Frank Luntz has done it again, putting his prodigious talents to work for reactionary causes, finding amazingly simple–though not simplistic–communications strategies to obstruct basic truths and delay a little longer the march of history. All the major issues that the world now sees as obvious and plain as day–climate change, tobacco as a killer, for example–were at one time subject to the brilliant obfuscations of communications manipulation. Now Frank has turned that to the purposes of the so-called pro-Israel community, which is not and does not represent a pro-Israel position but rather a pro-settlement and pro-war position.
Newsweek has exposed Frank’s playbook, over a hundred pages of it. The pro-peace community, the community that considers itself pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian should study this method and turn it on its head. Exposing it and reversing its use is the best way to neutralize its fundamental dishonesty.
In the report, Luntz describes the “best settlement argument” as one that draws a parallel between the Arab communities in Israel and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank—and refers to the idea of evacuating Jews as racist. “The idea that anywhere that you have Palestinians there can’t be any Jews, that some areas have to be Jew-free, is a racist idea,” he suggests saying. “We don’t say that we have to cleanse out Arabs from Israel. They are citizens of Israel. They enjoy equal rights. We cannot see why it is that peace requires that any Palestinian area would require a kind of ethnic cleansing to remove all Jews. We don’t accept it. Cleansing by either side against either side is unacceptable.”
One line of argument that Luntz says actually harms the cause is Israel’s policy of restricting Arab housing construction in East Jerusalem: “The arguments about demolishing Palestinian homes because they are not within the Jerusalem building code tested SO badly that we are not even going to dignify them with a Word’s That Don’t Work box. Americans hate their own local planning boards for telling them where they can and can’t put swimming pools or build fences. You don’t need to import that animosity into your own credibility issues. Worse yet, talking about ‘violations of building codes’ when a TV station is showing the removal of a house that looks older than the modern state of Israel is simply catastrophic.”
So whatever Frank says to avoid, according to his polls, is exactly what the pro-peace community should emphasize. Whatever he says is appealing as an argument, should be turned on its head. Messages should be simple, powerful and convincing. I will never forget being invited at the beginning of the Bush Era to a far right religious gathering of elite political leaders in Washington, maybe thirty in the room (they mistakenly thought I was one of them because I am for religious people participating in peace process. Who was I to disagree, I went, I saw, I was revolted, and I learned). One of the leaders said to the group again and again, “Keep it simple,” just like Frank told them. So we need to study this and learn from it. By the way, Silverstein has done a fine job of analyzing this document.© Marc Gopin