A new initiative to market Israel to American Jews is expected to cost up to $300 million annually, three times the Birthright budget. But a cheaper project for both Americans and Israelis that could bolster Israel’s image much more effectively is not on the table: Ending the occupation.
The Jewish Agency is reportedly developing its priciest campaign ever to connect Jews and Israel and it’s going to cost a lot of money. The budget is expected to reach $300 million per year in the next five years, The Forward reported. The massive operation is expected to launch in 2014 and concentrate on four main elements: “Israel Education,” “Israel Experiences,” “Israel Engagement on College Campus” and “Aliyah (immigration) of Young Adults” (all these have already being pursued heavily by “pro-Israel” groups for decades).
According to a report on the eJewishphilanthropy website, the Jewish Agency expects one third of the funding to come from the Israeli government (meaning Israeli taxpayer money) and will apparently dwarf Birthright, whose annual budget is a mere $100 million. and which similarly, also draws a third of its budget from Israeli taxpayers.
The project is being coined “The Prime Minister’s Initiative” even though Netanyahu’s office hasn’t actually endorsed it. But as the Jewish Agency’s U.S.-based fundraising chief, Misha Galperin, told the Forward: “This is the interest and the direction the prime minister wants to move in.” Well, that’s a relief. We wouldn’t want millions of dollars spent in the American Jewish community on programs that Netanyahu wasn’t behind, right?
The Jewish Agency is organizing a meeting in October to flesh out the campaign’s strategies with Israeli government representatives, heads of Jewish organizations and foundations, and a bunch of affluent donors. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in that room will represent an anti-occupation view or even one critical of Netanyahu’s government – despite the fact that these are views held by both engages and non-engaged American Jews.
The choice to coin the campaign “The Prime Minister’s Initiative” is bizarre and quite telling. Apparently the organizers are interested in branding all Israel-related programming in the U.S. as coming directly from Netanyahu and his government, rather than from Israeli society. Why not coin it “pro-Israel” as these programs usually are? Are we to understand that the Jewish Agency and the others involved in this overpriced operation are more interested in promoting the prime minister than the country itself?
It is also interesting timing, considering the fact that the government official in charge of promoting Israel’s image on social media platforms has been warned to halt his activities due to complaints of racist and incendiary language. Daniel Seaman, appointed by Netanyahu to head Israel’s digital public diplomacy, posted a comment during Ramadan that read:
Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan means that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?
He also wrote a response to a demand by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, for an end to new settlement expansion that read: “Is there a diplomatic way of saying ‘Go F*** yourself’?”
When you also take into consideration the comments made recently by Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett (“if you catch terrorists you simply have to kill them”; “I’ve killed plenty of Arabs in his life without any problem”) or the mayor of Upper Nazareth’s statement that he will never allow the establishment of an Arab school in his town as long as he is mayor (followed by his op-ed in Haaretz asserting that if anyone thinks he’s racist then so is Zionism), not to mention the myriad of racist comments and actions taken against African asylum seekers (i.e. “cancer in our body“), then it seems pretty obvious why it will require so much dough to promote Israel among American Jews. It ain’t easy marketing this place, especially with this government in power.
But will it bother American Jews that the Israeli government is forking over a third of the budget for this program? According to Hillel Vice President for Marketing and Communications Ellen Goldstein, not at all:
Goldstein said that she is not concerned about potential objections to pro-Israel programming on campuses in the United States being funded directly by the Israeli government. “The student who goes on Birthright doesn’t care where their free trip is coming from,” Goldstein said. “I imagine it would be similar to that.”
A couple of questions to keep in mind: Who gives the Jewish Agency, a few right-wing Israeli government officials and some “leading” (read: outdated and conservative) American Jewish organizations the mandate to take all this money and do as they please with it? Most of these people were appointed, not elected, so their legitimacy is in question. And what about the Israeli citizens’ say in all this? Whose taxes are paying for a portion of it? While most Israelis may not oppose this initiative or the notion of “pro-Israel” programming as much as me, I’ll bet many would prefer their money be spent differently.
And lastly and most obviously – with everything Israel is doing to entrench itself deeper in occupation and settlements, isolating itself in world, and with all the contempt and racism coming out of the echelons of Israeli government officials and bodies, wouldn’t the money be better spent, by say, ending the infrastructure of military occupation?