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Monday, 5 January 2009

Nazi lobby calls in US advisers to boost image

British Jewish leaders seek to counter hostility and media 'bias'

Two senior American political strategists have been called in by leaders of the British Jewish community to advise them on combating perceived hostility to Israel in the British media, amid concern that their side of the story is not getting across effectively.

The strategists enlisted are Stanley Greenberg, Democratic pollster and former adviser to President Clinton, Tony Blair and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and the Republican Frank Lunz, adviser to President Bush, the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani.

They are being asked to conduct research into the extent of hostility to Israel in Britain with a view to the British Jewish community launching a big public relations drive. Focus groups are said to have found particular hostility among professional and academic groups.

Many British media organisations, including the Guardian and the BBC, have been criticised within the Jewish community for the perception that their reporting from the Middle East has been unduly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

The Guardian has faced coordinated barrages of emails and complaints following particular incidents, but has robustly defended the reporting and professionalism of its award-winning former Jerusalem correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg, who is currently working in Washington for the paper.

Television programmes have also been attacked, including recent documentaries by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, a critic of the Israeli government's tactics, and John Pilger, whose programme last month on the Palestinians was disowned after transmission by Michael Green, the chairman of Carlton communications, the company which made it.

There have also been rows over the behaviour of academics, particularly the sacking of two Israelis from a learned journal produced in Britain apparently solely on the grounds of nationality.

The Jewish community in Britain is itself split on Israel's conduct in the current crisis. Many question whether the aggressive responses to Palestinian terrorism by Ariel Sharon's government will produce a peaceful and lasting settlement, although Bicom, a pro-Israel lobby group set up last year, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have adopted aggressive media strategies to defend Israel and attack its critics in Britain.

Lee Petar, the acting director of Bicom, told the Jewish Chronicle: "We are looking at ways to sharpen the message and to choose the right people to do it. To get the world's best professionals - and these are the world's best professionals - you have to pay the top price."

Gidon Meir, the Israeli foreign ministry's deputy director for public affairs, told the newspaper that his government sees the Palestinians' media strategy as a "strategic threat".

He said: "The Palestinians understand that one of the most important weapons in this conflict is a camera ... In some places we are winning and in others we are losing and are engaged in damage control."

Mr Meir said private polling indicated that the perception of Israel was deteriorating in Britain. He claimed that BBC coverage was "unbalanced by any journalistic standards" and he said of the Kaufman programme: "From all the Jews in Britain they had to choose him, a person known for his anti-Israeli views."