Buffing Israel's Image 

Billboard campaign aims to show the country's "positives." Plus, an Oakland entrepreneur who speaks for the trees.

Buffing Israel's Image

What is the "Real Israel"? A San Francisco public-relations firm is just wrapping up a two-month, $17,000 billboard and BART ad campaign that seeks to answer that question.

The 25 billboards scattered around the East Bay (and fifty in SF) highlight what BlueStar PR calls Israel's positives, a response to attitudes in an area where, according to founder Jonathan Carey, "many Jews are afraid to wave their flag in public." One of the ads shows a group of fashionably dressed young women crossing a street arm in arm. The slogan: "The Real Israel. Different From the Israel in the News." Another depicts two men reading Israeli papers and declares: "Freedom of the Press? Only in Israel."

"It all stems from, in short, there is not enough positive information about being Jewish and Israel out there," Carey says. "That Jews don't have a way to get positive information about themselves and about Israel."

BlueStar received a $150,000 grant last spring from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman fund, which provides money for a variety of Bay Area causes. His firm has raised more than $300,000 from individual donors and foundations, Carey says.

This being the Bay Area, the campaign has brought out the usual suspects. Carey says many ads have been defaced, and comments on BlueStar's Web site boil down to "Israel is great" versus "No, Israel is evil." Paul Larudee, a volunteer with the Berkeley-based Northern California chapter of the International Solidarity Movement, says BlueStar's attempts to clean up Israel's image was like the United States using propaganda to improve its standing in the Middle East without changing its behavior. "The problem is what you're doing, not how you present yourself," he says. "I assume that they probably are truthful, but reflect the truth that they want to present and avoid the ones that they don't want."

Carey, though, said his advertisements target young people who know Israel only as the most powerful country in the Middle East, and don't know its "underdog" history. "There's a certain closed-mindedness. They already understand the situation: No matter what we say about Israel, Israel is wrong," he says. "The story is far more nuanced than that."
—Eric Simons

Log Jams

On a recent drizzling afternoon at Richmond's Green Waste Recycle Yard, owner Brian Fensky stood by a twenty-foot stack of about a thousand eucalyptus logs. Collected from cities around the Bay Area, they normally would have ended up in the dump. But here they get made into hardwood flooring, plywood, or pallets; or get chipped for landscape mulch or cogeneration fuel.

Green Waste is the Bay Area's only treecycler, a business born of necessity: Under the moniker Arboricultural Specialties, Fensky also operates the Berkeley-based Professional Tree Care Company. He thought up the recycling idea three years ago to cope with the vast quantities of green waste his business handled. Today the yard gets logs and green waste from up to twenty tree removers. "Our mission is to convince all the tree companies and landscape people that recycling urban wood waste and green waste in this way and keeping it out of our landfill is the most appropriate way to go forward in the world," he says.

Green Waste partners with New Life Millworks to mill the wood, which the yard then sells. The companies share Green Waste's seven-acre yard with a pallet company and Black's Farmwood, another retailer of reclaimed and recycled wood. The yard is adjacent to the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill and Golden Bear Transfer Station. On average, Green Waste diverts two hundred tons of plant debris per month from landfills.

The arrangement works out well for the tree guys. "It's probably about half the price," notes Michael Veneziano, who owns Berkeley's Ponderosa Tree Service. "None of the transfer stations accept big logs. I have to cut them down into small pieces, which is a huge pain." Veneziano also likes the karmic aspect of Fensky's business.

The concept itself wasn't new, but only Fensky has managed to make it pay. Back in 2003, the East Bay Conservation Corps launched the Urban Tree Mill in West Oakland, but couldn't cover the overhead, and abandoned the project once its lease expired. "We lost a lot of money," says Rebecca Grove, the corps' development director. "There was no way we could start it up somewhere else."

Fensky concedes that the business is hugely expensive. "No one's out here making millions of dollars," he says. "The key to making this work is to do it in a very efficient manner, and to promote what's going on out here."

Yet because he's also a competitor to the landscapers, Fensky is concerned that some of his rivals may not want the yard to succeed. He points to a railroad tie and a piece of twisted metal found in a pile of wood to be chipped, which could have damaged the expensive grinders used to make mulch. He thinks it may have been intentional. "It's a problem," Fensky said, adding that he'd canceled the offending company's account. "Part of making this business work is figuring out how to deal with all this stuff."
—Kathleen Richards|


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