure for political candidates and issue groups, who first submitted
the pro-Israel spots to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for approval.

But CNN refused. Matthew Furman, a CNN spokesman, said the network does
not run "international advocacy ads concerning regions in conflict,"
including areas CNN reports on.

In recent months CNN also refused ads by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and
the United Arab Emirates, Furman said.

Media Ad Ventures' Brad Mont said he was "surprised" by CNN's position.

The ads are "very tame," Mont said. The ads "are just a very positive
message about Israel."

While CNN may have refused the ads from Arab countries, Laszlo Mizrahi
noted, the pro-Israel ads were sponsored not by Israel but by private

But Furman said it was the ads' content, not their sponsors, that
concerned CNN.

While the pro-Israel groups' "position may be entirely benign, the ads
concern a region in a part of the world that we cover every day and every
hour," he said.

In the end, the pro-Israel groups went to cable operators such as ATT,
Cablevision and Time Warner to purchase air time.

The ads will still appear on CNN and elsewhere, but Laszlo Mizrahi said
the national buys would have given the Israel Project the ability to pick
specific times and TV shows.

The AJCommittee's Bandler said his group was still happy with its
placement on CNN. Already, its ad ran in New York this week on the
"American Morning" news show with Paula Zahn, he said.

While it's too early to know what kind of impact the ads will have on
public opinion, the backers are optimistic.

"When Americans understand how much we have in common with Israel, it
will be better for both America and Israel," Weinberg said.

Meanwhile, more pro-Israel TV spots are likely to be coming to a living
room near you.

The AJCommittee is producing a second ad focusing on Israel's historic
quest for peace in the Middle East -- another message that resonated well
in polls -- and is working on buying TV time for that ad as well.