Foreign Ministry tackles Israel's image abroad

More than half of Americans believe that a terrorist attack happens in Israel once a week.

By
October 25, 2006 23:28
3 minute read.
Foreign Ministry tackles Israel's image abroad

tzipi livni 298 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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More than half of Americans believe that a terrorist attack happens in Israel once a week, according to data compiled by the Foreign Ministry that was released on Wednesday as part of a new marketing drive. One of the researchers for the ministry, Boaz Mourad of the US group Insight, showed video segments in which Americans spoke of Israel as a place they wanted to get away from quickly because they felt it was dangerous, bleak and inhospitable. He compared it to feelings people had for Italy as a warm place with good food. One woman said she didn't think Israel was a democracy yet, but that she heard they were working on it. In introducing the new marketing initiative known as "nation branding", Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said, "It's time to bridge the gap between the real Israel and its international image. Israel has much to offer to the world." She spoke to a group of government officials, academics, business and nonprofit executives who gathered in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to remarket Israel's image so that it is not associated purely with the conflict with the Palestinians. Livni said that since taking office last spring she had been struck by the discrepancy between the democratic country she knows and the negative image people abroad have of Israel. That's true even among those people who want to be supportive, said Livni. Nation branding is a subtle marketing strategy aimed at ensuring that Israeli images and products of Israel appear as normal parts of cultural events, within lists of scientific innovations or on the Internet. The aim is not to urge people to come to Israel or to purchase its products but rather to simply create a different emotional and intellectual link with the country, which according to recent work done by the United States research group Insight, is most often associated with violence or religious intolerance. For too long, Israel has allowed the Palestinians to set its national brand, said Livni assistant Ido Aharoni, who is among the leaders of the nation branding process in the Foreign Ministry. It is time that Israel takes matters into its own hand, he added. The Foreign Ministry is now operating under the theory that the former strategy - relying solely on justifying Israel and explaining its position - has been a mistake, Aharoni said. The earlier idea was that people would be swayed to support Israel if they understood the facts, said Aharoni. But conversion has been a harder process than Israel anticipated. Studies have shown that most Americans feel they know Israel, but what they know gives them the wrong idea of what the country is about. Many also do not believe that Israel is relevant. "We want to think out of the box," said David Saranga of the New York Consulate. Since the younger generation gets most of their information from the Internet; Saranga has gone into cyberspace to harness the traffic and to show them everyday life in Israel. He wants to encourage Israelis to post videos on a site for homemade movies called You Tube. Some of that is already happening even without him, said Saranga. Only two weeks ago, he said, a short video by two Israeli girls from Ramle was among the fourth most viewed item on You Tube. The Foreign Ministry has also created a Web site where any Israeli can post a blog (online diary) or a video. According to Saranga, it is unique for a government to sponsor a Web site dedicated to the stories of ordinary citizens. Among the entries on the site are a story about an Israeli reggae artist and one about about the New York openings of the Israeli coffee shop Aroma and the Israeli chocolate shop Max Brenner. "We have to find out how to make Israel more relevant," said Saranga, who has a host of other ideas including targeting publications such as women's magazines, including one by the popular American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, in hopes of having them write stories about Israel. Just the presence of Israel in those magazines in a normative way would go a long way to contradict the stereotype that Israel is a male dominated culture, said Saranga. "The beautiful thing about Israel is that it is a mosaic of different communities. Showing that it is a multicultural place is part of the branding of Israel," said Saranga.

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