A soon-to-be-released Foreign Ministry report claims that an annual event designed to draw attention to “Israeli apartheid” is failing because of a lack of major media coverage.
Israeli Apartheid Week, which bills itself as a series of events designed to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns,” has become a mainstay of college campuses around the world over the last half-decade. But without major coverage, the report argues, the effort is merely self reinforcing and mostly fails to bring in people not already hostile to the Jewish state.
“Israel Apartheid Week has not been successful in attracting mainstream media coverage,” reads the still-unpublished study, a copy of which was obtained by The Times of Israel. “In general media terms, IAW is a non-event.”
Founded in 2005, the week, known as IAW for short, consists of lectures and discussions portraying Israeli policies and actions as discriminatory, unjust and brutal.
The eighth annual IAW starts later this month.
The Foreign Ministry analyzed worldwide media coverage of IAW over the last four years, finding that last year most articles about the happening appeared in Israeli or Jewish news outlets. While in 2009, only a quarter of IAW-related coverage was published in media considered pro-Israel, in 2011 it was about 65 percent.
“To the extent that there is media coverage, it’s us ourselves talking about it. We’re magnifying the issue rather than playing it down,” said DJ Schneeweiss, the ministry’s director of civil society affairs, who oversees its efforts to counter the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
“While [Jewish and Israel media] is watching the matter closely and reporting on it,” the study states, “it would be mistaken to conclude that broad influential populations around the world are also exposed or being influenced negatively by it.”
The ministry suggests pro-Israel activists base their efforts to counter IAW on the assumption that most people are unfamiliar with the claims made during related events.
“Taking the apartheid frame (and the IAW activity itself) as the starting point for our actions paradoxically may strengthen the IAW brand and message, rather than weakening it,” the study’s authors warn.
‘It’s not surprising that Jews make a bigger deal about Israeli Apartheid Week and in doing so cause more bad than good. The best thing to do with anti-Israel activity on campus is to ignore it’
During the last four years, IAW was mentioned less than 400 times in non-Israeli and non-Jewish mainstream media outlets with a potential audience of 100,000 or greater, according to the study. “In 2011 the number of mentions in mainstream media actually declined by close to 40 percent compared to the previous two years.”
The IAW organizers did not respond to emails seeking comment.
“We’re not saying IAW should be ignored,” said Schneeweiss, admitting that anti-Israel events on campuses occasionally draw large crowds. “But it does not have a lot of effect on people beyond those people who choose to go there anyway.”
Gadi Wolfsfeld, a Hebrew University scholar and the author of “Making Sense of Media and Politics,” said the study’s findings are logical.
“It’s not surprising that Jews make a bigger deal about [IAW] and in doing so cause more bad than good,” he said. “The best thing to do with anti-Israel activity on campus is to ignore it.” Books and movies that are censored or boycotted for controversial content always gain in popularity, and the same is true for public events, he added.
“We have to remember that the vast majority of the people don’t give a damn about the Middle East conflict,” Wolfsfeld said.
Mitchell Bard, the director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, which seeks to strengthen the pro-Israel camp at American colleges, concurs: “If it appears an event will get a lot of attention or has university support, a response may be necessary. Otherwise, most of us believe there is no reason to draw attention to events that will largely be ignored by the students and have no impact.”
IAW events have no reverberations “whatsoever” on American campuses, according to Bard.
“They are overwhelmed by the pro-Israel positive programming of other students,” he said, adding that this year, at least 75 “Israel Peace Weeks” will be held across the US and Canada presenting a positive message about Israel.
Other pro-Israel activists, however, argue that by focusing on IAW’s media impact, the Foreign Ministry marginalizes the events’ effectiveness on campus.
“The IAW’s aim is to influence the students on campuses, not the media,” according to Natan Nestel, a co-founder of the Israel Action Committee at the University of California, Berkeley.
“The study may be true,” he said. “But it is measuring and assuming the wrong thing. When the study talks of ‘influential audiences…not being exposed’ to the IAW issue, it is mainly because these are not the audiences being played to.”
Savvy anti-Israel campus groups do not seek to influence the masses but are trying to “co-opt” formerly pro-Israel Jewish students, Nestel said. “They realize that today’s sophomore is next generation’s senator, and these young people will determine American attitudes toward Israel.”
‘Taking the apartheid frame (and the IAW activity itself) as the starting point for our actions paradoxically may strengthen the IAW brand and message, rather than weakening it’
The Foreign Ministry study also found that more than half of the influential media coverage of IAW is published in the US – the market “least likely to be supportive of the IAW message.” Last year, for example, 60 percent of all articles about IAW were printed in the United States and Canada. A quarter of all coverage came from Israel; followed by France and the UK, with 6 and 3 percent, respectively.
The study used data from a commercial Internet news-monitoring database of over 15,000 news sources worldwide, including the online versions of mass circulation dailies, online news sites and blogs. The survey did not ascertain whether an article about IAW portrays the event in a positive or negative light, but presumes that “many of the mentions of IAW in mainstream outlets and certainly in the Jewish/Israeli outlets would not have been supportive of the event.”
The authors further emphasize their study did not measure the impact of IAW on students witnessing events on campuses, nor the impact of IAW-related publicity disseminated through social media.