Branding Israel? Not at a time of war

During times of war the goal of every participant is to defeat the enemy. In particular, in the intellectual war, the goal is to defeat the enemy’s concepts and narratives.

Hasbara advocacy370 (photo credit: (Courtesy Israel Campus Beat))
Hasbara advocacy370
(photo credit: (Courtesy Israel Campus Beat))
This week I participated in the “Step up for Israel” Summit organized by the local New Jersey Jewish Federation. One of the main concepts promoted by the Summit was “Branding Israel.” The idea was that most people are exhausted by the constant flow of negative news from Israel. According to this theory, accentuating the positive about Israel using the most sophisticated techniques of branding, social media, and marketing would reverse the trend of delegitimization, BDS, and Israel-hatred. I find that this concept does not withstand any serious critique.
First, the idea of promoting a positive picture of Israel is not new. The entire past decade was full of organizational advice to pro-Israel students on college campuses to emphasize the good things about Israel. Students were encouraged to avoid direct confrontation with anti-Semitic critics of Israel. Rather, they were told that if the claims of pro-Arab students were not addressed, they would simply go away. You can catch more flies with honey, students were assured. We see the disastrous results of these policies everywhere. The anti-Israel (read anti-Semitic) rhetoric on American campuses is as strong as ever. Many Jewish students are intimidated into hiding their support of Israel, and sometimes even their Jewish identity. The branding and marketing of Israel is simply the re-packaging of the same idea of promoting the positives into a more sophisticated exterior. Therefore, we do not need to experiment with how this massive effort and expenditure of communal funds will turn out. We have been there. It has failed.
The idea of promoting the positives does not work for several reasons. It does not work intellectually and morally, because for every “Israeli cuisine is first-class,” you will get “but they stole Palestinian land.” Promoting the “vibrant gay culture of Tel Aviv” will be met with “they degrade the Palestinians’ dignity at checkpoints.” And “Israel outlawed underweight models” will bring “they are racists promoting apartheid.” You cannot cancel a moral argument by avoiding a confrontation with those who raise it. Fortunately, Israel has unbeatable moral arguments and a sense of right behind its actions. All we have to do is create a level playing field, and make sure that our voices are not drowned out by the screams of those who do not let us speak. When we want to energize our pro-Israel base and attract people (Jewish and non-Jewish) to our cause, promoting positives alone will not do. The sense of right and moral certainty is necessary to inspire people to fight the anti-Semitic bullies on campus, in academia, and in the media.
There is another reason that marketing and branding Israel is not going to make a dent in popular perception of the country. Marketing and branding are purely civilian concepts. They are not applicable in times of war. Don’t be fooled by the lack of rockets falling and bullets flying on college campuses. The war against Israel is at full swing. This is a political, intellectual, and educational war. The goal of this war, financed by oil-rich Arab countries, is to annihilate Israel, first psychologically and then physically. And the use of civilian concepts during such a war is a strategic mistake.
During times of war the goal of every participant is to defeat the enemy. In particular, in the intellectual war, the goal is to defeat the enemy’s concepts and narratives. Therefore for Israel, the goal is to advance the Zionist narrative and defeat the Arab narrative. It is simply not sufficient to admit that each side has a different perspective on the same historic events as exemplified by the opposing narratives of the creation of Israel and the Naqba. We have to state unequivocally that we are the true indigenous people of the land of Israel; that we have unassailable legal, moral, and political rights to our land; that since the creation of Israel, Jews have pursued peace, but were confronted with fanatical and genocidal hatred. Despite numerous Arab attempts to annihilate Israel, we survived and defeated our attackers. We must state that Arabs living in the land of Israel do not have legal, moral, or political rights to a state of their own. We have to dispute, deconstruct, and defeat the Arab narrative for the fabrication and fraud that it is.
Confronting our attackers will require courage. It is much easier to avoid the fight and promote the nice beaches and gourmet restaurants of Tel Aviv. But we must do the former if we want Israel to survive.
Where do we start? Inviting pro-Israel Zionist speakers to college campuses, synagogues, churches, and local federations is a good start. Social and traditional media would be then used to disseminate the message.
Several individuals who presented at the “Step up for Israel” Summit were truly impressive in their talent and knowledge of social media, current internet trends and promotional ideas. I only hope that they will use their talents in a way that will make a difference.
The author is a New Jersey physician and a pro-Israel activist.