Arianna Huffington’s recent trip to Israel/Palestine has been getting some attention on this site and has done very little to displace the moniker Huffpep (progressive except Palestine). I hadn’t followed the trip very closely, but I did come across this interesting nugget on her last post:
On my way to the airport in Tel Aviv, I stopped at the Dallal Restaurant for dinner with Gidi Grinstein and his wife, and my friend Dan Adler, an LA based entrepreneur and former CAA executive, who was also flying back to the U.S.
Why is this interesting? Well, it opens very serious questions about who Huffington was meeting with and who she gets her information from on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (and the broader Middle East). Here is Gidi Grinstein being interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg in 2008:
Talk about the importance of settling the Palestinian problem.
I think that we have been very successful in containing the Palestinian issue. What I mean by containing is that day-to-day decisions of the vast majority of the Israel population are unaffected by our conflict with the Palestinians. This is precisely the opposite of what the Palestinians wanted to achieve. They wanted to bring chaos.
Nice. In the same interview Grinstein refers to the settler movement as "a very important voice of our people." Grinstein is founder of the Reut Institute which is a leading think tank that works with the Israeli government.
Even more interesting to me is Dan Adler, the former entertainment agent who ran the recent campaign to discredit and misrepresent the protests at the Toronto International Film Festival. Working under the sponsorship of the Los Angeles’ Jewish Federation and United Jewish Appeal of Toronto, Adler coordinated the counter ad which misrepresented the protest as a boycott and put out the spurious claim that it was a blacklist.
This wasn’t Adler’s first time running interference for the Israeli occupation. Back in 2002, during the height of the second Intifada, Adler helped pull together a similar group of Hollywood A-listers to support Israel. Part of this effort included organizing a $10,000-a-seat get together with Benjamin Netanyahu. From the September, 2002 LA Times article "In Hollywood, a Small Break in the Silence on Israel":
Last May, after a rash of suicide bombings in Israel and the Israeli army’s incursion into Palestinian territory, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had breakfast with some Hollywood players. These weren’t his usual conservative hosts but mostly liberals, among them TV legend Norman Lear, "Rock the Vote" co-founder and record executive Jeff Ayeroff, and film director Jon Turteltaub.
Most had paid $10,000 apiece for this sit-down, money that was to seed a new Hollywood group seeking to somehow help Israel in the court of public opinion.
After listening to what some perceived as Netanyahu’s right-wing politicking, though, many were overwhelmed with the sense that Israel was in desperate need of a distinctly Hollywood commodity: the public relations blitz. . .
Unofficially spearheaded by Dan Adler, a 39-year old Creative Artists agent who organized the Netanyahu breakfast, the effort, dubbed Project Communicate, this fall will launch a marketing push on college campuses. The idea is "to create defenders and advocates of Israel," says Adler, the son of a Holocaust survivor whose group is trying to navigate Hollywood’s political divisions by adopting a non-ideological stance.
Project Communicate turned to college campuses after Adler had an disturbing discussion with Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University and his wife, Shulamit. Adler explained:
"It was a real eye-opening and discomforting experience, because it was obvious that the students could really understand the sympathetic plight of the Palestinians, and the responsibility of the government of Israel to take more responsibility to try to find a solution," Adler said. "But there was not appreciation for Israel’s vulnerability."
Project Communicate immediately got to work bringing the p.r. blitz to college campuses and collaborated with none other than Frank Luntz to figure out the best way to re-frame the conflict. From a 2002 Jewish Journal article on Project Communicate:
When Benjamin Netanyahu visited Los Angeles in May as part of The Jewish Federation’s Jews in Crisis campaign, a group of 25 entertainment industry creative people and executives from across the political spectrum held a breakfast meeting with the former prime minister. Since that time, Project Communicate has identified college students as its first priority, commissioning prominent political consultant Frank Luntz to report on the issues, arguments and ideas that can effect pro-Israel attitudes on campus.
Whoever is making the case for Israel — organization or individual, student or teacher, Jew or non-Jew — convincing Americans of any position requires the right words, the right language and the right framing. At the behest of Project Communicate, the American Jewish Committee and other organizations, Luntz went beyond college students, examining a range of U.S. attitudes toward the situation and the language that works to persuade Americans.
Luntz will be familiar to close followers of the issue because he has stuck with the program, most recently working with the Israel Project on its infamous hasbara guide, but Project Communicate didn’t make it. In the end it couldn’t find the funding to continue, but evidently Adler kept at it. Many of the names associated with that earlier effort reappeared in the ad to smear the Toronto Protest, including writer Michael Tolkin and executive Sherry Lansing. Seems like Adler is close to Huffington as well.
Does this help explain the fact that Huffington reporting from Israel/Palestine was almost entirely uncritical of the occupation? Perhaps. It does seem that the time with Grinstein may already be paying dividends, as Huffington is now appearing on cable news saying Iran is "challenging the existential presence of Israel." So much for the liberal media.