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Foreign Ministry launches speakers bureau
By MELANIE LIDMAN
01/18/2013
Public diplomacy effort focuses on 50-80% of world who are indifferent to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
A statistic that is abhorrent to most Israelis, but true according to Israel diplomacy specialists: 50 to 80 percent of the world doesn’t care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As hard as it is to imagine for people living here, at least half of the world is indifferent to the political situation.

Public diplomacy, or hasbara, has traditionally featured a black and white picture of the rest of the world: either you love us or you hate us. Much of the effort has been directed towards trying to convince the haters to change their ways, or trying to convince the lovers that everyone else hates us.

But the new hasbara, or pro- Israel diplomacy speakers bureau launched by the Foreign Ministry and the Israel advocacy nonprofit organization Kinetis on Thursday in Jerusalem focuses on a third market, which encompasses the majority of the world: the ones who just don’t care. “The third market is indifferent to the political situation,” said Joanna Landau, the founder and executive director of Kinetis. Landau estimates that 50-80% of the world falls in to this “indifferent” category.

“We’re targeting them, we’re not trying to convince the convinced,” she said.

“We were really only having one conversation: the geopolitical conversation,” said Zavi Apfelbaum, the senior director of the Foreign Ministry’s brand management section, which deals with public diplomacy.

“We realized in order to have people know who we are and relate to us is for them to know who are Israelis and open a door to connect with people,” said Apfelbaum.

The result was a seven-yearlong, country-wide soul searching exercise as the ministry tried to get the entire country to agree: Who are we, and what do we want the rest of the world to know about us? The speakers bureau launched on Thursday, called ConnectIL, includes 200 inspirational Israelis who are experts in fields from across the spectrum, from celebrity chefs to wine sommeliers, to paralympic champions and film directors.

“This is a mosaic of narratives of who we are,” said Apfelbaum.

The seven-year soul search boiled down to one concept: creative energy.

The Foreign Ministry and Kinetis reasoned that foodies aren’t tuned into the conflict, but they probably would be interested in the most perfect shakshuka recipe in the country (according to Lonely Planet, the shakshuka at Jerusalem’s Tmol Shilshom café is one of the top ten breakfasts in the world). Choreographers may not be concerned with the route of the security barrier, but they would love to hear more from Tel Aviv’s innovative Bat Sheva dance philosophy.

Thus the comprehensive database of speakers for ConnectIL was born. The database is only open to organizations, who bring large groups, both Jews and non-Jews, to Israel.

Moran Samuels, a 30-year-old paralympic rowing athlete, is one of the speakers. “I’m a proud Israeli, proud to live here, and proud to represent it as an athlete,” she said. Her talk, however, focuses on her optimism and determination to continue playing basketball in the face of a spine stroke, which paralyzed her from chest down one Thursday morning at age 24. Her talk doesn’t really mention Israel advocacy or pro- Israel diplomacy. “I’m not coming and lifting a flag. I was born and raised in Israel, and it’s enough that you’re going to know me,” she said. “It’s not about changing opinions by saying this or that. I’m trying to say, come to Israel and hear what I have to say.”
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