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Jewish Agency plans most exorbitant 'pro-Israel' campaign ever

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.”

And there you have it. Why should there be any conflict of interest whatsoever in promoting Israel with money coming directly from the partisan Israeli government? As long as it’s free, why should they care?

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?

Israeli racism and American Jewish hypocrisy  

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    1. Kolumn9

      I am missing what your problem is with this campaign, other than the usual problem you have with the Israeli government doing anything.

      The Israeli government in association with a bunch of Jewish organizations and donors are spending money promoting Israel to Jewish youth in America. On the Israeli side the outlays for the program will be budgeted by the government elected by the Israeli people in free and democratic elections that you may or may not have participated in. And sure, there are certainly those that didn’t vote for this government and certainly those that would oppose this program and they are welcome to express their opposition but it is entirely within the purview of an elected government to fund programs such as this one even if there is a vocal minority of citizens that are opposed to them. On the American side the project is sponsored by rich donors who can do whatever they damn well please with their own money. I think that pretty much covers the ‘who gives them the mandate to take the money and do with it as they please’ and the ‘what about the Israeli citizens’ aspects of this article.

      As for the price tag of this program. The cost of the Gaza disengagement was about $6.35 Billion. Presumably the cost of, say, disengagement from the West Bank will be an order of magnitude higher. $100M/year which is force multiplied by another $200M/year donations from the diaspora seems like a pretty cheap investment in comparison. This is before even pointing out that previous rounds of the ‘peace process’ have been accompanied by waves of suicide bombings that do significantly more damage to the Israeli economy than $100M/year in loss of tourism alone before even taking into account things like the massive economic costs of calling up reserves and other military expenses. It is also questionable whether the disengagement from Gaza or the concessions made at Oslo did much to bolster Israel’s image. There is absolutely zero question that Birthright, on the other hand, has had a major positive impact on Israel’s image.

      The rest of your article is just the rehashing of the usual litany of unrelated complaints and innuendo that are regurgitated every time you write an article. Yes, there are incompetent people in the Israeli government. There are also people in the Israeli government who hold positions that you find unpalatable. Point me to a perfect government with a population that is free from ignorance and racism and I’ll buy you a meal of musabbaha at abu hassan.

      Reply to Comment
    2. rsgengland

      If the coalition government, that was elected by proportional representation and represents well over half of the electorate that voted in the last election, cannot be rated as representing Israel, then who can?
      It is not only the responsibility, but the duty, of every elected government in all countries, to try burnish the image of their countries.
      The above of course does not include those countries whose administrations lack legitimacy, due to one party rule, military dictatorship, manipulation of polls, and last but not least, those that forget to have elections when they are due [hint; our immediate neighbors].
      At least the money being used for this project comes from Israeli taxes and individual foreign donations, not foreign aid money.
      The only foreign aid Israel receives is from the USA for military purposes.
      And it mostly has to be spent in the USA on US manufactured product, thereby subsidizing American jobs.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Another way to look at the one third of the funding from the Israeli government is how that manifests in terms of policy & advocacy in the Jewish Agency.

      The Jewish Agency on it’s website states that it is the “official link between the Jewish state and Jewish communities everywhere” – the funding from the Israeli government means that this link is potentially filled with the rhetoric & political views of the current Israeli government… This means yet again the connections made between Jewish communities and Israel is guided by right-wing nationalistic principles & ideology as opposed to a more holistic and representative approach to connecting Israeli Jewish communities with Jewish communities elsewhere around the world.

      I’ve also noticed recently that groups such as the Union of Jewish Students (UK) are increasingly keen to espouse right-wing views, statements & advocacy when it comes to Israel and almost 3/4 of the materials they sent to a friend of mines Jewish student society (Jsoc) was literally lifted out of Likud propaganda….

      I’m really glad to have read this article Mairav – keep up the good work & writing.

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    4. rsgengland

      The term ‘right wing’ comes up all the time.
      Who is ‘right wing’, and who has defined ‘right wing’?
      Is it the Israeli government, as measured against say, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority?
      If Israel is ‘right wing’, where are organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood in the great scheme of things?
      These organizations are misogynistic, homophobic,
      intolerant of dissent, favour capital punishment, do not understand the ‘Rule of Law’, ignore the electoral/democratic process, and are racist and Antisemitic.
      Now those descriptions reek of Fascism and Socialism/Communism.
      So who actually is ‘right wing’, and what does being ‘right wing’ mean?

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      • Piotr Berman

        I do not undersand what is the problem. At Arutz Sheva they do not talk about “Left Wing” but about “extreme Leftists and Islamist”.

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    5. ‘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)’ : The only solution I see is implementation of your Declaration of Independence, which provides for equal protection of all citizens (at least) but also allows for the free ingress of Jews into Israel. The latter will always create tension, but the former can move to rebalance the lives of all. If Zionism includes the Declaration, I have hope; if Zionism abjures its Declaration, I do see racism inevitable.

      Reply to Comment
    6. William Burns

      Seaman’s career just baffles me. Whatever your politics, it seems obvious that someone whose principal characteristic is his love of insulting foreigners should not be in charge of a diplomatic effort.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Good piece again, Mairav. I have tried to direct some Dutch aficionados to this scary article.
      1.5 billion dollars to manufacture consent. Could they not reserve a tiny portion of it for a statue of Orwell?

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    8. Khaled Khalid

      If Israel is so Righteous then why the need to promote it? Promoting Aliyah as a Jews-Only gig is good but promoting Palestinian Aliyah is evil. I wonder if Zionists ever look at how ridiculous they sound in their hypocrisy? Perhaps they know what unjust hypocrites they are hence the need to improve their racist image with American Jews. Only someone willfully blind would take in all this self-pitying racist propaganda.

      Doesn’t this 300 million dollars spent on cheap propaganda in America seem in bad taste considering Americans give Israel 3 Billion Dollars in Aid each year?

      (The money could be better spent on Israeli Schools, hospitals, civilian infrastructure.)

      Reply to Comment
    9. Laurent Szyster

      Where will those $300 millions be spent ?

      Mostly in Israel of course.

      Budget one hundred from taxes to spend three times as much, that’s a pretty good deal, don’t you think ? Actually, the state may very well recoup all its funding with the taxes collected.

      Sure, not a dime will be spent on wacky journalists and phony NGOs.

      But then, you can still count on EU’s subsidies for that …

      Reply to Comment
    10. Peter Hindrup

      (followed by his op-ed in Haaretz asserting that if anyone thinks he’s racist then so is Zionism),

      Does anyone doubt that Zionism is racist?

      Reply to Comment