US students learn to brand Israel on campus

Birthright Israel Excel aims to identify future leaders within Jewish communities from across the United States.

August 7, 2015 03:48
3 minute read.
Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state.

Diaspora youngsters enjoy a Birthright Israel trip to the Jewish state.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Taglit-Birthright brought together a delegation of students from some of the United States’ most prestigious universities on Wednesday to learn about improving Israel’s image on the global stage.

Students from Princeton, Stanford, Yale and, Pennsylvania State participated in the lecture led by the executive director of Vibe Israel, Joanna Landau, as part of the 10-week Birthright Israel Excel fellowship.

Birthright Israel Excel aims to identify future leaders within Jewish communities from across the United States.

“We must invest in exposing the State of Israel to the world and not to continue having a dialogue around conflict,” said Landau, who is an expert in national branding. “Complimentary to pure advocacy, we try to market and brand Israel as if it were a product by looking at our competitors and seeing who is doing well and those who are not doing well and how we can develop in order to succeed and do better.”

Princeton University’s Jacob Cannon felt that while there is a negative discussion about Israel both on campus and in the media, he said that he was given “new tools to deal with that discourse.”

Cannon, a third-year student of international affairs, said that while he had seen anti-Israel activity take place on campus, he never felt a need to become involved in the argument, despite being Jewish.

“My stay here very much changed my mind and I have learned essential tools in this lecture,” said Cannon.

Landau focused on how to improve Israel’s image on the global stage.

“There is a need for a paradigm shift relating to where advocacy needs to be done. Advocacy should be done where people would like to have that conversation,” she said.

“Israel has many advantages but the problem is that we do not invest in exposing them to the world. We call ourselves a nation of start-ups but ignore anyone who does not belong to the community of start-ups around the world, and then our argument becomes irrelevant to the wider audience.”

Landau suggested that marketing of Israel should move from broadcasting to what she called “narrowcasting,” where the brand is developed as part of a strategy rather than sending out a blanket message.

“Creative energy should be the words we use to define Israel. Yes, there is conflict, but there is also entrepreneurship, innovation and food. It is a mosaic of many things,” said Landau, a member of the International Education Committee of Taglit-Birthright. “Every other country that wants to change its image reviews the situation around a variety of categories.

In our case we are interested in the question of are you for us or against us? And in this way, we miss the point.”

Her advice to students advocating on campus is clear: Advocacy should be done where people would like to participate.

“We believe that everybody can take part. Instead of winning a debate, you should be looking to build relationships. It’s about having a conversation,” she said.

In the context of the murder that occurred at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem last week, Landau said that Israel’s brand as a gay-friendly oasis in the Middle East will remain strong despite the incident.

“Because the brand that Tel Aviv has created is so strong, the power of branding means that there is forgiveness involved when something goes wrong,” Landau explained. “Gay Pride Tel Aviv is a completely different event to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv pride offers so much value to the gay community. I wouldn’t be surprised if more people came to the event next year, as it represents liberalism in such a complicated neighborhood.”

Landau said that it is most important to “provide and inject people with positive material, so when the negative inevitably happens, people will come to this with some perspective.”

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