Memo to the Zionist Organization of America: Hire Olivia Pope

It's too bad ABC's “Scandal” is on hiatus right now, because the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) could learn a thing or two from PR fixer Olivia Pope.

This morning, the hawkish right-wing group known for its besieged mentality and reactionary portrayal of Israel as imminently doomed sent out one of its notoriously excoriating press releases. Today, however, the ZOA’s ire was not directed towards Iran or Hamas or civil war in Syria; it was reserved for British actress Emma Thompson, the star of Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks.”

“Saving Mr. Banks' Star Emma Thompson Calls For Boycotting Israel's Habima Theater” it declaimed. Tit for tat, ZOA then called for a boycott of its own, urging audiences not to see the film.

My first thought was that Emma Thompson should fire her publicist. On Sunday, the actress stands a chance of winning a Golden Globe award for her performance as P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins who whirls to life while negotiating a movie deal with Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks). It is also expected that Thompson will receive an Oscar nomination when those are announced next week. One need not be Olivia Pope to realize that with older white Jewish men compromising the majority of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voting bloc, it does not bode well for one’s Oscar chances to ostracize Israel 8 days before voting begins.

Fortunately for Thompson’s publicist, I was quickly disabused of my inclination for PR shaming. It took but a click to realize the ZOA’s ploy was painfully misleading. 

While it is absolutely true that Thompson and a group of three-dozen other British actors, directors and writers protested the inclusion of Israeli theater troupe Habima at the Shakespearean Festival, Globe to Globe, a 2-year world tour for Shakesperean theater, the call for boycott occurred two years ago — in 2012. That fact, however, is impossible to tell from the ZOA's press release directly, which cites an April 2014 report from Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel (yes, as in the April 2014 of the future) which was really published 20 months ago in April 2012.

That didn’t stop the ZOA from making it sound like it happened last week:

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has condemned actress Emma Thompson and three dozen other British actors, for seeking the boycotting of Israel's celebrated Habima Theater troupe, which is to perform later this year in a six-week theatrical festival taking place at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London….

In a letter to the British Guardian newspaper, Thompson and her colleagues accused Habima of having… 

The letter to the Guardian the ZOA is referring to was also published in 2012. And as for Habima performing in London “later this year,” there is no travel schedule currently posted on the theatre troupe's Website.

So why on earth is this press release being sent out today?

If the ZOA is so intent on trying to mar Thompson’s Oscar chances, I'll bet Olivia Pope would suggest this: Why not edit the press release to say that Thompson participated in a disturbing boycott of Israeli artists two years ago and this is just a friendly little reminder to an organization that represents artistic integrity and excellence? Besides, artistic freedom is never out of fashion. And uglier things have happened during Oscar season.

No matter when it occurred, Thompson’s boycott of Israeli artists — not policy makers, but fellow artists — is an unfair and hypocritical censure that does little to enhance the human rights record in Palestine while causing untold damage to the notion of free artistic expression artists like Thompson depend upon. But the ZOA’s ill-timed and sloppily concocted smear also hurts Israel more than it helps.

The tone. The content. The truth. All of these things matter when trying to sway public opinion. So, Mort Klein, if you want to take people to task for hurting Israel, the least you can do is get your facts straight. And when you're ready for a complete image overhaul, you know who to call.