(JTA) — A Jewish couple from Detroit is pressing a Michigan public radio station to broadcast a birthday greeting to Israel paid for by their sponsorship of the station.
Hannan and Lisa Lis made a donation to Michigan Radio, a statewide public radio group operated by the University of Michigan, that entitled them to sponsor a day’s broadcast and have a message read on the air six times.
The couple requested “Happy 68th Birthday Israel” to be broadcast on Israel Independence Day, which took place on May 12, Deadline Detroit first reported. Hannan Lis is an Israeli citizen, and one son is serving in the Israeli army. Lisa Lis is a daughter of Weight Watchers CEO Florine Marks.
The station first said it needed two months notice to broadcast a message, but then rejected the message outright, saying in a letter to the couple: “We have determined that this message would compromise the station’s commitment to impartiality and that it crosses over into advocacy, or could imply advocacy.”
The couple and the station exchanged several letters, including one in which the Lises asked if the station would broadcast a “Happy Birthday Norway” message. The station confirmed that it would not, according to Deadline Detroit.
According to the day sponsorship rules posted on Michigan Radio’s website: “Day sponsorships must be personal in nature. They may not include promotional, commercial or messages that Michigan Radio deems would negatively impact Michigan Radio’s reputation for impartiality. Language referencing political campaigns, candidacies, religious convictions or legislation will not be accepted.”
“There’s so much anti-Israel sentiments and rhetoric and lies out there, and I just wanted something positive about Israel to be announced on the radio,” Lisa Lis told AMI Newswire. “Many people just say ‘happy anniversary’ to their spouse. When they offered a day sponsorship to me, I genuinely and publicly wanted to wish Israel happy birthday from my husband and myself.
“We respect the university and the relationship and connections it has with Israel. The radio station, on the other hand, somehow feels wishing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Israel is adversarial to them. And I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Everybody we talk to is surprised and shocked. I don’t see how ‘Happy Birthday’ is political.”
The couple told AMI that they would continue to press their case but are “trying to affect some pressure without going ballistic,” according to Hannan Lis, due to their “high level of respect for NPR.”