… or just Greenberg-Carvilled?
An MSNBC news spot on The Weather Channel (TWC) this morning caught my attention. Out of the blue, for no apparent reason, the news announcer informed his audience that thousands had taken to the streets in Israel this weekend to protest the high cost of living. It was, he said, the eighth week of protests there.
TWC is usually about as interested in foreign social-protest news as Sports Illustrated. In fact, street demonstrations abroad basically have to bleed if they’re going to lead in the American mainstream media. People are out demonstrating around the globe all the time, and the average American hears about it only if he frequents the right specialty websites. I couldn’t help noticing these few out-of-place sentences on Israel, because they were so unusual.
What possessed NBC-Universal properties MSNBC and TWC to feature protests in Israel in their news coverage this morning? That’s an interesting question. It is not, shall we say, made less interesting by the report of Maariv’s Kalman Libeskind, referenced by Arutz Sheva on 3 September, that American Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg orchestrated the protests in Israel’s major cities this weekend.
According to the report:
Greenberg directed the strategists to create a protest that was not led by one specific group, in order to create social ferment. An unnamed left-wing leader would eventually step into this ferment and take the reins, Greenberg predicted.
The Israeli strategists reportedly include Boaz Gaon, Moshe Gaon and Eldad Yaniv, who worked in Ehud Barak’s successful race for Prime Minister in 1999, also in cooperation with Greenberg.
Greenberg, who advised Bill Clinton on campaign strategy in the 1990s (and Al Gore and John Kerry in their campaigns), runs the Democratic strategy firm Democracy Corps with James Carville and Bob Shrum. He’s also a pollster with his own research firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Married to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), he gained national fame for providing living quarters for Rahm Emanuel rent-free for five years. He acquired additional notoriety for spearheading the effort to rebrand British Petroleum as the Greenest Big Oil Company in the Whole Entire Universe.
That’s the yada-yada most websites have on this today. What I haven’t seen yet is an analogy to the fascinating project undertaken by the Greenberg-Carville firm in the Bolivian presidential election in 2002, when they were known as GCS. The company was hired by incumbent president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (“Goni”) to run his reelection campaign, an essay in expeditionary politics that was captured in a documentary released in 2005 called Our Brand is Crisis.
The documentary was reviewed extensively by the leftosphere, with commentators tsk-tsking – suspended between irony and poignancy – over the excesses and the over-the-topness and the general run-amokedness of the GCS experts as they hacked a brazen swath through Bolivian politics. The Boston Globe reviewer is typical:
Political documentaries don’t come any more shaming than Rachel Boynton’s terrific ‘‘Our Brand is Crisis,’’ a barely straight-faced account of what happened in Bolivia in 2002, when a group of US consultants helped a candidate win the presidency only to see the country slide into near-total chaos.
Globalism extends to the American way of campaigning, it seems, and the hubris of the gringo strategists — earnest ex-Clintonistas employed by James Carville’s Greenberg Carville Shrum group — would be hilarious if human lives and a country’s political will weren’t at stake.
It’s a galling and provocative experience to viewers of any political persuasion, and a reminder to the left of how easily idealism can run amok.
Well, sure. If Republican strategists had done this, there would still be 33 people under investigation by a special prosecutor. But if you’re satisfied about the poignant irony of the hubris, provocation, and gall juxtaposed with the idealism run amok, let’s move on to the strategy propounded by the GCS consultants in their strikingly candid interviews with the documentary crew. (Emphasis added.)
[Jeremy Rosner of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner] and his minions hold focus groups, print bar charts, and quickly decide on Goni’s campaign theme: crisis. The country’s falling apart, so who will you turn to?
It’s an uphill battle… ‘‘Over half the electorate really can’t stand you guys,’’ admits one of the consultants.
Against Goni are Evo Morales, a socialist firebrand who represents the country’s coca growers but who denies he’s a drug lord or a terrorist, and Cochabamba mayor Manfred Reyes Villa, a thoughtful pragmatist with a charismatic head of hair. Villa leads in the polls, so Rosner and company decide he must be taken down.
The consultants “happily discuss negative campaigning with the cameras rolling”:
Management consultant Tal Silverstein insists ‘‘we have to turn [Villa] from a clean candidate to a dirty one,’’ and articles go out fretting about his military experience and digging into his finances. ‘‘Tomorrow they’ll probably say I’m an associate of Osama bin Laden,’’ Villa shrugs in an interview.
Wrong. They tie him to the Moonies.
Go Google the reviews for more. There are tons of them. Given that Stanley Greenberg is one of this group’s leading lights, it should be no surprise that his approach, in enriching Israeli politics again in 2011, is to “create social ferment” so that an “unnamed left-wing leader” could step in and take the reins. The country’s falling apart, so who will the Israelis turn to? Libeskind seems to think Ehud Barak is being positioned as the turn-to guy – and given Greenberg’s connection with his 1999 campaign and the trio of Barak advisers, that doesn’t appear to be a bad guess.
