The brilliant Palestinian plan to capture the pliable minds of American college students was laid out in front of me 25 years ago, during a very sinister business meeting in Israel.
It was around the time of the Oslo Accords. I had been hired by the Ford Foundation to create a marketing institute for their grantees in the country. Ford was funding the operations of both Jewish and Arab organizations within the Israeli green line, in an effort to help build a vibrant liberal civil society.
Ford put me in partnership with a young Israeli woman, Debra London. (Debra, now one of my closest friends, has just been selected to head up fundraising for the rebuilding of Kibbutz Be’eri.) She and I drew up a plan to interview each of the grantees, as well as Israeli ad agencies and media firms. While we wanted to learn about the grantees, we also planned to secure free marketing work and media to be an essential part of the institute.
When we interviewed the Jewish organizations, the atmosphere was almost giddy with hope, possibility and belief in Shimon Peres’s new Middle East. Each organization we interviewed talked excitedly about peace and co-existence, a flourishing economy among both the Jews and the Palestinians, collaborative projects and interchanges.
But when we interviewed the Arab organizations, the word “peace” never passed their lips. They spoke of independence, dignity, self-rule, a state. One person even told me she would never use the word “du-kiyum” (co-existence). “There is no such thing as co-existence,” she stressed. “We are just the tenants living on the property that the Jews now own. That’s not a balanced co-existence.”
I tried to explain to my fellow Jewish liberals that we — the Jews and the Arabs — were having two very separate conversations. We were talking “peace.” They were talking “independence.” But as the weeks of interviews progressed, I found the Arab organizations were talking about a whole lot more.
I asked hard questions of both the Jews and Arabs in the interviewing process. With the Arab organizations, when I brought up any sensitive, and not-so-sensitive, issues—like terrorism, cooperation and even budget—the interviewee would slam on the brakes.
And then from each organization, the same words were spoken: “When you are in Haifa meeting with Itijaa, you can ask that question to Ameer Makhoul.” Itijaa was an Arab civil rights organization. Ameer Makhoul was its executive director. It became clear to me that Ameer Makhoul had some type of control over all the Arab NGOs I was speaking to.
Finally, Debra and I arrived at the offices of Itijaa. Skinny, bespectacled, young Ameer Makhoul emerged from his office, took a look at me and said, “So this is the Gary Wexler who has been asking all the questions.” And then he ticked off every question I had asked along with the name of each person I had posed the question to.
He brought us into his office and began pacing. “So, Gary Wexler, let me answer your questions in the following way. One: Gary Wexler, who is sitting in front of me now, went to Los Angeles City College for two years where you were an Israel activist and editor of the school newspaper. You wrote a lot about Israel. And continued to do so at California State University, Northridge. You spent five summers as a volunteer on Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar. Through your marketing agency, Passion Marketing, you service the following clients of the Jewish world and in Israel.” He named every one.
I knew this guy was trouble.
“And now, Gary Wexler,” he sat down, “let me give you more direct answers.” He looked me straight in the eye. “Just like you were a Zionist campus activist, we will create, over the next years, Palestinian campus activists in America and all over the world. Bigger and better than any Zionist activists. Just like you spent your summers on the kibbutz, we will bring college students to spend their summers in refugee camps and work with our people. Just like you have been part of creating global pro-Israel organizations, we will create global pro-Palestinian organizations. Just like you today help create PR campaigns and events for Israel, so will we, but we will get more coverage than you ever have.”
He stood again this time, right over me. “You wonder how we will make this happen, how we will pay for this? Not with the money from your liberal Jewish organizations who are now funding us. But from the European Union, Arab and Muslim governments, wealthy Arab people and their organizations. Eventually, we will not take another dollar from the Jews.”
Then he approached real close. “What do you think of this?”
I took a breath. I remained professional. “Nothing. I’m here on behalf of the Ford Foundation collecting information for a planned marketing institute.”
He came even closer. “I am asking what does Gary Wexler think of what I just said. You, Gary Wexler.”
I repeated my answer.
He came even closer. “I ask again. What does Gary Wexler think of what I just said.”
Debra and I got up. I took my writing pad. “I feel that you are threatening me and we are leaving.”
The next morning I received a call from the program officer at the Ford Foundation. “Gary, we have a problem. We received a call from Ameer Makhoul and we understand you spewed out all sorts of Zionist propaganda and he felt very threatened by you.”
I told him it was a lie.
The program officer continued to press me as to what I had said. I related the conversation word for word. He repeated what Ameer Makhoul had said. I told him to call Debra London who was with me through the entire interview, and verify it with her. I also told him that they better check their funding to these Arab organizations, because Ameer Makhoul appeared to be controlling all of them with some very hateful behaviors.
He backed down.
Debra and I wrote up our recommendations for how they needed to build the marketing institute, including a recommendation for using the pro bono work, worth nearly 1 million shekels, that we had secured from the ad agencies. The program officer, a former academic focused on the nonprofit sector, couldn’t understand the value of businesses being involved and rejected it out of hand. A few weeks later, he told Debra and me that he had hired an NGO consulting team to finish the work. They would be giving several hours of consultation to each organization.
