Public, business perception of Israel unchanged by Palestinian conflict - survey

Israel's innovation economy is credited with keeping this public perception positive, acting as a "perception Iron Dome."

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Despite widespread expectations to the contrary, Israel's recent round of fighting with Hamas in Operation Guardian of the Walls did little, if anything, to influence global perspectives regarding the Jewish state, according to a newly-released survey by Vibe Israel.

The survey was taken in collaboration with Bloom Consulting among people aged 25-44, Millenials, between August and September 2021, three months after Operation Guardian of the Walls but while Israel was battling its fourth COVID-19 wave.

While many debates over the exact outcome of Operation Guardian of the Walls, it was widely accepted in Israel and among Diaspora Jews that in terms of public relations for the Jewish state, the conflict had been an unmitigated disaster. The crisis over what was widely perceived as a hasbara nightmare has even led to how Israel and many organizations work to help the country's public image.

But despite this, it seems that many felt their opinions on Israel haven't changed. Rather, in some cases, it even saw a slight improvement. 

Regarding businesspeople, who were over half the people surveyed, over a third (34%) expressed that their view of Israel changed for the better over the past year. For 5%, that positive change was actually due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

 IRON DOME interceptors destroy rockets launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel in the skies over Ashkelon in May. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS) IRON DOME interceptors destroy rockets launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel in the skies over Ashkelon in May. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

By contrast, just 7.6% of respondents say their opinion of Israel worsened over the year, and just 3% pointed to the conflict.

In addition, conflict wasn't even the first thing that people seem to think of when they think of the Jewish state, which is a notable change from previous years.

According to over a third (38.3%) of the general public, which was the other demographic surveyed, the first thing that came to mind when thinking of Israel was religion and religious sites. Trouble, violence and warfare were just the first things for 16.33%.

“In the past, the first image that came to mind when hearing the word Israel was conflict. What we are seeing now is a continuation of a trend identified in Vibe Israel’s first annual report in 2018, where the first image that came to mind is religion,” Vibe Israel founder and CEO Joanna Landau explained.

“As there is currently a mega-trend of millennials and Gen Z moving away from organized religion, the trend away from conflict is good, but towards religion is not necessarily a plus, as religion alone doesn’t serve as a major attraction for the next generation.”

For businesspeople, though, who were asked what the first thing they thought of Israel was from a business perspective, the largest response (12.94%) replied with innovation and R&D, rather than religion like in previous years.

The reason for this change, according to Vibe Israel, is due to "the success of Israel's innovation-based economy and the promotion of this success by its ecosystem."

This is reflected in other parts of the survey as well.

Businesspeople ranked Israel highly in terms of a place to invest, giving Israel a rank of 3.64 out of 5.

Regarding the perception of made-in-Israel products, businesspeople gave a rating of 3.69, compared to the general public's ranking of 3.34.

Regarding doing business with or buying products and services from Israeli companies and brands, a wide majority (81%) of the general public group said yes, with the main reason cited by over a quarter (28.8%) being the quality of these services and products.

But would people refrain from these companies and brands due to not supporting Israel?

According to the survey, only 6.8% would do so, something VibeIsrael notes as a "staggeringly low number," especially when considering how recently this survey was conducted after Operation Guardian of the Walls.

“This shows, for the first time, that Innovation and R&D have surpassed religion as a main association,” Vibe Israel USA president and CEO Becca Hurowitz explained.

“This indicates, once again, that Innovation is serving as a perception Iron Dome. This is the net result of Israel’s business sector’s marketing initiatives and the Jewish community’s promotion of Israel’s innovation. Both are bearing fruit.”

But the survey has seemingly indicated that the perception of poor Israeli public relations may not be entirely unwarranted.

According to the general population, nearly half (43%) haven't heard anything positive or good about Israel for two years. Of those who had, 16.61% said it was about innovation and the economy.

So why haven't more people heard any good news about Israel?

According to Vibe Israel, the reason is that the country isn't doing enough to promote itself more, especially to younger people. 

Indeed, despite 2021 being the most successful year for Israel's hi-tech sector, just 10% of the general public could name an Israeli brand or company.

For businesspeople, over a third (34%) could name one, with the most commonly named being Fiverr (7.3%), Teva (6.5%), Wix (4.9%), Ahava (3.2%) and SodaStream (2.5%). However, when presented with the names of different companies and asked to say where they came from, around half of businesspeople incorrectly identified certain Israeli companies as being from the US or UK.

“If Israeli companies only have name value among the Israelis themselves and the Jewish Diaspora, then Israel will continue not to enjoy the positive halo of the tremendous success of Israel’s tech community,” Hurowitz said.

“The American mass market deserves to hear about what Israel has been doing during the global pandemic that has hit everyone very hard.”

But overall, the findings were positive.

According to Landau, the findings "proved us wrong in a most wonderful way," and noted that it is important to "operate according to hard data rather than personal opinion, especially after a major crisis."

She  added: " It is very important that our community, as a whole, define the conversation about Israel, in our own positive and authentic terms, rather than let anti-Israel voices take the lead."

According to Hurowitz, the survey also indicated that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is not as effective as many worry, and it is Israeli innovation that is keeping public perception towards Israel positive.

“Israel has faced many challenges and obstacles throughout its history, including external efforts to inflame public opinion,” Hurowitz noted. 

 “Regardless of these efforts, the general public and business community in the US are more interested than ever in doing business with Israel and its companies and to buying Israeli products. Essentially, Israel’s innovation economy is serving as a perception Iron Dome, safeguarding Israel’s global reputation just as the Iron Dome protects its people.”