Pro-Israel Activists Start Media Campaign

By Ori Nir

Published July 09, 2004, issue of July 09, 2004.
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WASHINGTON — Hundreds of American Jewish activists launched a concerted pre-emptive media campaign this week to minimize negative publicity for Israel, as the International Court of Justice in the Hague rules on Israel’s West Bank security fence.

The activists set off a newly created network and applied skills that they acquired during a three-day pro-Israel media advocacy conference, held last week here. Graduates of the seminar contacted local news organizations across America to argue — in advance of Friday’s ICJ’s decision — that Israel has the right to fend off terrorists, and that polls show most Americans support Israel’s security barrier. Their messages were carefully crafted and orchestrated by the Israel Project, a Washington-based pro-Israel advocacy group, which organized the seminar.

“When the news cycle gives you lemons, you need to make lemonade,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of The Israel Project. “By using proven sound-bites and images, we can take what could be a bad press situation and turn it around.”

Last week’s conference in Washington brought hundreds of Jewish activists, mainly senior officials in Jewish federations and community-relations councils across America. Participants learned how to deal with the media locally and agreed on ways to distill a coordinated, uniform message to react to developments pertaining to Israel, and sometimes to even pre-empt them.

Shoshana Cardin, national chair of the Israel Project, kicked off the seminar with a declaration of war.

Cardin sought to galvanize the Jewish activists who gathered from as far away as Argentina and the Dominican Republic to do battle on behalf of an Israel that she and other speakers portrayed as damaged by its depiction in the press.

The event “is the largest effort to begin to have a war of words,” Cardin said. “We are in a war. We may not have realized it yet.”

A new arsenal was introduced to the troops: role-playing sessions to simulate successful television appearance techniques; coaching on how to effectively craft and deliver pro-Israel messages for call-in radio shows; prescriptions for contacting reporters and editors, influencing them, building relationships with them and closely monitoring their work to detect anti-Israel slants; crash courses in public relations; lists of “positive” stories on Israel to pitch to the media; and much more.

Participants agreed on strategies to approach the media, both in order to have a unified message and in order not to duplicate efforts and thus alienate journalists.

“We must make sure that all initiatives to approach the media go through the local [Community Relations Council],” said Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which co-sponsored the event with the United Jewish Communities and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Rosenthal and others said that one of the direct results of the seminar would be the establishment of a CRC network that would coordinate media strategies.

The event ended with a strategizing session, in which participants shaped a media strategy to coincide with the buildup for the November elections. America’s media organizations will go into overdrive in the months preceding and immediately following the elections, organizers explained, and that should create a golden opportunity to push a concerted pro-Israel media campaign. The Israel Project plans to bombard local Boston TV stations with new pro-Israel ads when Democrats flood the city for their national convention later this month. A similar effort is planned for the GOP’s August convention in New York.

“We often hear from people in the urbanized Jewish community that they feel outgunned” by critics of Israel, Rosenthal told the Forward. She noted that almost every American CRC, which her organization unites and represents, sent a representative to the seminar.

Participants were advised to be polite when dealing with reporters, but speakers couldn’t resist the opportunity for some media bashing. But there was a concerted effort to distill “positive” messages that would accentuate the attractiveness of Israel for Americans.

“Americans like to see the world as good guys and bad guys,” said Mizrahi. Most Americans already are persuaded of the negative nature of the Palestinian struggle, she said. What they need is more material that would “make Americans proud to wear Israel’s jersey.” She recommended diverting attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to issues that are less known to Americans and that Israel can boast, such as the equality that Arab citizens enjoy in Israel.

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