From Madman to Ad Man
06 Sep 2009 13:57
Photos/William Levin @Jewish Robot
Ahmadinejad Promotes Free Israel Trips for U.S. College Students
By MARSHA B. COHEN | 6 Sept 2009
A program which offers college-age Jews free ten-day trips to Israel to reclaim their "birthright" has a new ad man to kick off its recruitment drive -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Designed to forge and promote personal and political ties between younger Jews and the Jewish state, the trips are funded by the Israeli government, local Jewish communities and private philanthropic donors. Round-trip airfare, hotels, transportation and touring valued at approximately $3000 per participant are all included in the package.
Israel's most vocal and generous American support comes from Evangelical Christians and older Jews. The graying and aging of pro-Israel activists in the American Jewish community has been worrisome to some Israeli and diaspora leaders. Their answer is this, providing free trips to Israel for as many young Jews age 18-26 as possible. In the past decade, more than 200,000 young Jews age 18-26 have gone on Birthright Israel trips.
The star of the latest registration campaign, which opens Sept. 8, is none other than Iran's president. Unlike the usual depictions of him in the Israeli and pro-Israel press, Ahmadinejad isn't threatening to wipe Israel off the map in this video clip. On the contrary, what he really wants is a chance to go on a Birthright Israel trip.
The video, "Iran to Israel," opens with the Iranian president entering the organization's office. He greets the recruiter with a hearty "Shalom!" Stumbling over his pentasyllabic surname, she decides to call him "Mr. A." Ahmadinejad (whose voice is that of the video's producer and animator, William Levin) explains that he's always wanted to visit "(throat-clear) Israel" because he's heard "such wonderful things about it" and "the falafel is amazing." The upbeat recruiter (face and voice of Michelle Mandel) tells him "it looks like you'd be a great addition to our next trip."
Ahmadinejad says he is really looking forward to his trip with "Birthright," which he can't bring himself to call "Birthright Israel." Repeatedly corrected by the recruiter, Ahmadinejad launches a tirade, his fists banging and arms flailing as he shrieks, "There is no Israel! Israel does not exist! Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury!"
His application is summarily stamped "Rejected."
The next day Ahmadinejad returns to the Birthright Israel office, disguised as a Chassidic Jew named "Ahmadinejadburg" (which the recruiter has no problem pronouncing). But when (in an apparent moment of cognitive dissonance) he is prompted to say the word "Israel," Ahmadinejad loses his composure and hysterically denounces the Jewish state as "a tyrannical regime that will one day be destroyed."
His application is turned down again.
The unstoppable Ahmadinejad returns yet again, apologizing profusely for his past behavior. He contritely begs to be allowed to join the Birthright trip. Again the recruiter corrects him: "Birthright Israel!" "Yes, yes, I know. Whatever!" Ahmadinejad concedes, although without ever actually vocalizing the two words in conjunction with one another. "Please let me go," he importunes the recruiter. "I'm having a terrible time in Iran. Will you please give me this chance? Please?"
The recruiter gives in. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she sighs, shaking Ahmadinejad's hand. "Welcome to Birthright Israel. Enjoy your trip!" Elated, Ahmadinejad responds, "Praise Allah!"
The video concludes with Ahmadinejad being whisked off to Israel on top of an El Al jet. A skullcap is on his head as he visits the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Ahmadinejad also floats on the Dead Sea, munches his long awaited felafel, and sprints passed the golden-domed Mosque of Omar, joined by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the tune of Flock of Seagulls' big one-time hit:
I-ran, so far away
I left in disarray.
Had to get away.
The video hasn't yet attracted much attention or discussion, but it probably will soon. One of the most hardline of Birthright Israel's supporters, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, contributed $60 million in 2006, although he has had to cut back his contribution to $20 million in 2009 and a paltry $10 million in 2010 due to plunge in the value of his financial empire last year. Adelson, who considers AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to be too far to the left, is a major donor to right-wing political organizations Freedom's Watch. A Taglit/Birthright Israel organizer told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Adelson "shares his 'clearly hawkish' views with program participants" to whom he has distributed copies of the anti-Muslim DVD Obsession.
A staunch opponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Adelson won't be particularly happy when he notices that the map used in Levin's promotional video shows Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries, which exclude the West Bank and Gaza. Since the organizations and causes he supports tend to have an anti-Iran agenda, Adelson also may not appreciate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad serving as Birthright Israel's ad man, even temporarily and in jest.
Birthright Israel recently contracted with 5WPR to take charge of its public relations, as Nathaniel Popper reported in the Forward on Aug. 28:
5WPR and its CEO Ronn Torossian have also attracted for some of their smaller clients, including the soft-pornography company Girls Gone Wild. While the firm has represented prominent, non-partisan Jewish organizations, it is also known for clients that espouse views on the far right of Israeli politics.
The 2 minute, 15 second video by Levin, who is progressive in his politics, is featured, although not prominently, on Taglit/Birthright Israel's home page and on producer Levin's own Jewish Robot website. Since Taglit/Birthright Israel's registration doesn't officially open until Sept. 8, the promotional effectiveness of "Iran to Israel" as a recruiting tool has yet to be assessed.
In its first week on YouTube, the video was viewed more than 2500 times.
President Ahmadinejad's office could not be reached for comment.
Dr. Marsha B. Cohen lives and writes in Miami, Florida, specializing in issues related to Iran, Israel and Israeli-Iranian Relations. Having taught for a decade in Florida International University's Dept. of International Relations, specializing in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, she is presently a consultant and lecturer for the University of Miami's MAIA program on topics related to the Middle East and the role of religion in world affairs.Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau