Today, the New York Times is running an interesting ad on the front page. It has a picture of Obama greeting Abbas, with the text “Telling Jews they can’t build in Jerusalem? NOT PRO-ISRAEL”. Now, this ad has a number of things going on. The messaging is not particularly interesting – eliding the difference between Jerusalem and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem is old hat, as is the tortured definition of pro-Israel. Apparently erecting more barriers to the peace process is the only pro-Israel position, such is the world we live in. No, the intriguing thing about this ad is its provenance.
The ad has a note at the bottom, “Paid for by ECI – notproisrael.com”. Who is ECI? After some Googling (it was not immediately clear on the website given), it appears to be the Emergency Committee for Israel. Let’s stop here and remember that thanks to Citizen’s United that advertisements need not declare their provenance. There is nothing, materially, preventing this or similar advertisements being placed by settler’s organizations themselves, or for that matter the Israeli construction industry.
Proceeding on to the Emergency Committee for Israel’s website, we see little information about who exactly ECI is representing, or where their funding is coming from. It seems reasonable to assume that it is the normal constellation of monied right-wing donors, but hardly certain! If we posit that James Bond villains exist, why not a billionaire financier hoping for further war in the Middle East in order to profit big on his short position in Israeli insurance companies? Or (very slightly) more plausibly, a Saudi billionaire hoping to harden the Israeli right wing in order to perpetuate the conflict? The Emergency Committee for Israel is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization which may plausibly serve as a front for any organization with an ax to grind and money to burn.
I have no doubt that ECI is, in fact, bankrolled by some conservative Americans with a peculiar definition of what constitutes pro-Israel. However, in an environment with no restrictions on political spending and no requirements of disclosure, it is an interesting thought exercise to examine political advertisements to imagine who stands to gain from them. Cable news presents a endless parade of issue ads, mostly much more directly pecuniary in nature. It seems the only things holding back corporations and the wealthy, both domestic and foreign, from intervening much more bluntly in American politics are social norms.
Not a comforting thought.