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Sunday, February 07, 2010

We don't need 're-branding'

Remember the 're-branding Israel' nonsense that Tzipi Livni's foreign ministry wanted to foist on bloggers at the 2008 bloggers' conference? It came up again this week at the Herzliya Conference, and Israel News did a great job of ripping it to shreds.
The Zionism advocates don't know what Zionism or advocacy is. The people who are considered authorities on the issue, who are sent to the Herzliya conference to pontificate about it, confess that they don't really know what they want, or how to get it. They confuse advocacy with "PR." Eyal Arad should speak for himself. I know exactly what I want, and the Israeli information apparatus is not delivering it. The big part of the problem is the people in charge of handling the problem.

Israel advocacy is not about getting Jews to Israel. It is not Jewish education. It should not even be targeting Jews. Jews are a tiny and not too important minority in the United States, and an even tinier minority in other countries.

Israel advocacy is not about PR or "images." It can't be done by PR talking heads who don't know what we want. A country is not a "product." Challenges to legitimacy must be met by earnest political advocacy, not by "PR," remaking of image or rebranding. We do not need to deal with images or build images.

We need to build reality and deal with reality and tell people the truth. That's what we did when Israel was successful. The image was terrible. A rag tag bunch of idealists on a hopeless quest, a chaotic army, rude waiters in hotels, telephones that didn't work, an economy built on wishful thinking, immigrants in rags from Europe and the Middle East: the wretched and the hopeless. A basket case. That is how Israel was viewed in much of the world. It is certainly how the early Zionists were viewed. But it was only image. It was not reality. The people of the Second Aliya told the world "We are building the future of the Jewish people." Nobody believed them. Their shirts were torn and their shoes had holes. That was the "future of the Jewish people." But they told the truth. They were building reality, not "image." The reality built our country and the image took care of itself. We need to tell the truth and we need to know that we are telling the truth.

Israel advocacy is not about telling people Israel is a good place to invest or that we have pretty girls and nice beaches. "Everyone knows," don't they, that Jews are "clever with money" and that Jewish girls are hot and loose, right? Dpes that help us? Will it win support in international fora? Bragging about Israeli economic prowess plays into the image of the blood-sucking Jew-Zionist colonialists who are getting rich by oppressing the poor Palestinians, who are minding their own business, trying to make an honest living in the suicide vest business. Bragging about our technologically advanced society plays to Palestinian propaganda too. They are poor helpless native victims of a heartless and evil advanced society. Of course, the Iranians, who are building atomic weapons, tell a different story, and that too is accepted.

People do not base political opinions on a few factoids or "images." They may use the images or the factoids to bolster their opinions. They build a narrative and force the facts to fit that narrative. One we have been demonized it doesn't matter what we do. If we send rescue teams to Haiti, the mainstream "responsible" media like TIME ignore it, because it doesn't fit their narrative about the evil Zionists, the more sophisticated Israel bashers use it as a platform for an attack on Israeli policy, and the professional Israel haters say Israelis went to Haiti to harvest organs for illegal transplant traffic.

In the business world, PR and "image" and "branding" are acceptable. In the world of ideological advocacy, they are dirty words. "Image building" is what an oil company does after a tanker spill. It's what tobacco companies tried to do for smoking. In other words, it is lying or "improving the truth." "Rebranding" and remaking of images are what sleazy politicians do in order to foist themselves on the public. Some of us remember "the new Nixon." He wasn't much different from the old model Nixon, but the "image remake" fooled enough people long enough to get him elected president of the United States.

Israel advocacy, like all good political advocacy is not about lying, distracting people from reality or "building images." It has to be about telling the truth. Pretty girls on beaches might attract some jocks and sex tourists. But we need to speak to the political leadership and the politically active leadership segments of society abroad. Serious university students, diplomats and journalists are really not going to be impressed by pretty girls at beaches, and they don't much care if Israel is a good place to invest their money.
Read the whole thing. I don't agree with everything s/he says (for example, I think it's important to promote the fact that Israel is a great place to invest, because ultimately that puts food on all of our tables, and that's why I often promote news of new Israeli technologies), but s/he's pretty much dead on.


At 1:15 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I agree. The truth won't convert any one who has already an antipathy towards Israel. But it will make it easier to uphold the moral proposition that Jews have a right to be Israel because its their homeland and this right moreover, is based on a promise given by G-d. Some may disagree but its a position that can be respected. Showing weakness and fear impresses no one.


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