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Jewish Journal

Campus Campaign

Hollywood launches ads to spark student support for Israel.

by Rachel Brand

April 10, 2003 | 8:00 pm

While leafing through their college newspapers Monday morning, students at several major Southern California universities came across a full-page advertisement featuring Barad Zemer, a 23-year-old Israeli film student. Beneath Zemer's photograph it read:

"I love filmmaking, jazz and photography. I hate the image I carry of my classmate and his pregnant wife dying in a terrorist's hail of bullets."

The appearance of the ad marked the launch of a $400,000 marketing campaign by Project Communicate, an organization made up of executives in the entertainment industry hoping to shake up the unaffiliated Jewish American student population and motivate them to identify with their Israeli peers.

 Featuring real people and their stories -- each as heart-wrenching as the first -- the series of 12 ads will run three times a week for the next five weeks in UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, USC and California State University Northridge newspapers. In addition, they will be featured on posters around the campuses. Project Communicate leaders hope to extend the campaign to campuses nationwide.

The campaign comes at a time when Jewish students have seen waning support for Israel on college campuses around the country, a situation that has further deteriorated with United States' war on Iraq. Because they may lack the knowledge or are too intimidated to defend Israel, many Jewish students have remained silent.

The entertainment industry has acted similarly. While the majority of Hollywood celebrities and executives -- some of the best communicators in the world -- have often come under attack by Jewish leaders around the country, they have opted for silence rather than risk taking a controversial position.

Project Communicate marks the first significant effort by executives in the entertainment world to step away from the sidelines and help fight the battle on campus. They are hoping that students will follow their lead.

"This is the first time that a group of executives from the entertainment world are really taking proactive steps to support Israel," said Shanit Hassid, coordinator of the project, who recently graduated from UCLA. "That in itself is a feat, and we hope it will encourage others to take action themselves."

The project came about last spring, when a group of Hollywood executives began lamenting over the state of affairs in Israel with their peers.

"We asked ourselves, why don't we take what this community is known for, which is communicating effectively, and try to see if we can affect some change?" said Dan Adler, chief strategic officer of the Convex Group and former head of New Media at CAA.

But it wasn't until Adler and television producer Stan Brooks had lunch with Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University and his wife, Shulamit, that they realized the need for their influence on campus. They organized two focus groups -- one of Jewish students and the other of non-Jewish students from universities around the country.

"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."

Lee Kovel of Kovel-Fuller advertising agency took on the project pro bono. After testing six campaigns, including one called "Pray for Peace" and another called "Terrorism Sucks," he and his staff finally arrived at the final product, which consists of a sepia photograph of an Israeli student who would easily pass for American on any college campus in the United States. The first line of copy names the student's likes and hobbies, and the second line describes what the student hates.

Marketing expert Azi Tabachnik came up with the idea of using Israeli students after visiting Israel a year ago. As he photographed Israeli students to show his wife, Tabachnik found the Israeli students "cool, hip and interesting."

"They're cool ads when there's nothing cool about being pro-Israel today," Hassid said. "The typical American student ...  has 100 other things going on and could care less. This reaches out to them, because it offers them something cool to relate to."

Tabachnik explained, "We wanted to give students an unobstructed mirror to look at each other and find something inside themselves that they may not have recognized."

That same mirror is reflected in the Web site www.student2student.com listed at the bottom of the ad. The site contains facts about the conflict, as well as information on how students can get involved, including post-programming opportunities developed by Project Communicate. Project Communicate leaders said they will monitor the campaign's effect to measure efficacy.

Student responses at UCLA were varied. Some students already had their minds made up before they even looked at the ads. Nir Shafir, a student who moved here from Israel at the age of 5 and wears a hamsa (good luck charm) around his neck, said, "It's true, but it's really biased. I'm pro-Palestinian, so I don't like these ads that humanize Israelis."

But some said that the ads woke them up. Lucas Burke, a senior who is majoring in English and the classics, said, "You get so wrapped up in day-to-day stuff that you don't realize how good you have it here and how much is wrong with the world."

Off campus, Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations disagrees with Project Communicate's method, but said that he doesn't expect to see a direct response to the ads by the Muslim organizations.

"It is unfortunate when any group focuses on a one-sided aspect of the conflict, as if to demonize or belittle the suffering of the other party," Ayloush said. "Regardless of race, our resources and time should be spent not on fanning the flames of hatred and misunderstanding, but on eliminating the root cause of the conflict."

Project Communicate, which is supported by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angles, has garnered support from 90 Hollywood executives, including a core group of heavy-hitters, such as political activist Donna Bojarsky; producer Tom Barad; Howard Bragman, founding partner of Bragman Nyman Caffarelli; Roger Fishman, head of marketing group at CAA, and politcal consultatnt Brent Cohen.

Others are movie producer Sean Daniel; entertainment attorney Ken Hertz; screenwriter Andrea King, television writer-producer Jay Kogen; Art Levitt, CEO of Fundango; marketing specialist Tabachnik, and columnist Tom Teicholz.

Also included are writer Michael Tolkin; writer-director Jon Turteltaub; activist and philanthropist Lynne Wasserman; Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures; producer Zvi Rosenman, and producer and writer Jason Venoker.  

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