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Quiet on israeli retaliation { November 27 2002 }

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Group Urges Pro-Israel Leaders' Silence on Iraq
Memo Outlines Response If Hostilities Occur, Discourages Lecturing of Americans on Middle East

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 27, 2002; Page A13

A group of U.S. political consultants has sent pro-Israel leaders a memo urging them to keep quiet while the Bush administration pursues a possible war with Iraq.

The six-page memo was sent by the Israel Project, a group funded by American Jewish organizations and individual donors. Its authors said the main audience was American Jewish leaders, but much of the memo's language is directed toward Israelis, urging them to play down the likelihood Israel would retaliate after an Iraqi attack and asking them not to lecture Americans about the Middle East conflict.

The memo reflects a concern that involvement by Israel in a U.S.-Iraq confrontation could hurt Israel's standing in American public opinion and undermine international support for a hard line against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Let American politicians fight it out on the floor of Congress and in the media," the memo said. "Let the nations of the world argue in front of the U.N. Your silence allows everyone to focus on Iraq rather than Israel."

The memo, meant to guide pro-Israel leaders' statements before and during possible hostilities with Iraq, is the latest contribution to an international public relations battle that has shadowed the diplomatic maneuvers involving Iraq and the Middle East. The United States has launched an "information" effort to boost the image of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Saudi Arabia has spent millions of dollars to improve its public image in the United States. The kingdom has hired political consultants and advertising specialists and charged them with reversing damage resulting from the knowledge that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudis.

An Israeli diplomat in Washington said the Israeli government did not request or fund the efforts of the Israel Project and that Israeli leaders were unlikely to follow all the advice. "These are professional public relations people," the diplomat said. "There's also a political-diplomatic side."

The Iraq memo was issued in the past few weeks and labeled "confidential property of the Israel Project," which is led by Democratic consultant Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi with help from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican pollsters Neil Newhouse and Frank Luntz. Several of the consultants have advised Israeli politicians, and the group aired a pro-Israel ad earlier this year.

"If your goal is regime change, you must be much more careful with your language because of the potential backlash," said the memo, titled "Talking About Iraq." It added: "You do not want Americans to believe that the war on Iraq is being waged to protect Israel rather than to protect America."

In particular, the memo urged Israelis to pipe down about the possibility of Israel responding to an Iraqi attack. "Such certainty may be Israeli policy, but asserting it publicly and so overtly will not sit well with a majority of Americans because it suggests a pre-determined outcome rather than a measured approach," it said. The memo cautioned: "There is the feeling that Israel has NOT done all it could to bring about peace in the Middle East so don't try to change public opinion in the middle of a war."

Luntz said the memo was written to advise pro-Israel Americans about how to respond to Iraq-Israel hostilities. "The assumption is Iraq will bomb Israel, and then the assumption is Israel will respond," he said.

Much of the guidance, however, appeared to have Israelis in mind. "Demonstrate your historic willingness to compromise sacrifice on behalf of America," it said. "This may not play well among some Israeli politicians but it will certainly play well in the states." It advised leaders to say: "Like America, Israel has a right to defend itself and our people."

The memo coached: "(A)s an Israeli, most certainly don't talk about why some Arab leaders and their people dislike the United States. Americans don't want to be told by an Israeli why we have problems in the Middle East or why people hate us."

2002 The Washington Post Company

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