by Sam Bahour
One of the key architects of President Trump’s Middle East peace efforts, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has embarked on a frontal assault in one of the key Middle East battlefields, media communications. For someone who prides himself on being able to create a “business plan for the region,” Kushner is looking more like an undergraduate student in Business 101 class than someone seriously assembling a plan that can advance peace.
The McClatchyDC news agency recently broke a story that few other Western media outlets have found worthy to cover. Armed with U.S. citizens’ tax dollars and a stillborn economic plan, Kushner is deploying a data operation to sway Arab media on Middle East peace to make the U.S. case.
McClatchyDC journalist Michael Wilner wrote, “At Jared Kushner’s direction, U.S. government agencies have combined data tools and human expertise for the first time to officially rank Arab media outlets over their coverage of the Middle East peace process.”
In what seems like another ill-fated attempt to address the failure of his efforts to date, the latest being his Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain, Kushner and company seem willing to go to any extreme to force-feed the Trump administration’s attempt to impose a surrender agreement on Palestinians rather than address the core issues head-on.
The report continued: “Three senior administration officials said the purpose of Kushner’s project is to connect with local populations as effectively as possible – to better understand “what’s driving the street” across the Arab world, so that he and his team can target their communications with greater precision.”
First, why should the “Arab Street” trust anyone from the “DC Swamp?” Second, is Kushner doing a market survey to find out what Arab “customers” want or is his interest merely in how to sell them “junk products” they’ve already created, such as blindly supporting an extremist Israel right-wing political program that is moving the entire region toward another round of violence, not to mention moving Israel closer to its own demise?
One senior U.S. administration official said, “we spent so much time putting together a political plan, and putting together an economic plan, that we wanted to spend the same amount of time understanding the regional media environment…”
Hmm, “understanding the … environment.” It seems not to dawn on any “senior” official to take a deep look at what has shaped the “environment” over the past seven decades. The violent creation of the State of Israel, the violent dispossession of Palestinians, 52 years of a violent U.S.-Israeli military occupation, over 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the violent Israeli siege of two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and structural and institutional discrimination inside the State of Israel—the list is long.
Wouldn’t it have been more useful to survey to learn the regional opinions and beliefs of the population? Seems not, since the only aim here is to sell, not learn.
The senior U.S. administration official also said that “a lot of the outlets that have been anti-America or anti-Israel in the past just haven’t had outreach or access to the U.S. government.”
Is this U.S. administration totally blind to the recent history of the region? Do Iraqis not know that the U.S. and its allies mutilated their country—without reason I may add? Did the Lebanese not know that U.S. warships were bombing them in Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War? Are Palestinians living under military occupation unaware that U.S. F-16s and F-35s are sold to Israel to bomb Palestinians into submission?
Maybe, just maybe, the region has had one dose too many of U.S. “outreach” and, as a result, Arab media is not willing to buy U.S. lies anymore.
The McClatchyDC report noted that Kushner “commissioned the project in August 2018, shortly after he and his policy team completed drafting the core political elements of their plan for Israelis and Palestinians.” Again, what salesman tries to sell investors on a project before first analyzing the needs/wants of the key players? Kushner not only put the cart before the horse, he ignored the horse altogether.
Kushner’s efforts are divided into two categories. One product assesses the public consumption of news in each country in the region and the second type of report “examines specific media outlets, assessing the neutrality of each organization in how it portrays U.S. policy, rating its influence and listing its ownership, based on analyses from two government agencies examining publicly available material.” This would be too funny if lives were not at stake. What determines “neutrality” in Jared’s eyes? What Kushner actually means is “How pro-Israel are Mideast media outlets?”
It was reported that Kushner’s team discovered that “cell phone penetration among Palestinians is so high that a majority now get their news on mobile devices while waiting in line to go through an Israeli checkpoint.” I wonder, did the report also note how Israel prohibits Palestinians from having access to full-spectrum Internet services? Did it note that the West Bank was only permitted to have access to 3G services last year and Gaza still awaits Israeli approval?
McClatchyDC reported that “A major focus is understanding how media in the Middle East is characterizing the administration’s diplomatic efforts.” Kushner and company would be well-advised to be more concerned with “why” they do so and not the “how.”
Ned Price, former National Security Council spokesperson in the Obama administration, told McClatchyDC, “I am much less concerned with their ability to communicate than I am about the substance of their communications.”
Bingo, someone gets it!
Even Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East envoy who served former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, concurred, arguing that strategic communications can only go so far. “In some ways it misses the point, because if the substance of what they’re representing is completely unacceptable, it doesn’t matter how they target media,” Ross said. “Maybe that’s what they should’ve done in 2017—now you’re trying to reverse attitudes. And that’s an uphill climb. Strategic communications doesn’t exist in a vacuum.”
The bottom line is simple and doesn’t require wasting more U.S. taxpayers’ funds on trying to tame Arab media into accepting the unacceptable. It’s past time that this U.S. administration wake up and smell Israel’s 52-year military occupation. Then and only then will strategic communications work—namely, communicating to their strategic ally Israel that it should exit the State of Palestine, once and for all.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant from Ramallah/Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is chair of the board of Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy (AVPE) and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network and is co-editor of “Homeland: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians” (1994). He blogs at ePalestine.com. @SamBahour.