Pro-Israel hawks are running television advertisements identifying Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a bid to advance their seven-month-old campaign to make Arafat a target of President George W Bush's war on terrorism.
Two groups, whose leadership is close to supporters of Likud, the right-wing Israeli party headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, have focused their ads on the Washington, DC, area, apparently in hopes of influencing debate in the capital.
The vice president of one of the groups, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), is a former public affairs officer for the Israeli Embassy here. Both groups are also closely identified with pro-Likud hawks in the Bush administration, especially top aides to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Despite the similarity of message and overlapping boards of directors and founders, the two ads were produced entirely independently of one another, according to Nir Boms, the Israeli FDD president. FDD was created on September 13, two days after the terrorist attacks in the United States. It is running a 30-second spot, the principal message of which is that there is no difference between Palestinian suicide bombings and the September 11 skyjackings. Called the "Suicide Strategy", the ad warns that "if we appease terrorism, we'll get more terrorism" and features grainy footage of the aftermath of suicide bombings, children dressed up as suicide bombers, Saddam Hussein haranguing a huge crowd, and the burning of US flags. A narrator says Israelis face such threats "day after day".
The Center for Security Policy (CSP), whose board is dominated by executives of major military contractors and prominent right-wing activists, has also put out a series of ads, the latest of which features flag-burnings, an ever-growing picture of bin Laden, and Arafat supposedly exhorting a crowd, "Jihad, jihad, jihad, jihad." The narrator says Saddam Hussein "pays Palestinian children to become suicide bombers".
"They're very effective in confusing people," said Hussein Ibish, communications director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), who said he believed pro-Likud groups are running the ads because of concern that public opinion has been turning against the Sharon government, especially since its devastating offensive against Jenin and other towns and cities on the West Bank.
The ads began airing this month, just as Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the first stages of his mission to the Middle East to try to calm the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by negotiating a ceasefire as a prelude to renewed peace negotiations. At the time, Bush himself had called for Israel to withdraw immediately from the areas it had reoccupied since late last month. His demands, which Sharon largely ignored, were assailed by a number of neo-conservative and Christian Right groups, and the media, such as the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), the Wall Street Journal, and the Weekly Standard. They warned that US pressure on Israel would only encourage further terrorist attacks by Palestinians.
That message - as well as the conflation of bin Laden, Arafat, Palestinians in general, and Saddam Hussein in the minds of the viewers - appears to be the main intent of the ads' producers.
"On September 11th," the CSP narrator begins, as the video shows Arabs burning a US flag, "America lost thousands of innocent lives at the hands of extremists. As America mourned, Palestinians carried pictures of Osama bin Laden, chanting death to America and Israel." The tape shows marchers and a still black-and-white photo of bin Laden, which gradually enlarges until it fills the screen. "In the war against terrorism, can those who support terrorism be on our side in the war against it," it concludes.
The FDD script opens with its title, "The Suicide Strategy" in bold letters and continues, "It was used by terrorists against America on September 11. It's being used by terrorists against Israel day after day," as the video flashes to a hellish scene immediately after a suicide bombing. "If we let the suicide strategy succeed anywhere in the world, it will succeed everywhere," the narrator continues as the video shows Palestinian children dressed up as suicide bombers at a Hamas demonstration. "The suicide strategy threatens all of us - all those who are hated as 'infidels'," the voice continues as the camera shows Saddam Hussein addressing a crowd. "If we appease terrorism, we'll get more terrorism. Our way of life is threatened," it goes on, as the video depicts the burning of a US flag and then fades to a written imperative: "Never Appease Terrorism".
Both groups have key leaders in common, mostly neo-conservatives who served in senior positions under president Ronald Reagan and who have long opposed both Arafat and substantial territorial concessions by Israel to the Palestinians under the Oslo peace process.
The FDD's governing board includes former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and former Republican presidential candidate Jack Kemp, both of whom also co-direct another right-wing group called Empower America. FDD's Board of Advisors includes Richard Perle, a senior Pentagon official under Reagan and currently head of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board (DPB); Frank Gaffney, who is the executive director of the CSP, and Bill Kristol, a PNAC founder and editor of the Weekly Standard.
Perle and Kirkpatrick, who both occupy the senior foreign-policy chairs at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the premier neo-conservative think tank, also serve on the CSP's advisory council, as does William Bennett, a third co-director of Empower America and a key bridge between mainly Jewish neo-conservatives and the Christian Right. Bennett and Gaffney also serve together on the six-person board of Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), a group formed last month to "take to task those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing".
All were signers of a PNAC letter to Bush, reportedly written by Kristol on the eve of Powell's trip to the Middle East which called on him to ''lend [his] full support to Israel as it seeks to root out the terrorist network that daily threatens the lives of Israeli citizens". The letter also urged Bush to accelerate plans for removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Copyright © Inter Press Service 2002. Reprinted for fair use only
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