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Coming to a Tv Station Near You: Ads Trumpeting Israeli Democracy

September 18, 2002
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Ads trumpeting Israeli democracy and its cultural and political similarities to America are coming to TV sets nationwide.

Due to roll out in 100 major cable TV markets in the coming weeks, the two 30-second spots — costing $1 million total — are the centerpiece of an unprecedented public relations effort by American Jewish organizations to improve U.S. public perception of Israel.

The ads began airing in the Washington area on Sept. 12 and hit New York City and the Silicon Valley area of California on Tuesday, said spokesmen for the two groups behind the ads.

“The ads emphasize that Israel is a democracy, very much like the United States,” said Kenneth Bandler, director of public relations for the American Jewish Committee, which produced one of the ads.

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

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 for its ad, while Israel 21C has bought air time for its San Francisco Bay Area ad on CNN and CNN Headline News.

These ads are set to run throughout each day through December starting in these cities and beginning Oct. 1 in other dozens of other top media markets.

Both their imagery and message is 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 backgrounds.

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 begins nearly identically. “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East today, America’s ally,” it says.

“As in America, all Israeli citizens — Christians, Muslims, and Jews — have freedom of religion and the right to vote. Ten Arabs and 17 women are in Israel’s Parliament and both men and women have access to education, modern health care and good jobs.”

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 P.R. 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 current Palestinian uprising.

The effort included a series of focus groups and opinion surveys about Israel and the Palestinians, which revealed that American backing for Israel is slipping.

While Americans still support Israel over the Palestinians by an overwhelming 4-1 margin, they have grown frustrated with Mideast violence, with about 40 percent saying they support both sides equally or favor neither side in the conflict, according to mid-summer polls by the Israel P.R. 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 marginalize Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Yet Americans warm to Israel’s efforts to make peace, the pollsters found.

That revelation prompted the pollsters to craft a series of talking points for those defending Israel, focusing on Israel’s democracy and its history of peacemaking initiatives.

Ultimately the AJCommittee 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.

All of this pro-Israel public relations comes at a price. The AJCommittee bankrolled $200,000 for the initial surveys and polls for the Israel P.R. project, an effort that cost an estimated $700,000 total.

The AJCommittee also earmarked another $500,000 for the first ad buys in the national cable TV ad campaign, Bandler said. Together with Israel 21C’s ad, the national TV P.R. campaign will cost $1 million, the two groups said.

While it is too early to know what kind of impact the TV ads will have on public opinion, those behind the messages remain 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 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, and is working on buying TV ad time for that message as well.

Just as the Israel P.R. project found that Americans favor messages focusing on Israeli democracy, the pollsters said Americans also respond well when they learn that Israel has historically sought out peace with its neighbors.

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