The Brand of Milk & Honey: Connecting people to Israel

Itzik Yarkoni and his organization are taking a new approach to Israel’s desperate need for a new image.

The Brand of Milk & Honey 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Brand of Milk & Honey 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Itzik Yarkoni and his organization, The Brand of Milk & Honey, are taking a new approach to Israel’s desperate need for a new image.
The need to rebrand Israel is nothing new – many agencies have tried to do so, but so far their efforts seem to be ineffective. When traveling here, tourists are still asked by concerned friends if it is really safe to come to the Jewish state.
Once here, it becomes evident that the country is not a battlefield – so why do people so frequently think that? Amir Gissin, formerly Israel’s consul-general in Toronto and a Foreign Ministry senior official, says, “The question ‘Is it safe?’ is legitimate. The question itself is relevant; the problem is that the only thing that people know about Israel is that it’s a matter of safety. And that is because Israel is being presented mostly through the conflict context, and many times it looks like a war zone. So people ask if it’s safe.”
According to Yarkoni, The Brand of Milk & Honey’s founder, the problem is that “not enough people share their experience in Israel. That’s why so many people get their information from the news. The news will not speak about good stuff; they like to take the rockets, the terrorist attacks but they won’t talk as much about Google buying [Israeli startup] Waze.”
Gissin says that in Toronto 30 percent of the residents feel positively about Israel, 20% feel negatively about Israel, and half don’t know the first thing about Israel.
Yarkoni says these kinds of numbers are created because “the media only speaks about the negative things. The problem is that when we look at the media and the Internet, then we have a negative image of Israel.”
However, that explanation leaves out a key part of the data: the 50% who aren’t engaged positively or negatively. “It’s not that I think its not important to fight anti-Semitism, it’s that most of the resources in the Jewish world are going in that direction,” Gissin tells The Jerusalem Post. “It doesn’t achieve much, but all of the potential of the 50% who don’t have any opinion are just being neglected. We just leave them. We enlist so much money is fighting BDS [the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] that we just ignore over 50% that never heard of BDS – and don’t care.”
Yarkoni believes the biggest issue is that “the brand of Israel is determined by other countries and other organizations.
They’re determining what Israel is, and we’re just replying.
The strategy of hasbara [public diplomacy] is really just explaining.
There are a lot of organizations that are trying to defend Israel, but they’re not proactive. They’re waiting for others to say what Israel is and then to reply.”
“If you don’t care about Israel and the Palestinians, you don’t like conflict, then to begin with, 90% of all we do is irrelevant to those people. And the 10% that might be relevant is not blown up and supported enough,” says Gissin.
Both agree that the current methods aren’t working, and that an effective method is hard to find.
Previously, in The Jerusalem Post Magazine, writer Dan Illouz shared Yarkoni’s opinion that the government is not going to be able to tackle this issue. Whether it is because of bureaucracy, as Illouz says, or accusations of propaganda, as Yarkoni says, the government is not the answer to the questions that are plaguing Israel. As Illouz states: “Public diplomacy must come from the public,” and this is what Yarkoni is working towards.
“We realized that the brand of Israel could be made of personal stories. We get messages from the media, the government, but now we’re hearing it from the people. We encourage people to understand that Israel is not conflict only, it is not all negative – it’s a lot of personal stories and amazing experiences.”
Yarkoni says that the recent closing of the Public Diplomacy Ministry was a step in the right direction. “I believe that the government can’t do good advocacy,” Yarkoni tells the Post. “People think its propaganda, but a person telling his story is much more strong and effective.”
In order to combat this issue, Yarkoni decided to do things a little differently, beginning with BOMAH. He is hoping to move away from government and advocacy, and start using personal stories and social media to help rebrand Israel.
The goal is not necessarily to change the minds of those who have already formed strong opinions, but to give another side of the story to impressionable outsiders who have yet to form an opinion of Israel. The answer is not to be reactive and let others decide how Israel will be branded, but to be proactive.
“People read our stories and say: ‘I never thought that Israel could be a cool place for an internship. I never thought of Israel as a cool place for art.’ I’m getting emails from a lot of people – not all of them Jewish – seeing Israel as different brand, in a different light,” Yarkoni explains.
Gissin, a veteran in the fight to rebrand Israel, notes that Yarkoni and BOMAH are on the right track. “The change will come on the grassroots level, with the understanding that the keyword is relevancy.”