Israel isn’t falling apart, of course. Commentators there have had a healthy suspicion of the organizing force behind the series of protests, which started in mid-summer with demonstrations against the high cost of housing in the major cities. In early August, Caroline Glick cited the work of Israeli bloggers in uncovering the following facts:
[A]s a handful of bloggers have shown, more than eighty percent of the protest leaders are professional far Left activists. For instance, Maariv bloggers Uri Redler and Rotem Sela researched the affiliation of all the speakers at the July 23rd rally in Tel Aviv. They found that out of 27 speakers, 21 are known leftist activists affiliated with Hadash, the communist party, with Meretz, with the New Israel Fund, with the Nationalist Left proto-party, and with the anarchists.
Redler and Sela also exposed that several “grassroots,” leaders are in fact professional political operatives affiliated with communist politicians and radical pressure groups. For instance, an activist named Tzika Bashour announced on Facebook that he would begin a general strike on August 1. Yediot Ahronot and Ynet covered his move as an authentic call of distress by an Average Joe.
The papers failed to mention that Bashour is a public relations executive who ran communist MK Dov Hanin’s campaign for the Tel Aviv mayoralty.
None of this means housing costs aren’t insane in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or that Israelis don’t have legitimate beefs. But with a little professional spadework, the blogging community has demonstrated that the “popular protests” look a lot like the ones orchestrated by the usual-suspect organizers in the United States; i.e., “Astroturf.”
Israeli-in-the-street bloggers aren’t buying the “social justice paroxysm” theme either. Jerusalem Diaries is typical in reporting that the “protesters” out this weekend were mainly out for a nice time on a summer evening, with friends and food headlining the “protest.” The Muqata called the demonstration in Tel Aviv the city’s “biggest block party ever.” The socially-fermenting events featured well-publicized pop music and crowds snarfing down all the beer, cappuccinos, pizza, and puu-puus they could get their hands on. There are highly organized professional malcontents manning these protests, certainly, but not an enraged citizenry ready to man the barricades and go to the mattresses with the Netanyahu government.
In light of this array of facts and associations, it’s no real surprise that Greenberg & Co participated in the 2006 Take Back America Conference sponsored by Campaign for America’s Future, an organization closely connected to the Apollo Alliance and funded by major unions, MoveOn.org, and the Tides Foundation.
It’s also interesting that Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, polling Wisconsin voters in February 2011, found that they “strongly agreed” with the state-worker-union agenda and opposed Governor Scott Walker, giving him a negative rating for his posture on public-worker bargaining rights. But Wisconsin voters, when addressing not pollsters but the ballot box, have voted resoundingly this year – twice – to keep Walker’s Republican infrastructure in place, affirming originalist justice David Prosser in his state supreme court seat and returning a Republican majority to the state legislature in an August 2011 recall election. The Greenberg poll in February, widely cited at the time, proved perfectly inaccurate as a predictor of voter decision-making.
Why does this matter? Because it is of a piece with the manipulative, media-theme-building approach to politics Greenberg keeps being associated with. He doesn’t have a history of being anti-Zionist; that’s not the point here. Although he bills himself as a triangulating, “Third Way” centrist, his affiliations are very much with professional left-wing manipulators of public sentiment, and that is how he comes off in the latest instance with the protests in Israel.
To the question, “Why now? Why in the summer of 2011?” the obvious answer would be, “Because the UN vote on Palestinian statehood is coming up in September.” But I don’t assess Greenberg to be a mastermind here. He’s a hired strategist. His specialty is positioning politicians to be the turn-to guy. Something else is going on. As usual, the fact that GE-owned NBC networks are pointedly reporting faux “social ferment” as if it’s the real thing suggests a manufactured-news campaign. Rockets from Gaza aren’t the only thing coming at Israel as the UN vote nears.
*UPDATE*: A fellow blogger notified me of the statements made by novelist David Grossman, a leading figure of the Israeli left, while he is on a book tour in France this week. Of the politics surrounding the protests this summer, Grossman had this to say at a meeting in Paris on 6 September:
The Israeli writer David Grossman believes that the social protest must . . . transform into a substantial political force and leverage its public success. . . “At the moment there is a consensus among all the participants in this protest not to speak of politics. . . But I believe that soon all these marchers will become a political force because this protest cannot remain a matter of good will alone. It must become a political means that will finally ask where did the money go, where did all those billions go over the years. The answer is that most of it went to the settlements, the settlers, and the army that defends the settlements that are a distorted situation and in any event will be evacuated in a future peace accord with the Palestinians.”
Grossman indicated that, “Now is not a good time to speak of politics and the occupation because the moment that they start to talk about it, the support for the protest will go down by 100s of percentage points.”
(Translation courtesy Emet m’Tsiyon.)
Grossman’s comments confirm two things. One is this: the sentiment on the Israeli left that the 2011 protests should be leveraged to create an impression of particular political demands (which, by the Greenberg strategy, will prompt the emergence of a politician ready to meet those demands).
But the other is this: the demands that the left would like to see created are based on an unpopular idea. Grossman – a leftist – judges that Israelis don’t support his narrative, which is that the high cost of housing and related social discontents were produced by the existence of the settlements and the “army that defends the settlements.” He advocates holding off on introducing that narrative, because the people wouldn’t buy it.
Well, OK, his comments confirm a third thing. He has a peculiar idea of the concept of “percentage points.”