By HASKELL NUSSBAUM
The "Brand Israel" campaign launched by the Foreign Ministry in Toronto last September has officially ended, and initial evaluations of its impact have begun.
The campaign, which aimed to create awareness of Israel in a context other than the Arab-Israeli conflict, showcased Israeli creativity, archeological history and technological prowess.
While it remains too early to conclude whether the campaign fulfilled its main goal (the poll numbers have yet to be crunched), one unintended result is clear: Brand Israel has, ironically, kicked up a storm of conflict-related politics.
Word of the Brand Israel campaign became a siren call for anti-Israel forces, both Canadian and foreign; calls to boycott Israel were heard from Canadian public union officials and from church committees; anti-Israel activity on campuses resulted in Jewish students being physically threatened at a Toronto university; an academic conference was organized that directly targeted the idea of Israel as a Jewish State; and a Palestinian drive to delegitimize Israel's connection to the Dead Sea Scrolls (being temporarily exhibited at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum) included a letter from the Palestinian Authority itself. Finally, as the year drew to a close, a number of celebrities attacked the decision of the Toronto International Film Festival to spotlight Tel Aviv, accusing the festival of being a 'tool' of the Brand Israel campaign.
IN EVERY case, pro-Israel forces rallied and, mostly, carried the day. Reports of proposed boycotts galvanized the Jewish and pro-Israel communities and resulted in an enormous volume of ticket sales for the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, sold-out cases of Israeli wine at a local store being picketed by a boycott-Israel crowd, and church resolutions being defeated or put on hold. In the case of the film festival, all three major Toronto newspapers came out against those opposing Tel Aviv.
With all this activity, it's fair to say that, if nothing else, Brand Israel succeeded in exposing the true natures of Israel's enemies. A campaign focused on Israeli technology and arts resulted in a counter-campaign attacking its right to exist. Israeli films provoked charges of Israel being a racist regime. Even casual observers of the rant against the film festival, for example, could discern that if Tel Aviv, founded in 1909, is illegitimate, then Israel in its entirety is illegitimate. Thus exposed, the enemies of Israel were even mocked for being "boring" in one major Toronto paper.
The campaign also succeeded in rallying pro-Israel forces across Canada. E-mail campaigns proved effective in gathering supporters and countering boycotts, sales of Israeli products soared, and the media became cognizant of the anti-Israel and, all too often, anti-Semitic flavor of the boycott attempts. Considering that the year included a war in Gaza and all of the negative stories swirling around that narrative, Israel's PR successes in Canada are astonishing.
But was it worthwhile? Were any hearts and minds changed? Should Israeli missions around the world replicate this program? An already tough year for Torontonian supporters of Israel was arguably made tougher by the Brand Israel campaign. Then again, it is certainly arguable that Brand Israel provided a platform for exposing the real agenda of Israel's enemies.
The ball is now in the Foreign Ministry's court. It can choose to scrap, quietly copy or loudly herald the program in a new city. Personally, I'm betting on a quiet deployment, avoiding much of the PR war that characterized Toronto.
It is, after all, supposed to avoid conflict.
The writer is author of 101+ Ways to Help Israel: A Guide to Doing Small Things That Can Make Big Differences
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