Amid the fast-paced action that saw the Kansas City Chiefs win their third championship in five years, Americans tuning in to watch the Super Bowl were met with a barrage of unusual propaganda.
Nestled between the typical ads for cars and beer were two bizarre messages: one from the Foundation to Combat anti-Semitism (FCAS) and the other from the State of Israel itself. Both were intimately related to the ongoing slaughter in Gaza and trying to draw attention away from Israeli war crimes.
Targeting Black Americans
The FCAS commercial features Clarence B. Jones, the former advisor to Martin Luther King, who drafted his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The message is that there is a growing tidal wave of racist intolerance in America and that we must all come together to oppose anti-Semitism — the commercial ends by telling people to visit the website StandUpToJewishHate.com.
Super Bowl ads do not come cheap, and its $7 million for 30-second air time price tag was footed by the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots NFL franchise, Robert Kraft. Kraft (net worth: $11 billion) made his fortune in the paper and packaging business and has deep ties to the state of Israel, including donating hundreds of millions of dollars to pro-Israel groups and funding pro-Israel candidates in U.S. elections. He even enjoys a close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
We are asking all Americans to stand up to hate and not be silent. Millions of people saw our ad during the Super Bowl and we have one question: how will you stand up? #StandUpToJewishHate # pic.twitter.com/uA6cRi5aaL
— Stand Up to Jewish Hate # (@StandUp2JewHate) February 12, 2024
Kraft married his wife in Israel in 1962 and has reportedly made over 100 visits to the country, including leading dozens of PR missions there, bringing celebrities and sports stars with him. He also maintains a network of charities across Israel.
In December, he pledged a gigantic $100 million to the FCAS. This was, Forbes reported, to “educate the public about the rise in antisemitic incidents and further develop the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities.” Considering its content and invocation of Dr. King, it seems clear that the Super Bowl ad was part of Kraft’s plan to target the Black community.
Black Americans are far more progressive on Palestine than the rest of the population. Many Black leaders, as well as movements such as Black Lives Matter, have allied themselves with the Palestinian cause, seeing parallels and connections between the oppression of Palestinians abroad and the treatment of Black Americans at home.
A December poll by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found that 28% of the Black population favored an immediate ceasefire, as opposed to 20% of white Americans. Only 5% of African Americans wanted the U.S. government to show “unwavering support” to Israel, versus 23% of the white population.
In Kraft’s view, therefore, the Black population’s outlook is a problem. The billionaire sports owner founded the FCAS in 2019 amid growing domestic and international opposition to the state of Israel’s apartheid policies in Palestine. He announced the move at a lavish ceremony in Jerusalem, where he was presented with the Genesis Prize – an Israeli government-backed award given to individuals who most aid the Jewish state.
After the ceremony, he had lunch with his friend, Prime Minister Netanyahu. Kraft had previously supported Netanyahu by attending his speech to Congress in 2015. “Israel does not have a more loyal friend than Robert Kraft,” Netanyahu said.
Kraft was awarded the $1 million Genesis Prize for his efforts in philanthropy and “combating anti-Semitism.” Yet his views on what does and does not constitute anti-Semitism are contentious, to say the least.
In the wake of the historic wave of protests across the U.S. calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East, he appeared on MSNBC to denounce those taking part as supporters of terrorism. “It’s horrible to me that a group like Hamas can be respected and people in the United States of America can be carrying flags or supporting them,” he said, clearly equating supporting Palestinian rights with terrorism. “Hamas is preaching the eradication of all Jewish people from the Earth,” he added.
Thus, while the FCAS claims to be standing against lies and racism, its founder continues to spread his own disinformation in service of the Israeli project.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also opposes the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a grassroots campaign to peacefully bring economic pressure on the state of Israel to stop its oppression and occupation of its neighbors. Kraft sees BDS as a form of anti-Jewish racism, lumping it in with attacks on synagogues or the growing threat from the far-right.
