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The Saudi connection

With pro-Palestinian protests in Washington, DC, and Boston this weekend, grassroots criticism of Israel may have diverted attention from a mysterious advertising campaign about the Middle East.

A series of radio advertising spots ran in 30 cities across the United States in early April. One, titled "Occupation," extolled the Arab League’s "fair plan to end the senseless violence in the Mideast." The plan, according to the advertisement, involved Israel’s "withdrawal from the Palestinian land it has unjustly occupied for years.... There will be no more midnight raids and random searches, no more violence." It did not condemn Palestinian terrorist bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Another ad, titled "Peace Plan," stated: "To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods." Again, no mention of Palestinian terrorism and no mention of the peace offer made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, which would have given the Palestinian Authority possession of 97 percent of the West Bank — an offer Yasser Arafat turned down in 2000. Both ads concluded with the slogan "Start the peace — end the occupation," followed by the words "paid for by the Alliance of Peace and Justice."

Must be just another grassroots group fighting to get Israel out of the West Bank, right? Not exactly. The ads were placed by Sandler-Innocenzi, a political-advertising agency that has done spots for Republican House majority whip Tom DeLay and the Republican National Committee, among others. A Sandler-Innocenzi staffer contacted by the Phoenix acknowledged involvement with the ad and gave a phone number and address for the Alliance of Peace and Justice. The address — 8484 Westpark Drive in McLean, Virginia — is the home of media firm Qorvis Communications. Where does this complicated trail lead? To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the federal government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office, hired Qorvis on March 6. Qorvis did not respond to phone calls requesting comment on the ads.

The Saudis, of course, don’t acknowledge the ads. A woman working in the Saudi embassy’s information office says, "We have nothing to do with those ads. We don’t know who that is." To be sure, just because the Saudis have a financial relationship with Qorvis doesn’t mean they placed them. But the plan of the "League of Arab Nations" described in the ads sounds suspiciously like the one recently floated by Saudi crown prince Abdullah. In addition, those who have looked into the matter say radio-advertising salespeople involved with the buy report that the Saudis were behind them. "Believe it or not the Saudi Arabian Embassy wants to get on 4/8 and 4/15 so I was able to use the new rates," reads a redacted April 4 e-mail made available to the Phoenix by Steve Silberfarb, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Silberfarb, in turn, received the e-mail from a radio executive who wanted to remain anonymous. Mstreet.Net, which covers the radio industry, reported Tuesday that "the Saudi-funded ‘Alliance for Peace and Justice’ bought time on about 100 US stations."

The ads are important for two reasons. First, there is the possibility that Saudi Arabia placed them covertly. "I want to know the truth," says Silberfarb. "I want to know whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is trying to dupe the American people by launching an anti-Israel radio campaign under the guise of an objective, pro-peace, detached group." Second, there is the question of whether the ads represent another attempt by the Saudis to deflect scrutiny from its own the corrupt regime. After all, 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks hailed from Saudi Arabia.

President Bush might consider pressing the Saudis to answer questions about the "Alliance of Peace and Justice" ads when he meets with Saudi crown prince Abdullah at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on April 25.

Issue Date: April 25 - May 2, 2002
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