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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Brand Israel?

I did promise to discuss a presentation that was made at the JBlogger's conference regarding the 'branding' of Israel. I thought that Yehuda did a good job of summarizing the concept, so rather than reinvent the wheel, let's take his summary, even if I disagree with some of his editorial comments.
Zavi Apfelbaum, Brand Manager of the Foreign Ministry

Zavi spoke about Israel's image problem being the result of focusing too much on trying to prove we are right rather than trying to appear attractive. She said:

- branding is complementary to hasbara efforts
- branding incorporates both the bad and the good; example: The Big Apple
- If you don't define your brand, others will do it for you
- A brand engenders loyalty that will carry its fans through small periods of bad experiences

She spoke too long, too repetitively, and too simply for the audience. Long after we all got the idea and wanted her to move on, she was still trying to convince us that Israel has an image problem. She showed a video clip of how the average American knows nothing about day-to-day life in Israel, but again for far too long, when we were hoping that she would then present us with he solutions.

Unfortunately, she only barely got to solutions after the talk was officially over, and they weren't very clear solutions. They involved some combination of passion, ingenuity, and fusion, but ignored Israel's great assets of history and technology, for example.
Dov Bear had a very different view of Zavi's presentation with which I disagree even more.
According to the focus group information she shared, ordinary upscale Americans think Israel is a scary place. This is not because the editors of the New York Times have implanted microchips in their brains, nor is it because ordinary, upscale, Americans are all liberal, Jew-hating anti-Semites, who descend from Cossacks and Nazis. It is because Israel is always presented through either the prism of the conflict or as the Jewish homeland. The latter no one cares about. The former scares the crap out of people.

Why does this matter? Because its bad for business. If Israel is perceived as a drunk-on-religion sort of place, where people carry guns and live behind barbed wire fence, they will be less likely to visit or to buy Israeli made products. They won't hire Israelis. They won't invite Israelis to speak, or buy books by Israeli writers because they imagine it's either all about God, or about the war - two topics ordinary, upscale Americans prefer to ignore. [Aside: I once told an educated, Republican, church-going Southerner that I was planning to visit Israel. She asked: "Will the hotel provide you with towels, or do you have to bring your own?" Her picture of the place was pure third world.]

The answer, we learned yesterday, is for Israel to put another foot forward, to share other facets, and other sides of the Israeli experience. To let people know that Israel is something besides fanatics with machine guns. Predictably, this suggestion has irritated more than one RW lunatic. [Including the genious who heckled the speaker with chants of "But Israel is a Jewish state." I mean, duh, but not the point: Sure, Israel is a Jewish state, but if most people don't care, what are you going to do? Stamp your feet?]
Here's my take on this. The description of 'branding' is correct. The only reason Zavi's presentation seemed too long and too repetitive is because Bibi Netanyahu had spoken for so long that we were WAY behind schedule. The organizers were (understandably) pressing her to finish and I think she got a bit flustered. In fact, many members of the audience were pushing her to continue.

On the other hand, I sympathized with the 'genius' as Dov Bear called him. Zavi may be American, but after eighteen years at the foreign ministry, I'm afraid she's too ingrained with the leftist Israeli mindset. Israel IS a Jewish state and that's nothing of which we should be ashamed. I'd be curious to know more about the focus groups and whether they were a true cross-section even of 'upscale Americans.' We were told that the focus groups specifically did not include Jews who were deemed 'too passionate' about Israel. I wonder whether they also excluded fundamentalist Christians, most of whom are supporters of Israel. The video that Yehuda describes was horrendous: It showed a focus group that envisioned Israel as 'all stone buildings,' only men (women being hidden at home as in Saudi Arabia) and highly militaristic. That is NOT the country in which I live. But I wonder if the sample from which that video was produced was truly representative. I don't believe the average American views us as negatively as the people in that video.

While I agree that it makes sense to brand Israel in a way that people do not focus entirely on one aspect, I don't think that means we have to hide or be ashamed of the fact that we are a JEWISH state (which is what the foreign ministry is clearly trying to do - Zavi made some comment about how we are a state of three religions and that's what elicited the "Jewish state" comment). I don't think that branding Israel means we have to promote ourselves with pictures of bikini-clad women on the beaches of Tel Aviv - we're not France. We certainly don't need the likes of airhead Bar Refaeli acting as our spokespeople.

The foreign ministry may not like it because it does not fit in with their worldview, but our most loyal supporters are Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians. During the intifada - from 2000 to 2004 - the only foreigners in the hotels came from those two groups. While it may be a worthwhile venture to increase our 'customer base,' doing so at the cost of losing our existing clientele doesn't strike me as worthwhile.

Finally, I wanted to address Gila's comments on the presentation (which are less about Brand Israel than about Gila), which have gotten a lot of play among the bloggers here.
A scan of some of the live-blogs that covered yesterday's conference yielded at least one person who found what I said--that I am not writing in order to serve Israel's hasbara machine and that I write for myself--to be a rather distasteful sentiment. In all sincerity, I can understand why I may have come across this way. In fact, after the panel I went around asking all my friends if everyone thought I was a misanthrope. Please allow me to explain and to offer my apologies for not being more coherant last night.

To be honest, I found both the inclusion of the long PR presentation and the moderator's comments to be somewhat offensive (for lack of a better word). Who the hell are you to tell me what I must do with my blog? Who are you to hijack my blog? Since when did I become your lackey? For that matter, who are you to tell me how I should approach my aliyah?

