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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

US funds left-wing, anti-Netanyahu ad campaign

From the Jerusalem Post:
The Geneva Initiative unveiled a campaign partially funded by the USAID in which Palestinian leaders speak to the Israeli public in video clips, telling Israelis that there is a Palestinian partner for an agreement.

Thus far, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo and Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub have recorded short messages, all of which begin with a personal address to the Israeli public which includes the word “shalom” in Hebrew and conclude with “I am your partner. Are you my partner?”

Gadi Baltiansky, Geneva Initiative Israel director, explained that the campaign aims to counter the myth that there is no partner on the Palestinian side and to stir a debate as to whether the Netanyahu administration represents a partner for a two-state solution.

The Hebrew webpage for the ads is here.

As an op-ed in JTA says,
This political advocacy effort is aimed at convincing Israelis, in the words of Geneva Initiative head Gadi Baltiansky, “that there is a [Palestinian] partner -- that the problem is specifically with us.”

For the most part USAID, as its name suggests, has been involved primarily in projects related to Palestinian economic development, including parks and a sports facility in Tulkarem. An NGO-run advertising campaign marks a major shift in U.S. government policy. As in the case of NGO political campaigns funded by European governments, this process bypasses the elected Israeli leadership. Such direct interference in the internal affairs of other democracies is a blatant violation of international norms.

At the same time, the USAID funding is notable in that it is relatively transparent. While the USAID website makes no mention of this campaign, the Geneva Initiative released a statement about it: “The campaign is supported with the generous support of the American people through USAID.” News of the funding has been reported and criticized widely in the Israeli media.

...However, the transparency is partial, and the ads do not reference the U.S. government’s role and backing. Thus, Israelis hear Palestinian officials promoting peace without knowing that the message is brought to them courtesy of the U.S. administration, which has its own political interests. The absence of full public disclosure or congressional oversight for this unusual venture is problematic.
The US is funding an advertising campaign meant to make Israelis doubt the leadership abilities of the people they elected. The Geneva Initiative is far the the left of the mainstream Israeli public.

USAID is primarily meant to provide development and reconstruction assistance. To use it to fund a blatantly political program seems to go against its stated purpose.

It is notable that the Geneva Initiative claims:
The GI and our activities are designed to reinstill in the Israeli and Palestinian peoples the hope that it is possible to reach an agreement that will serve their respective national and personal interests and aspirations. We are committed to exposing each side's public to the message of the other – despite the technical and psychological barriers.
Yet I cannot find a single campaign they ever created or funded to convince the Palestinian Arabs to support a realistic peace with Israel. No public relations campaigns in the territories, no ads, nothing. Not a dollar is spent to influence Palestinian Arab public opinion.

It is even more interesting that the GI, as left-wing as they get, which is so keen to convince Israelis that Palestinian Arabs are such great peace partners, do not have a single Arab or Muslim organization listed as a "supporter" on their website. But trust us - they really are peace partners, even if they don't want to publicly be associated with the most dovish Israelis. That is probably only out of fear of being labeled "collaborators" and murdered in cold blood by their equally peaceful next door neighbors.

There is no problem with the GI coaching Saeb Erekat to lie about how peaceful he is. After all, lying is something he has a lot of experience in.  Only a month ago Erekat rejected the idea of talking with Israel. His intransigence is clear. And the GI may be hypocritical in its one-sided view of who is the intransigent party in the Middle East, but, again, that it their right.

If the Geneva Initiative wants to get Jibril Rajoub, who explicitly supports terror in Arabic, to make peaceful statements in English, they can pay him whatever they can afford.

However, US tax dollars are paying for political ads in Israel - and not just any political ads, but ads that are designed specifically to turn the Israeli public against their own government. That should be unacceptable from the point of view of  Americans as well as Israelis.

(h/t Jed for jogging my memory)