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U.S. Jewish Leaders Press Media, Congress with Pro-israel Message

April 11, 2002
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As President Bush demands that Israel end its West Bank invasion “without delay,” U.S. Jewish leaders and activists are trying to act just as fast to get a pro-Israel message to American audiences and policy-makers.

A major Washington rally is planned for Monday to express solidarity with Israel and equate Israel’s military campaign with America’s war on terrorism.

The event is the cornerstone of stepped-up efforts by American Jewish groups to build public support for Israel.

Despite polling figures that show continued American support for Israel despite the army’s offensive in the West Bank, many Jewish leaders are quietly concerned that they are losing the public relations war to Arab protesters around the world and Arab commentators on television.

The American Jewish campaign targets both the Bush administration — whose position in recent days has diverged significantly from Israel’s — and the American media, which some have accused of bias during the latest turmoil.

“We’re trying to send our messages to the most important constituencies in the country,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The principal message is that Israel has a right to defend itself and its citizens.”

Many Jewish leaders say they want Americans to understand that Israel is not interested in staying in the parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip it has reoccupied in the last two weeks, but that a withdrawal before the operation is complete would allow suicide bombings to resume.

Jewish leaders also want to make clear that Israel is not defying the United States by proceeding with its operation to root out terrorism, but is only proceeding cautiously.

To that end, they have brought in a well-known face: Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States on a public relations mission for the current premier, Ariel Sharon.

His job is to convince Americans that Israel’s war on terror parallels American’s own efforts.

“If we do not shut down the terror factories that Arafat is hosting, those terror factories that are producing human bombs, it is only a matter of time before suicide bombers will terrorize your cities here in America,” Netanyahu told congressional leaders in an address Tuesday.

Netanyahu came to Capitol Hill because it has consistently been a beacon of support for Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, has received dozens of calls from lawmakers offering their help as well as renewed interest from AIPAC’s heavy donors, officials say.

The bill would impose sanctions on the Palestinian Authority for not meeting its commitments under its peace agreements with Israel.

Previous incarnations of the bill had sought a State Department assessment of Palestinian Authority compliance before sanctions could be applied, but this version assumes that Palestinian violations are so clear that no assessment is necessary.

As usual, however, the bill would carry a waiver allowing the president to avoid implementing it for reasons of national security.

A spokesman said lawmakers were contacting Ackerman each time a terrorist attack rocked Israel, wanting to add their name to the legislation.

But some American Jewish leaders are concerned that working through Congress will not be productive, since Congress already is strongly pro-Israel.

Instead, as the Bush administration demands an immediate Israeli withdrawal, some Jewish leaders are focusing their efforts on the State Department and National Security Council.

“There has to be a focus to make sure that these agencies are covered, that they know we are watching them very closely,” one American Jewish activist said. “We trust the president of the United States, but we have to make sure that those in charge of carrying out his policies do so without deviation.”

The media also is seen as a key battleground, as American Jews complain that many American news programs are not giving enough time to the Israeli side or allow too many Palestinian apologists on the airwaves.

“The media is going to give all the time to the underdogs,” said David Ivry, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

The Israeli case is more complex, he said, but has an impact on editorials and policy when it is expressed through back channels to the media and the administration.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the new campaigns are not reactions to recent media coverage or the prevalence of Arab commentators on television.

“I don’t think” Arab commentators “are scoring with the American people,” Hoenlein said. “The Arabs have been active, but Israel’s case has been heard by the American people.”

The American Jewish message is not always unified, however. While most Jewish organizations are lobbying in support of Israeli actions, Americans for Peace Now placed an advertisement in Monday’s New York Times calling Sharon’s policies “misguided.”

The “evacuation of settlements in Gaza and isolated positions in the West Bank” would be in the government’s self-interest, the ad suggested.

Other organizations are taking swift action as well.

The UJC is holding an Emergency Israel Campaign, hoping to raise millions of dollars for everything from armored school buses to crisis aid for Israelis afraid to leave their homes.

The Conference of Presidents is considering sending a solidarity mission to Israel. It also is considering a campaign urging Americans to buy Israeli products and crafting a newsletter for leaders of Jewish organizations to coordinate their message.

The group also has organized several conference calls with Israeli officials to coordinate the message between Israel and American Jewry.

The large focus is on elaborate media campaigns and events, but American Jewish leaders note that even small things count. E-mails last week asking American Jews to e-mail and call the White House significantly changed the ratio of pro-Israel to anti-Israel sentiment recorded by the executive mansion, sources said.

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