(photo credit: AP [file])
Like corporate products, nations too can be regarded as brand-names and their standing in the international marketplace evaluated according to a wide range of criteria. That is what the Anholt Nation Brands Index does four times annually for 36 nations. This time Israel too was tested and it came a cropper - last among the 36 and close to rock-bottom in all categories examined.
Israel isn't usually included in this survey but was added this year in a "guest spot." A total of 25,000 consumers were asked to rank the 36 countries in classifications such as tourism, export, cultural heritage, people, investment, immigration and governance. Israel did abysmally in all.
What the NBI shows about Israel's ultra-negative image abroad is not something that would surprise the average Israeli. We sense how unpopular we are. Two years ago Europeans voted Israel "the greatest danger to world peace." Our free and excellent academic institutions alone are singled out for boycott.
We are continually appalled by inimical media coverage of our existential struggle for survival. We hear all too frequently of campaigns to blacklist Israeli products. We know that anti-Semitism is dangerously and frighteningly on the rise worldwide and we realize that its rampant manifestations cannot but impact on the way the Jewish state is perceived.
Mud slung - for whatever reason and however unjustly - sullies. It is common for elites the world over to distance themselves from Israel, regard it with disdain and of late even doubt its legitimacy.
The BBC just conducted a symposium on whether Israel would continue to exist in 50 years. It's hard to imagine such a deliberation being countenanced regarding any other nation. Only Israel's right to life and its self-preservation prospects are questioned.
Moreover, the NBI survey was conducted during the past summer's conflict with Lebanon. Israel suffered particularly bad press which couldn't have done its already unsavory image much good (although Anholt plans to retest Israel at "a quieter period" just to double-check).
Israel's prestige is clearly severely battered. Only Bhutan, another "guest" BNI participant, has in the past scored as low as Israel, though that was ascribed to Bhutan's anonymity. Israel, however, experiences the reverse affliction - excessive notoriety.
Nevertheless, this does not account, for instance, for why respondents would place Israel last on the list of places they view as possessing a cultural heritage. Israel's negative image seems to have reached exceptionally beyond anything which can be explained even by its unfavorable circumstances.
Unfortunately, some in government have long regarded the battle against vilification as a priori lost and therefore as something to dismiss or downplay. It too often seems as though Israel no longer really tries too earnestly to facelift its image.
Such defeatism must be resisted. It's akin to a political candidate who avoids responding to relentless smears and negative campaigning by his adversary. Reluctance to face up to the challenge is interpreted as admission of fault.
Though the odds undeniably weigh heavily against Israel, given how long we have neglected the task, there is no excuse for failing to mount a spirited counter-offensive. And we are not talking solely here about the Foreign Ministry's current, much hyped rebranding initiative. Highlighting vibrant, multi-dimensional Israel, not just a land of conflict and violence, is a step in the right direction. Also urgently needed are creative approaches to defending against our detractors and making our case.
Anholt predicts that even the cleverest counter-offensive may take 30 years to yield tangible results. Perhaps, but we can at least try for a quicker turnaround.
One thing is certain: If we don't try, nothing will improve and Israel will have an increasingly hard time winning acceptance, attracting tourism, selling its products, conducting scientific research or engaging in cultural dialogue - in short, keeping its rightful place among the family of nations.