propaganda campaign rolls over CNN
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
country's cultural and political similarities to America are coming
But not without a fight.
CNN rejected requests to run the pro-Israel ads nationally, leaving
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,
not run them throughout the country at once.
"In the end, the ads are running on CNN around the country,"
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
The two 30-second spots -- which together cost at least $1 million
production and air time -- are the centerpiece of an unprecedented
relations effort by American Jewish organizations to improve U.S.
perceptions of Israel.
The ads began airing in the Washington area on Sept. 12. They hit
Fox News in New York and CNN and CNN Headline News in the Silicon
area of California on Tuesday, according to spokesmen for the two
behind the ads.
"The ads emphasize that Israel is a democracy, very much like
States," Bandler said.
The second ad is being produced by Israel 21C, a group of Silicon
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
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
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
markets as well.
The ads' imagery and message are nearly identical: Israel is a
pluralistic democracy and shares bedrock cultural and political
with the United States.
"Israel is America's only real ally in the Middle East,"
"Israel is a democracy that respects the rights of individuals
all its citizens the right to vote in free and fair elections,"
continues. "And in Israel, unlike in other countries in the
people -- Christians, Muslims and Jews -- enjoy freedom of religion,
press and speech."
The narrator concludes: "Israel and America -- shared values,
visions for peace."
The audio is set against a backdrop of images including Israeli
newspapers, the Israeli Parliament building, an Arab woman at a
box, a high-tech scene and the faces of Israelis of all ages and
Americans "feel a close affinity to the Israeli people because
democracies, and we want to build on that support," Bandler
Israel 21C's ad follows the same pattern.
The two ads are "virtually the same, if not identical,"
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
Israel's democracy. Our job is to educate them about that."
That was the central theme of a public relations strategy laid
summer by the Israel Project, a campaign led by Washington Democratic
political consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, Democratic pollster
Greenberg and Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Mizrahi was the initial force behind the effort, stirred by what
were misleading media images of Israel during the Palestinian intifada.
The effort included a series of focus groups and opinion surveys
Israel and the Palestinians that showed American backing for Israel
While Americans still support Israel over the Palestinians by a
margin, they have grown frustrated with Mideast violence. About
percent of respondents said they support both sides in the conflict
equally or favor neither side, according to mid-summer polls by
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
But Americans warmed when told of Israel's efforts to make peace,
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,
with Israel 21C and such groups as the United Jewish Communities,
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,
Together with Israel 21C's ad, the national TV campaign will cost
least $1 million, the two groups said.
It was Laszlo Mizrahi, along with Media Ad Ventures, which arranges
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
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
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
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
While the pro-Israel groups' "position may be entirely benign,
concern a region in a part of the world that we cover every day
hour," he said.
In the end, the pro-Israel groups went to cable operators such
Cablevision and Time Warner to purchase air time.
The ads will still appear on CNN and elsewhere, but Laszlo Mizrahi
the national buys would have given the Israel Project the ability
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
public opinion, the backers are optimistic.
"When Americans understand how much we have in common with
will be better for both America and Israel," Weinberg said.
Meanwhile, more pro-Israel TV spots are likely to be coming to
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
in polls -- and is working on buying TV time for that ad as well.