In my case, I am very conciously not an ideologue. I very conciously think of myself as an immigrant, and not as an "olah" and have done so since the moment I decided to make aliyah. I made this decision because I wanted to give my aliyah a fair chance of succeeding, and came to the conclusion that an "immigrant" mentality would be far more conducive to success than an "olah mentality". The latter term connotates someone who deserves a pat on the back, a welcoming committee complete with a brass band and lots of ass-kissing and handouts (a'la someone should give me a great job because I did this country the great honor of moving here). The former term connotates someone who should be prepared for abuse, being taken advantage of and years of working his ass off to make it in this new place. Less romantic and idealistic? Yes! But it worked for my grandparents in the States and I figured it would do just as well for me here. And indeed, I am at seven years and (B"H) counting.
I didn't find Zafi's presentation offensive, although reasonable minds may differ over whether this was the time and place for it. I'm sure a lot of bloggers found it interesting (I did), if not useful.

I also see nothing wrong with Gila writing her blog for herself. I don't think Omri (who is also linked above in Gila's post) meant that there is anything wrong with it either. Just that it was a bit crass to say it at an event sponsored by people who assume you're writing your blog because you're trying to promote Israel. Kind of biting the hand that feeds you - at least for one night.

I have to add that I don't understand why anyone who is not one of certain ideological persuasions would want to make aliya from the West in this day and age. In many ways, life was easier in the US. But I hold nothing against people who feel otherwise coming on aliya.

All of this, of course, disproves that ridiculous Haaretz article that claimed that only right-wing religious bloggers who fit Nefesh b'Nefesh's 'agenda' were invited. Gila sure doesn't fit the agenda some bloggers assumed Nefesh b'Nefesh had. Neither did a lot of the other bloggers there. So what. One of the advantages of being a Western oleh is that we have something in common that allows us to communicate with each other much more openly that many of the natives who are of diverse religious backgrounds. Can you imagine a group of native Israelis from that diverse a background willingly sitting in a room together? I can't.


At 3:07 PM, Blogger Yaacov David Shulman said...

Ironically, Zavi focussed at great length on declaring to the world who you are, warts and all--and then went on to her view of what Israel is as a thoroughly deracinated Italy without spaghetti sauce. The three qualities that define Israel are, according to her focus groups, passion ingenuity and fusion. Not Torah, Bible, history, Judaism, spirituality, religion, nothing of that nature.

I don't know why NBN made her presentation a centerpiece of the convention but I think that the millions of dollars presumably being poured into this research and subsequent advertising is all a waste.

I think it is the Gila's of the blogging world who will make a real and positive impact: I don't know her politics but I do know that she is genuine and has, if I may say so, "texture."

The Zvi presentation, on the other hand, was an attempt at utter slickness--but what else can you expect from a government according to which Zionism and traditional Judaism are anathema? What is left, after all, but mouthings about passion, ingenuity and fusion?

The thing is, you have to be passionate, ingenious and fusing about something--Zavi limited this to medicine, technology and culture. "A land of three religions?"--that is to say, a land of no religions.

Besides that, the very concept of dumbing down Israel to a "branding" challenge so as to lead to greater economic prosperity is dumb. In the real world, people can tell the difference between substance and fluff--or between an iPhone and a culture.

Apparently, the Foreign Ministry cannot, and can only figure out what it stands for by running numerous "focus groups."

The blogging convention was excellent for the bloggers who presented and showed up.

Bibi Netanyahu and, more, this Foreign Ministry representative, were unfortunate distractions.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

passion ingenuity and fusion, That will get tourist to Israel. Why not highlight Israel as the land of Transexual singers and hip-hop violinists? That will get one million once a year reform Jews on aliya- not

At 10:21 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

The death of traditional Zionism - secular Zionism has left Israel unsure about herself. Israel is a Jewish State and that's fundamental to Israeli identity. Israel's founders weren't seeking to build a "Zionist" state - they were seeking to build a Jewish state in the land where there were once Jewish kingdoms. G-d, Torah and Israel has been at the heart of Jewish identity for over 3,000 years. With those core principles, Israel will be around forever. Without them, the Jews will perish fast from their land. That is I think the key to branding Israel and Israel should be proud of being the world's only Jewish state!

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Spin Doctor said...

I wrote this after Barak offered to give away 97% Unless we will recognize our right to the land
Israel's PR is irrelevant
As long as Israel spends their time and PR wining to the world, how much
offered the Palestinians "of their land", whether it was 93%, or 95%, or even 98%, add 7%,5%, or 2% of pre-'67 Israel, it doesn't
matter.If it's their (palestinians) land, then give them 100% Once you make the statement that it is occupied territories, then you
loose all claim to the land.
If Chevron or Shechem is occupied territory, than so is Jerusalem, and one
can argue so is Ramle or Jaffa.
If somebody accused you of stealing $200 from them, you can say "no I
didn't," and they say, "yes you did," and you respond "I'll give you $150."
That is how the Israeli negotiating position looks to the world, and no
amount of PR, or Foreign Ministry spokesmen's, will be able to explain away that.
To paraphrase the Biblical story of King Solomon: The Israelis say "cut the
baby in two, and the palestinians say keep the baby whole, of course the
will support the perceived true mother of the baby.
The truth is, that the only argument the world could support, is that "The
Land Of Israel Belongs To The Jewish People, Because G-d Gave It t To Us."
the Christians in America have shown, this is the argument they use to
Israel, and the world doesn't attack them for "racist views," It is the only
answer, the whole world is waiting to here!
Stuart Wax

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Yaacov David Shulman said...

Spin Doctor,
Are you Stuart Wax?

Stuart Wax,
Are you the music producer?
If so, I met you years ago when I was writing lyrics for C Lanzbom (Soulfarm, then Inasense).


Yaacov Dovid Shulman


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