NEW YORK, Nov. 7 (JTA) — Pro-Israel TV ads seem to be winning some key American hearts and minds. A series of 30-second spots trumpeting Israeli democracy, which began airing nationally in September on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, reversed a downward spiral in support for Israel among influential opinion shapers, according to the ads’ producers — who also conducted the follow-up polls to gauge their impact. The ads were aimed at Americans who help shape national discourse. The producers defined that group as those with a college or post-graduate education who earn at least $75,000 and get their news from national newspapers, magazines, or network and cable TV shows. Back in July, polls commissioned by a coalition called the Israel Project found that 42 percent of these opinion leaders supported Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, while 10 percent sided with the Palestinians. Yet about nearly half of these people also described themselves as growing increasingly neutral in the conflict, reflecting a deep decline in U.S. support for Israel since the Palestinian uprising began two years ago. The Israel Project blamed the dive in support on negative news images of Israel during the intifada. The group set about raising close to $1 million for a public relations campaign to reverse the trend. The heart of the Israel Project’s message arose from focus groups it ran over the summer that showed American perceptions of Israel improving when Israeli democracy was highlighted. The producers say post-ad surveys bear out the project’s premise. After ads showing Israeli democracy ran in 50 major TV markets, sympathy for Israel climbed in October to 50 percent nationwide, while sympathy for the Palestinians edged up to just 12 percent. In Washington, where the most ads appeared, support for Israel among opinion movers rose from 36 percent to 52 percent. “Israel’s image has moved from the intensive care unit to a normal room in the hospital,” said Washington Democratic strategist Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a key figure in the pro-Israel campaign. While the American Jewish community traditionally has considered Israel’s poor public image the inevitable result of unfair perceptions, the ads and subsequent polls showed that “we’re making a difference,” she said. Others behind the Israel Project are the American Jewish Committee and Israel 21c, a group of Silicon Valley high-tech businessmen devoted to promoting Israel. During the summer the Israel Project produced the pro-Israel ads, paid for a series of polls of Americans and American Jews and led seminars for Israeli and U.S. Jewish officials aimed at improving Israel’s image in the media. Joining Laszlo Mizrahi in the effort were Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg and Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Greenberg conducted the follow-up telephone survey of 594 opinion leaders nationally, and 209 opinion leaders in Washington between Oct. 17-24. The survey had a 3.5 percent margin of error. That — and Greenberg’s reputation — should ensure the survey’s reliability, Laszlo Mizrahi said. In July, only 24 percent of respondents said the United States should take Israel’s side in the conflict, while 2 percent said the United States should favor the Palestinians. In October, however, 30 percent said the United States should favor Israel, and only 4 percent said the United States should back the Palestinians, according to the pollsters. After seeing the ads, opinion elites also increasingly believed that Israel shares American principles of freedom and equality. In July, 28 percent said those shared values describe Israel “very well,” while 66 percent said they described Israel “well.” After the ads, the figures rose to 33 percent and 73 percent, respectively. Larry Weinberg, executive vice president of Israel21c, said he is encouraged by the growing support for Israel. “Whatever the reason, Israel’s numbers are turning to a better direction. The more people learn about Israel’s democratic values,” he said, “the more they support Israel.” The P.R. campaign has run into some roadblocks, however. CNN refused to run the ads nationally in specific time slots, saying it doesn’t run political ads on areas of the world it covers journalistically. That refusal forced the Israel Project to buy cable TV time individually in 100 local markets, making it more difficult to pick highly desired time slots. Even then, the ads didn’t run in some markets, Laszlo Mizrahi said. In many cases the ads were initially approved by some executives, only to get dumped later by others because of their content, she said. In all cases the stations returned the group’s money if it didn’t run the ads, she added. Still, Weinberg was furious over the rejections. “Business offices are making political considerations about what should or shouldn’t be on the air,” he said. He and Laszlo Mizrahi said the group would use the unspent money they raised to revive the ad campaign in coming months, perhaps in other communities and on other cable stations.
Poll: Israel P.R. campaign working