“My vision is to work to end the violence against Jewish communities. To counter the normalization of anti-Semitic narratives that question Israel’s right to exist, disguised as part of legitimate debate on campuses and in the media,” he said, thereby hinting that the FCAS will attempt to insert themselves into college campuses nationwide and pressure the media to take (even) more pro-Israel stances.
The Israel Lobby’s Financier
Kraft is one of the Israel lobby’s chief benefactors, donating millions of dollars to various groups throughout his life. In 2022, for example, he gave $1 million to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) super PAC. AIPAC works to push pro-Israel policies across the U.S. and insert pro-Israel language into as many pieces of legislation as possible.
He also funds the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces – a group that raises money to help Israeli soldiers, even as they carry out war crimes in Palestine, Syria and beyond. Other pro-Israel groups, he has given sizeable donations to include:
- American Friends of the Israel Museum
- American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center
- The Anti-Defamation League
- The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis
- The Jewish Agency for Israel
- The Jewish National Fund
- The Israel Project
Through his organization, Touchdown in Israel, Kraft regularly organizes propaganda trips to Israel for former NFL players, no doubt hoping they will become advocates of the Jewish state.
Arguably the most influential way in which Kraft influences American public life, however, is his consistent funding of right-wing Democrats standing against progressives and advocates for justice in Palestine.
In 2021, for example, he donated $5,800 to Congresswoman Shontel Brown in her contentious face-off against progressive Nina Turner and another $2,900 to her reelection. Brown was a little-known but strongly pro-Israel candidate standing against a democratic socialist, national co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 election campaign, and an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies.
Vast amounts of pro-Israel money flowed into Brown’s campaign, helping her to defeat Turner. In her acceptance speech, Brown praised Israel and later thanked the Jewish community for “help[ing] me get over the finish line.”
Kraft has also given money to pro-Israel Democrats, including David Cicilline; Juan Vargas; Ted Deutch; Jake Auchincloss and Ritchie Torres.
His actions, donations and public pronouncements have drawn condemnation from some who have followed them. Sports journalist Dave Zirin, for example, recently wrote that:
He appears to think that any criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic. For Kraft, it is Jews like myself, rabbis, and Holocaust survivors calling for a ceasefire and a free Palestine that are part of the problem. And Kraft seems to think that opposition to Israel, the IDF, and the AIPAC agenda is antisemitism.”
Israel on TV
Super Bowl viewers were subjected to another pro-Israel ad in between the action, this one directly funded by and representing the Israeli government.
“To all the dads,” the voiceover says, as images of wholesome fatherhood activities play on the screen, “The funny ones, the silly ones, the strong ones, the adventurous ones. To all the dads held in captivity by Hamas for over 120 days, we vow to bring you home.”
On the surface of the ad, the Israeli government was sending a message to Israeli fathers still in Hamas custody. That message was that they were working to bring them home (by spending millions of dollars to air the message on American TV during the Super Bowl.)
The reality, however, is that this was an attempt to sway the American public into identifying with Israel, suggesting that this could happen to any of their fathers’ too.
Israel ran an ad during the Super Bowl vowing to "bring all their dads home" in reference to the Israeli captives being held in Gaza.
But what about the dads in Gaza who have suffered the worst grief imaginable at the hands of Israel's genocidal campaign? pic.twitter.com/JerxiRHkKy
— The Cradle (@TheCradleMedia) February 13, 2024
Many viewers felt that what they saw amounted to little more than expensive disinformation. “I’m sorry, is Israel seriously airing a SOB STORY PROPAGANDA AD during the SUPER BOWL while SIMULTANEOUSLY BOMBING THE REFUGEES AT RAFAH???????” wrote one viewer on Twitter.
Nevertheless, the Super Bowl was the most-watched American telecast ever, reaching over 123 million viewers. Some say you cannot put a price on that sort of publicity, but apparently, you can, and that price is $7 million. Propaganda it might be, but in America, money talks. And both Robert Kraft and the government of Israel certainly have a lot of it to spend.
Feature photo | Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the NFL Super Bowl trophy during a meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in Jerusalem, June 20, 2019. Sebastian Scheiner | AP
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.