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CBS Special Celebrates Isreal’s 50th Anniversary, Ignores Palestinian

Background
On Wednesday, April 15, CBS aired a two-hour primetime TV special entitled “To Life: America Celebrates Israel’s 50th Anniversary.” The show featured major Hollywood stars and other entertainment figures, including co-hosts Kevin Costner and Michael Douglas, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Winona Ryder, Dustin Hoffmann, Stephen Spielberg, Stevie Wonder, Harry Connick, Jr., Fran Drescher and Sid Caesar. It also included a statement from President Bill Clinton.
The show portrayed Israel as a “small oasis” where the world’s three monotheistic religions cohabit peacefully — a distorted image given Israel’s abysmal human rights record toward Christians and Muslims, including restricting their access to holy sites in Jerusalem. Another offensive theme perpetrated throughout the show was the portrayal of Israel’s founders as people who made the “desert” bloom in a “land without a people for a people without a land”– a shameful myth which President Clinton himself emphasized in his televised statement. Through it all, the show completely ignored the Palestinian people’s 50-year experience of dispossession, exile and occupation.
Talking Points
The founding of Israel meant the destruction of Palestinian society. Palestinians had a rich culture and society. Haifa, Jaffa, and Acca were thriving cities. But Israel erased the Palestinian presence from the land, destroying 418 Palestinian villages. Israel was built on the wreckage of Palestinian lives. This is something no person of conscience should celebrate — or ignore.
The historical truth about the human cost of the founding of Israel was replaced by myths — echoed by President Clinton’s statement about “making a once barren desert bloom, building a thriving democracy in hostilen terrain.” This myth was reiterated by others in the show, including a hairdresser from Maine, who said of Israel’s founders that “they took nothing and turned it into the promised land.”
Even within Israel, public discussions of the anniversary have been more pen and inclusive of the Palestinian experience. Israeli Television is presenting a 22-part documentary series which, according to The New York Times, includes acounts of “expulsion, dispossession and killing of Arabs” as well as “monologues of Palestinians lamenting the loss of their country.” (4/10/98, A8). Why can’t our own media engage in a genuine debate including various voices presenting both sides of the story?
The anniversary should be a time for reassessment, for an honest look at the past, not for glitz and glamor. At the same time that it is undermining the peace process, the Israeli government has committed millions of dollars to an international public relations campaign using the anniversary to polish its image, which has been tarnished by decades of human rights violations, the invasion of Lebanon, brutal repression of the Intifada, land confiscation, house demolition, and settlement expansion.
“So how did Israel end up with two hours on CBS?,” asked an article in USA Today (4/10/98, E1). “Turns out there was a family connection. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, also happened to be the great-uncle of CBS TV chief Leslie Moonves.” The political motives of supporters of Israel should not be allowed to direct the programming content of a major national network like CBS.
ACTION
1. Write/Call CBS (be firm, but polite). Ask for “equal time” — i.e. for a program telling the Palestinian side of the story:
Mr. Michael Jordan
Chairman & CEO
CBS Television
524 West 57th Street,
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (212) 975-5152
Fax: (212) 975-7780
2. Also contact your local CBS affiliates and ask them to air a program telling the Palestinian side of the story. If they are responsive and ask for ideas, ask them to contact ADC at (202) 244-2990, which can direct them to resources. Also inform them that copies of “People and the Land” (a documentary about continued Israeli human rights violations) are available to TV stations free of charge by calling Lois Voissen at the Independent Television Service (ITVS) at (415) 346-8383.
3. Write to the fan clubs of the Hollywood personalities which appeared on the CBS special, sharing your disappointment at their endorsement of such a politically-charged program:
Kevin Costner
c/o William Morris Agency
151 El Camino Drive
Beverley Hills, CA 90212
(No Email Address Available)
Michael Douglas
c/o Creative Artists Agency
9830 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverley Hills, CA 90212
(No Email Address Available)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
c/o PMK
955 S. Carillo Drive, Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(No Email Address Available)
Winona Ryder
c/oPMK 955
S. Carillo Drive, Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(No Email Address Available)
Stevie Wonder
c/o Creative Artists Agency
9830 Wilshire Blvd
Beverley Hills, CA 90212
(No Email Address Available)
Steven Spielberg,
c/o Amblin Entertainment
100 Universal City
Plaza Bungalow 477
Universal City, CA 91608
(No Email Address Available)
Harry Connick, Jr.
c/o Creative Artists Agency
9830 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverley Hills, CA 90212
(No Email Address Available)
Dustin Hoffman
c/o Creative Artists Agency
9830 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(No Email Address Available)
4. Contact President Clinton reminding him that Palestine was not a “barren desert” but a beautiful land inhabited by indigenous Palestinian Arabs:
President Bill Clinton
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Tel: (202) 456-1111
Fax: (202) 456-2461
E-mail: president@whitehouse.gov
5. Monitor local and national media for coverage of Israel’s 50th anniversary, as well as any local activities, to make sure that Palestinian dispossession is recognized.
6. Circulate this action alert to your friends, relatives, and local groups.
7. Send copies of your correspondence to ADC and keep us informed of your
progress. 4/16/98