Several years later, I learned Ameer Makhoul had been arrested by the Israelis as a spy for Syria.
As the years went on, I began to see what Ameer Makhoul had laid out to me taking shape. The PR coverage was first: The Muhammad al-Durrah incident in Gaza, when a 12-year-old boy was shot to death on the second day of the Second Intifada, capturing global headlines. The Mavi Marmara, the Turkish Flotilla to Gaza that the Israelis stormed, killing several Palestinian activists, grabbing global headlines. I knew the Mavi Marmara was manufactured for the exposure it would gain.
Then the campuses: The creation of Apartheid Week worldwide. The growth of BDS. The student volunteers who began by the thousands to work in the Palestinian territories and its refugee camps. The shocking creation of anti-Zionist Jewish student groups.
As an award-winning copywriter and creative director in ad agencies and a professor of Communication at USC, I have developed an intuitive antenna to detect similarities between writing styles, idea styles and conceptual creation. In the early years of this pro-Palestinian campaign, I could see the commonalities of excellence, style and manipulation across all their platforms. Teaching on a university campus gave me a front-row seat at this theater of darkening skies.
People of color, particularly antisemitic Black groups like BLM, were organizing to identify with the Palestinians. Many organizations representing people seen as oppressed were moved to identify with the Palestinians. Students of every variety were swayed.
People of color, particularly antisemitic Black groups like BLM, were organizing to identify with the Palestinians. Many organizations representing people seen as oppressed were moved to identify with the Palestinians. Students of every variety were swayed. I could see the commonalities of language creation and transfer — my field — being applied to the Jews. Many of them were old antisemitic tropes into which new life was being breathed:
Israel and Jews are colonialists just like other white oppressors around the world. Israel is an apartheid society, the same as South Africa was.
Jews have white privilege, even though more than 50% of Jews are dark-skinned people from the Arab world, Iran and Africa.
Jews hold power in media and banking, making them the enemy.
Jews center themselves as capitalists and donors.
Jews don’t hold space for anyone but themselves.
Jews need to be held accountable for the pain they are causing.
If you challenged any of this you were a racist, the worst thing you could possibly be accused of.
(Except if you are racist against Jews. Then you prove you are a true ally of the oppressed.)
Our enemies have had a real success. They have formed a winning international communication army with trained troops everywhere.
Israeli writer, producer and former antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby recently said that students, particularly Jewish ones who are protesting against Israel, have been “played,” but I don’t know if even she understands the background and extent of it. They haven’t just been played, they’ve been turned. Many of them are alumni of Jewish day schools and camps. Those students believe they have joined the other side because they were the victims of a propagandized Zionist education and have now seen the light. No, they are the victims of a propagandized, slow, well-crafted plan, laid out to me by Ameer Makhoul.
And what has been the Jewish world’s response to all of this?
Funders are now putting up pro-Jewish and pro-Israel billboards in American cities. As if a clever one-line message can combat all these brilliant, strategized organizing efforts on behalf of our enemies.
Others are organizing TikTok and Twitter troops. But that work is in response to the playing field that has been established and won by the enemies of the Jewish people. We show ourselves in a defensive mode. We are playing on the field they have drawn. We need to draw our own, in a very big way.
There are many good organizations being funded and working on our behalf, but their work, alone, is not the answer.
There are many good organizations being funded and working on our behalf, but their work, alone, is not the answer.
It is imperative we have overall strategizing and coordinating. Right now, it is every organization for itself. It’s an uncoordinated battlefield where each squadron is moving in its own direction, rather than toward the same hill—the only way for victory. It is imperative that we create big, brilliant, creative ideas of engagement. We must view this as a pervasive Jewish community organizing effort for communication purposes, in collaboration with the Israelis.
American Jews are sending cans of food and socks to Israel while the Palestinians are conceptualizing bigger and better worldwide actions. We’re still fighting and demonizing one another. Many organizations have not yet woken up that it is no longer business as usual.
In the last three weeks I have received no fewer than 200 solicitations for 200 separate efforts. American Jews are sending cans of food and socks to Israel while the Palestinians are conceptualizing bigger and better worldwide actions. We’re still fighting and demonizing one another. Many organizations have not yet woken up that it is no longer business as usual. I’m on the board of one that I’ve had to rattle, saying, “No, we cannot position what we are doing just as we always have. Everything now has to be repositioned against the background of this war on Israel and the Jewish people.”
In the propaganda war, we could be learning a lot from our enemies, who have learned a lot from us. Maybe we need our own Ameer Makhoul and all his buddies? Is any leadership team, that we can all get behind, going to step forward?
Gary Wexler was recently honored by the National Library of Israel with the creation of The Gary Wexler Archive, a 20 year history of Jewish life told through the advertising campaigns he created for Jewish organizations in the US, Canada and Israel.