My old friend and political ally from our days in New Jewish Agenda, Clare Kinberg, edits Bridges Journal. She asked me and a number of others to comment on Ms Magazine’s recent rejection of an ad submitted by the American Jewish Congress. This latest pro-Israel tempest in a teapot has been stirred up by Jack Rosen’s AJC, whose ad was ostensibly meant to sing the praises of Israeli women. The ad featured rather unflattering images of Supreme Court justice Dorit Beinisch, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima), and foreign minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima) alongside the rousing caption: “This is Israel.” This is typical pro-Israel PR fluff and signifies hardly anything worth talking about.
However, Ms decided that it was being used by AJC to do special pleading for Israel and refused to run the ad. Now, there is a PR war going on between the two and AJC has essentially won it before it started. It gets to frame the argument as: “we wanted to highlight Israeli feminism and you rejected us. In doing so you rejected all Israeli women AND violated our free speech rights.” AJC gets to claim Ms rejected the ad because it is “hostile to Israel.” All of which is utter dreck.
If I were Ms’ editor I would’ve happily taken the money. If Jack Rosen wants to pump money into Ms why should the magazine refuse it? But I would’ve told the AJC that I planned on either writing an editorial or commissioning an article that would’ve examined the premises of the ad and looked beyond it at the real status of women in Israeli society in the context of the ad’s flackery. I’ll bet the AJC would’ve withdrawn the ad in a heartbeat.
It’s important to know something about AJC before judging the evidence in this case. It used to be one of the nation’s premier liberal Jewish organizations. Henry Siegman was once its national president. Then it fell into decline and financial difficulty. A white knight named Jack Rosen came along and offered it a life preserver in the form of financial subsidy. In return, Rosen took it over and turned it into a domestic version of AIPAC. Now, it is almost an arm of the Republican Jewish Coalition, with which Rosen is also affiliated. AJC’s politics are neocon through and through.
Clare Kinberg also points out that the AJC staff member behind the ad is Harriet Kurlander. Prior to working for AJC, she was Southeast regional director for AIPAC. All of which points to the fact that this ad has almost nothing to do with Israeli women or feminism and everything to do with pro-Israel politics. I can’t say whether Kurlander “set up” Ms and the magazine rather inartfully fell into the trap set for it; or a series of unfortunate actions and reactions led to this disaster for Ms and PR gold mine for AJC.
Another element entirely missing from the ad is any awareness of the real challenges faced by Israeli women. Just because three Israeli women hold position of legal or political prominence doesn’t mean that all’s well in this feminist paradise. Israel is a male-dominated society. As recently as a decade ago or so it was illegal for a woman to work at any job after dark. The incidence of rape and battering is quite high. In an armed forces that prides itself on democratically representing the society from which it originates, women play largely secondary roles. That being said, I have no problem with highlighting gains women have made as long as the full picture of women’s status is portrayed. And this the AJC had no interest in showing. All it wanted was to score propaganda points.
Ms has said in its defense that it does not promote political points of view and the fact that two of the pictured women were Kadima operatives made the ad politically partisan. That’s a hard one to swallow. Of course the ad IS partisan, but not in terms of party politics.
What AJC hopes to do is peel off some of the progressive elements of the feminist movement to attack Ms. This in turn, divides the progressive Jewish movement at a time when it is important that it stay focused on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict AND bettering conditions for women within Israeli society. The AJC ad is a side show to all of this. I would plead with any progressive speaking out for AJC that they consider some of the issues I’ve raised before doing so.
No doubt, Ms could’ve handled this better. But that doesn’t mean that anything the AJC is saying has any merit whatsoever.
Great work tearing up the AJC’s faux-innocent outrage. When I see how the PR strategy of a number of these propaganda groups has shifted away from re-framing the issues that make people “hostile” towards Israel in the first place (for example, the occupation and its apartheid implications) in their favor, to techniques that totally ignore those issues in favor of these crass marketing campaigns, I can see all the more easily how weak their moral position has become. It seems that the Ministry of Tourism has taken over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and when it comes to tourism, there’s only one way to deal with problems: pretend they’re not there.
Richard, did you see the column by R. Cohen in the WP a couple of days ago in which he argues, slightly obliquely, that Obama must answer for a publication put out by his church that praises Farrakhan, emphasizing the anti-Semitic nature of Farrakhan’s creepiness? Thoughts?
Here’s my opinion, Clare –
Feminism should reject the culture of status/celebrity, which is what this ad is all about. More generally, feminism should stand up for society’s have-nots, not its haves. Ms. was right to reject the ad.
The Palestinians could put up and add featuring Hanan Ashwari but it might break mirrors and frighten small children.
Richard Silverstein says
SP: Thanks for letting me know about Cohen’s column. Larry Cohler Esses just wrote about the same story. Take a look at my post on this.
Ms. Magazine is a progressive, feminist publication. Why in heaven’s name should they have published that ad? How could they have handled it “better?”
Progressives have to stand up to this bullying and call it what it is.
Kudos to Ms. for not taking their money.
Richard Silverstein says
Their explanation sounded lame. How does a claim that the ad promotes one Israeli political party rate on a scale of 1 to 10 as credible? Maybe 1 or 2 if you’re lucky. Ms needed to tell the truth about what the ad meant and why they didn’t run it. They didn’t. They attempted to fudge the issues.
I’m not saying this to attack Ms as I think they were deliberately placed in a no-win situation. Very few of us might’ve navigated this any better than they did.
Richard Silverstein says
All I can say is I’m glad we don’t have to see your mug in an ad. I know it’d frighten MY children.
“Ms” should have given the real reason to deny publication: these women’s responsibility for the starvation of Gaza and for an untold number of deaths of Gazans in medical need.
See Amnesty International’s Press Release on Israeli authorities refusal to allow critically ill Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip for urgent medical treatment which is not available in Gaza:
Dorit Beinisch – the starlet of this ad – should be exposed for what she is: an accomplice to war crimes. It was her court that authorized the crimes being commtted in Gaza.
But you are right, Richard, that from a PR point of view – Ms completely goofed this up. You can safely assume that the brouhaha over the ad has given the ad a huge publicity boost that it never would have gotten without the scandal.
Come on, who really cares what ads are published in “Ms”? Who bothers to look at them?
Readers of Ms. look at the ads and I certainly hope they care!
It’s a matter of principle. Why in the world should a progressive publication be bullied into running an ad that promotes right-wing politcians, and by extension, their apartheid policies?
I wish the publishers had sent out their own press release, calling this organization on to the carpet for this kind of racial extortion.
Richard Silverstein says
The did send out their own press release. It’s available on the Ms website. It’s just not that convincing & doesn’t present the issues in a way that is clear & persuasive–at least not to me. And I’m on their side on this.