Conflict in Israel

A third-generation Texan who moved to Israel in 1978, Levine has run three high-profile PR firms since arriving in the country, starting up Lone Star in June 2006. He has often moved between PR and journalism, publishing op-eds and interviews with influential figures in an array of Israeli newspapers and magazines. Besides his reputation as a first-rate PR man, Levine is also known for his work as a media adviser to top Israeli government officials, mostly on the right (his working relationship with Shimon Peres, a Labor Party stalwart, is a notable exception). He says he has served as a media adviser — sometimes informally, sometimes as a paid gig — to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, current minister of education Gideon Sa'ar, Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diasapora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, Minister of National Infrastructure Uzi Landau, and other government officials. In addition, Levine serves as a reservist captain in the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit, a division of the Israeli Army responsible for disseminating the military's point of view to the national press corps — and to international reporters like Bronner.

Bronner says he does not share what he described as "Charley Levine's rightist politics." According to Levine's bio on Lone Star's website, he lives in a "suburb of Jerusalem." That "suburb" is, in fact, the Jewish mega-settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, which cuts deep into the West Bank. "I see myself as a mainstream Israeli who believes first and foremost in the Zionist mission of the state of Israel, in free enterprise, in the rule of law, and in the twin democratic and Jewish pillars of this nation," Levine wrote in an e-mail.

Levine's client roster includes people and organizations identified with the Israeli political center, like Kadima USA. But Levine has not shied away from promoting people like Dov Hikind, a New York State Assemblyman and acolyte of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose terrorism-linked Kach Party is banned inside Israel. Another Lone Star client, Danny Danon, a member of the Knesset, argued this May in The New York Times's op-ed section that Israel should annex large sections of the West Bank in response to the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. Lone Star handled publicity during a visit to Israel for longshot Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who said at one point during his campaign that he supported loyalty oaths for Muslims seeking to serve in his administration. Lone Star coordinated the media for Glenn Beck's recent "Restoring Courage" rally in Jerusalem. Beck is listed as a client.

The singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen hired Lone Star to handle media operations during a 2009 concert in Israel. Cohen performed after rejecting demands by Israeli and Palestinianactivists that he refuse to play in Israel to protest the country's occupation of Palestinian territory (as some other musicians had done). Bronner reported on the singer's Israel concert in an article on September 24, 2009. In the report Bronner characterized the goals of boycott advocates as "seeking to ostracize Israel" and highlighted Cohen's expected donation of up to $2 million to groups like the Parents Circle, a nonprofit that promotes dialogue between bereaved Israeli and Palestinian family members.

Levine had been deeply involved in the preparations for Cohen's tour. Afterward, in a June 16, 2010 op-ed for The Jerusalem Post, Levine wrote that he had prepared a document designed to persuade Cohen and his management team not to give in to "pro-terrorist coercion." "I understand that Leonard Cohen reviewed my analysis and drew his own conclusions," Levine wrote. "Later, we advised on the theme of this special appearance which took on a charitable character in support of Israel-Arab reconciliation, elevating it to still a higher plane."

Bronner covered a contentious land issue involving the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation of Los Angeles, which sought to construct a new "Museum of Tolerance" on the grounds of Mamila Cemetery, a historic Muslim graveyard in Jerusalem. The attempt brought criticism from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious groups. Levine served as the Wiesenthal Foundation's spokesman in 2006, and the organization is listed under "current and recent clients" on the Lone Star site, though Levine says the foundation was his own client and not a Lone Star client. On August 13, 2010, Bronner published an article on attempts by the Jerusalem Municipality to bulldoze gravesites to make way for the Museum of Tolerance's construction. He described the dispute as two equally vociferous sides "accusing the other of shamelessness and indecency."

Among other Lone Star Communications clients that Bronner has covered or mentioned in the period since he joined Lone Star's speaker's bureau are The Israel Project, on September 4, 2009; NGO Monitor, on April 4, 2011; and Danny Danon, a conservative member of the Knesset, on May 20, 2011. He also did a piece on The Jewish National Fund — which Levine says is not on retainer, but which Lone Star has done occasional projects for — on March 12, 2009.

Bronner faced an earlier controversy when his young son decided to serve in the Israeli military. The Times's former public editor, Clark Hoyt, argued for a transfer, but former Times editor Bill Keller strongly backed Bronner and he weathered it. Bronner's son has since finished his army stint and moved to the US.

Tags: charley levine, ethan bronner, israel, lone star communications, max blumenthal, middle east, palestine, the new york times

    • Max Blumenthal
    • Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The NationThe Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post,, Al Jazeera Eng...

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