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What Deportation List? Dueling LA Times Ads Skew Story of Refugee Children in Israel

by Jonah Lowenfeld

March 10, 2011 | 10:01 am

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“STOP Israel’s deportation of 400 children,” the advertisement in the Saturday, Mar. 5, edition of the Los Angeles Times called out in large type.

The half-page ad, taken out by the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), announced that Israel was preparing to deport children from the community featured in the Oscar-winning short documentary “Strangers No More.” The ad was signed and paid for by a group of about 75 people that includes Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and the parents of the late activist Rachel Corrie. It exhorted readers to contact the U.S. government and other governing bodies to pressure Israel to “stop all human rights violations and respect international law,” and suggested that Israel start by calling off the deportations.

Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated in a Tel Aviv park on March 4—including the wife of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert—and yesterday, on Mar. 9, Interior Minister Eli Yishai decided to postpone the deportation of the children.

But in the pages of the Los Angeles Times the debate over the future of 400 children—including 120 from the Bialik-Rogozin School featured in the Oscar-winning short—isn’t over.

In response to the MECA ad, which used the story of the planned deportation to attack Israel as a country that can do no right, StandWithUs (SWU), the pro-Israel educational nonprofit, is using Israel’s acceptance of the refugees—even if only on a temporary basis—as a way of bolstering the country’s reputation, a country that the group regularly defends as if it can do no wrong.

SWU’s ad takes up one-eighth of a page of the Mar. 10 edition of the Los Angeles Times. “Congratulations Israel!” the ad copy begins, “You Continue To Be A Beacon Of Hope And Refuge.”

The SWU ad mentions the small size of Israel and hails the country’s “diversity and generosity” before calling upon “other Middle Eastern countries to follow Israel’s example of unselfishness” by offering people “temporary refuge from war-torn countries.”

The SWU ad does not make reference to the impending deportation of the children, which has been delayed for a few months but not cancelled. Families without school age children continue to face imminent deportation.

“It’s a very sad situation that anybody would be deported from any country that they want to stay in,” Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, said Wednesday. “But that’s not the issue. The issue is that Israel has a school—the Rogozin school—and after the film was awarded the Oscar, for 10 seconds, anybody in their right mind should’ve said ‘What a gorgeous film,’ and ‘what a wonderful country.’”

What Rothstein sees as cause for congratulations, MECA Founder and Executive Director Barbara Lubin saw as material for further criticism of Israel.

“I got particularly interested in this story because of the deportation of Palestinian children, Palestinians who are moved out of their towns and out of their camps, and what has been happening to them for 63 years,” Lubin said. “This shows the way Israel treats people inside Israel and in the territories. And I just felt I wanted to do something about it.”

Lubin, whose organization has provided millions of dollars of food, medical and other aid to children in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon since 1988, said that the ad cost MECA $18,000.

Rothstein said SWU paid $10,600 for its Los Angeles Times smaller ad—making it the most expensive single advertising buy the organization has made in its nine-year history.

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