Wall Street and Hollywood billionaires have discussed in recent weeks a plan to spend as much as $50 million on a media campaign to “define Hamas to the American people as a terrorist organization.”
Real-estate billionaire Barry Sternlicht launched the campaign in the days after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, and in an email viewed by Semafor, sought $1 million donations each from dozens of the business world’s wealthiest people.
He wrote that he’d had “a great conversation” about the effort with CNN owner David Zaslav, and that Endeavor CEO and talent agent Ari Emanuel had agreed to coordinate the campaign, though spokespeople for both men said they aren’t involved now.
The campaign would aim to “distinguish between anti-Semites and the Palestinian situation,” he wrote, as U.S and global media increasingly focus coverage on deaths in Gaza, potentially eroding sympathy and support for Israel.
“Public opinion will surely shift as scenes, real or fabricated by Hamas, of civilian Palestinian suffering will surely erode [Israel’s] current empathy in the world community,” he wrote. “We must get ahead of the narrative.”
The email was sent to more than 50 household names, including media mogul David Geffen, investors Michael Milken and Nelson Peltz, and tech luminaries Eric Schmidt and Michael Dell. All told, the recipients have a net worth of nearly $500 billion, according to Bloomberg and Forbes data.
It’s unclear how far the effort has advanced or who is on board, but it has raised several million dollars, hired Josh Vlasto, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to advise it, and quietly launched a website, people familiar with the matter said.
Some of those on the chain have been vocal already. Investor Bill Ackman and Apollo CEO Marc Rowan criticized universities for their handling of pro-Palestinian student demonstrations, and Michael Bloomberg donated $44 million to Israel’s nonprofit emergency medical service. Some have criticized the Israeli government as well: Emanuel denounced Bibi Netanyahu just days after the attacks, saying: “I just think it’s time that we get rid of this man.”
Sternlicht wrote that he’s trying to raise $50 million from the group and seek a matching donation from a large Jewish charity for a media blitz to “define Hamas” as “not just the enemy of Israel but of the United States.”
Recent polling from the University of Maryland and Ipsos found that a groundswell of support since the Oct. 7 attacks for Israel isn’t shared by younger, liberal Americans.
“While the initial focus was almost entirely on the toll inflicted by Hamas on Israeli civilians, which generated sympathy across the United States, the Israeli bombings of Gaza and the civilian toll among Palestinians have begun to shift attitudes among key constituencies,” the poll’s director wrote in an accompanying piece for Brookings.
This is just one of several behind-the-scenes efforts by business tycoons — many, though not all of them Jewish — to support Israel since the attack by Hamas. Most CEOs have been noticeably quiet on the issue, a shift from years of public statements on geopolitical or social issues.
Through a spokesman, Sternlicht declined to comment.
— Jeronimo Gonzalez contributed to this report.
Even the most powerful media figures in the world — Zaslav oversees CNN, Emanuel is the central figure in the entertainment industry — appear to feel helpless about media coverage of the Middle East conflict. Their feelings follow a generational shift in U.S. politics and media away from automatic, bipartisan support of Israel, which appeared after the Oct. 7 attacks but dissipated in the face of Israel’s response.