Untold News: Telling oft-overlooked positive stories on Israel

Advertising maven Marcella Rosen uses her experience to publicize sides of the Jewish state that many don’t get to see.

 Marcella Rosen (photo credit: NOAM GALAI)
Marcella Rosen
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Like the US, Israel is a democracy, although far from perfect. Israel’s enemies constantly accuse it of heinous crimes, accusations which neither Israeli nor American Jews have managed to successfully counter.

Enter Untold News, which Marcella Rosen founded in 2010 to report on Israel’s major but underreported contributions to the world. It is vital – and long overdue – to publicize Israel’s technology, medical cures, environmental advances, defense systems, and humanitarian help to the world.

Rosen’s background was in advertising, where she was the executive vice president of N.W. Ayer & Son, America’s oldest advertising agency. Rosen was also the first woman to hold such a position in the advertising world.

Now retired, Rosen has focused her advertising know-how on Israel.

Advocating for Israel is something Rosen may have learned by osmosis from her father, a distinguished Orthodox rabbi who served on the Joint Distribution Committee, and who helped his synagogue bring 12,000 Jews from Europe to the United States during World War II. Although her parents neither spoke to her directly about Israel nor antisemitism as a child – mostly to shelter her from knowing that such ills existed in the world – Rosen very much felt the need to support the Jewish state and keep alive the family tradition of providing it with support.

 A clip of an ad from Untold News’ Israel Is On It campaign (credit: UNTOLD NEWS) A clip of an ad from Untold News’ Israel Is On It campaign (credit: UNTOLD NEWS)

Rosen fostered positive attitudes toward Israel for the past 20 years. What began as a campaign for students on college campuses has morphed into a multi-pronged enterprise with the Untold News Facebook page and website, a book about Israeli innovation – Tiny Dynamo – and a media campaign called ‘Israel Is On It.’

“We have a lot of good Jewish organizations doing great things, but for the most part they don’t counter or combat the lies being told about Israel,” Rosen said of her efforts. “The media is not totally fair either. I think there’s a media bias. And the attacker always wins if you don’t respond – and they win big.”

Rosen has proposed for a number of years that Jewish organizations work together, but it is a battle cry that has mostly fallen on deaf ears.

As a result, Rosen has embarked on this journey mostly alone, but with some key strategic partners, one of them being Marvin Waldman, president of The Shadow Group, an advertising firm specializing in strategy for not-for-profit companies. Waldman, who sits on the board of Untold News, also has consulting experience for the Bill Bradley, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama presidential campaigns, and has applied his keen awareness of messaging to Untold News’ mission to amplify a positive message about Israel.

“My first impression when I got to Israel, by the way, was that everybody looked like my relative – Uncle Harry or Aunt Pearl,” he joked. “I disagree with some things the government is doing, but I do have an affinity for the people and the country. Israel is always getting the short end in terms of the press. The rise of antisemitism was clear then and it’s more evident now.”

As a result, the Untold News team, with Israel Is On It, devised a campaign created to raise awareness of Israel’s major contributions to the environment, medicine, science and technology. The campaign provides short, succinct messages and illustrations explaining the myriad ways Israel is changing the world for the better.

Some examples of the campaign, include: “How To Drink Seawater,” which describes Israel’s advances in desalination and recycling of wastewater; “How To Freeze A Breast Tumor To Death,” about a painless 15-minute procedure that freezes and kills benign tumors and is experimenting with malignant tumors; and “How To Hack A Hacker,” developed by an elite Israeli army unit of cybersecurity intelligence experts.

“For a naïve college student, it’s much more romantic to throw your affinity to say a Palestinian throwing a rock than an armed Israeli soldier,” said Waldman. “There’s a lot to understand in terms of what’s going on. It’s not like Israel is doing everything right – far from it – but you need to see them as a diverse group of people. That’s important. People tend to stereotype. My fear is always if you dislike Israel, it’s a slippery slope to becoming antisemitic in general.”

That successful campaign garnered some three-and-a-half-million engaged viewers, focusing on positive stories that will resonate with someone who may not have much of a connection to Israel or know much about the country.

“Our target audience is neither committed Jews nor people who hate Israel or are antisemitic – we won’t change them,” Rosen explained. “We are targeting the great middle with an emphasis on younger people.”

Next up is a media campaign oriented toward college students that will highlight positive stories about Israel to counter growing pro-Palestinian sentiment on campus. The campaign was devised to combat the Yale student council approving a statement last year that “Israel is an Apartheid state.”

It will start at a sample of colleges but expand to many top-tier institutions around the country.

“We want to show them things about Israel that they don’t know,” said Rosen. “For example, an Ethiopian woman who became a colonel in the IDF. Or highlighting that Israel has an Arab Supreme Court justice. Or that 17% of Israel’s doctors are Arabs. Or that Miss Israel is an Arab. Something that you can tell a story with a picture or a short video.

“Bloomberg has called Israel the eighth-most innovative country in the world. But many don’t know that. In fact, with 200 countries in the world, you’re not going to know much about most of them. I don’t know anything about Portugal, for example, and I probably never will. I’m not proud of that, but that’s the way it is.”

But when it comes to the PR game, both Rosen and Waldman say Israel is fumbling in the country’s promotion.

“The Israeli government has never done anything effective,” Rosen said. “In fact, forgive me, but the last travel campaign I saw from a few years ago was all about beaches. Now, if ever there was a country in the world that had something else to say that was true and important, it’s Israel. Yeah, the beaches are nice, but oh my God, there’s so much more!”

Rosen said she’d like nothing more than to work with the government in order to create a more systematic campaign that will resonate with that elusive silent majority who are neither strongly supportive nor vehemently against the Jewish state.

“You can change attitudes,” she said. “It’s not easy but it’s possible with top professionals. It is vital that we instigate a great campaign for Israel, to create a positive attitude toward it among younger Americans, and our future leaders.” ■