Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Israel Has To Fight The Brand War Now

Israel is at war, and a lot of people seem to want the country to simply lay down its arms and drop dead. These people say Israel is somehow just a bad, illegitimate, criminal country:

  • Global media like The Independent (UK) writes that Israel can't "get away with murder" anymore in the social media age. 
  • Mainstream American media like USA Today adds that the country plans to openly subsidizes propaganda, just like China.
  • Jewish-sounding organizations like "Jewish Voice For Peace" show bloody pictures of Palestinian children on Twitter, writing statuses like "Though Israel pounds their homes to rubble, their spirit remains unscathed."
  • Social media is alive with hateful comments such as those on Whisper, calling for Israel to be "nuked."
  • All of the above are magnified by a seemingly endless series of comments, photos and links to each other.

I am Jewish. I believe that Israel is being targeted, should defend herself and has an inherent right to exist.

At the same time, like everybody else, I feel for the Palestinians and do not have an answer to their plight. I do know this: This war is an incredibly tragic one, but it is also one that terrorists have provoked and want to maintain until Israel is destroyed. And they are fighting on every front, including with incendiary propaganda.

Israel could fight back on the PR side, but doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of it. I think it is culturally averse to doing this job, and finds it somehow below its dignity; or even perhaps untruthful by nature. I think also the nation may be overconfident in relying on its version of things, e.g. the obvious fact that Hamas is a ruthless and determined enemy.

Another factor, looking at it from the outside, may relate to a kind of organizational dynamics. That is, because Israel is trying so hard to avoid civilian casualties (e.g. "it's not our fault"), it somehow underestimates the gravity with which people view the Palestinians' plight.

Whatever the reason for Israel's failure on this front, it's setting the country back. No matter what happens on the battlefield, human sympathy matters. And Hamas is using the people not only as human shields but inflating the body count to pump the public's tears. It's working.

Here are 10 ideas that Israel may want to consider, therefore:
  1. Stop apologizing. Israel has a tendency to apologize, negotiate publicly, try to prove that it is merciful and good, and so on. Why? The enemy is a bunch of killers. Treat them as such.
  2. Take control of the story. Israel needs to stop reacting to what others say about it, and start telling the narrative that it wants and needs to tell. Why is it that non-Jewish academics, journalists and activists seem so comfortable doing this for us, but so many Jews not only are uncomfortable backing Israel, but tend to join anti-Israel protests?
  3. Focus on the essential truth. Palestinians are victims - of terrorists, not Israelis, who keep trying to make peace treaty after peace treaty. It is well known that Palestinians who cooperate with Israel are viewed as disloyal and face incredible brutality from within. Israel needs to focus on and tell that story and not allow anyone to portray this as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a civilian-terrorist conflict.
  4. Stop going it alone. Israelis tend to avoid asking for help or portraying themselves as part of a network of linked allies. We live in a networked world though, where people are not trusted unless they can portray the ability to get along with others. Israel's allies speak as much or more for it, as Israel itself.
  5. Celebrate Jewish nationhood. Israel is famously tolerant and diverse. But there is also a place for celebrating the reason that the State was established, e.g. that Jews should have a national homeland. Israel could do so much more to be proud of its reason for existence, publicly.
  6. Focus on archetypes as much as facts. Israel needs to get much more in touch with American thinking and pop culture, which is subtle, more emotional and focused on externals. And then include facts and figures as supporting information. Israelis right now tend to talk a lot about facts and figures and shy away from show business. Unfortunately a certain amount of showmanship is unavoidable. 
  7. Don't oversell. In the non-insane social media world, people have a natural understanding for the territorial integrity of Israel as a nation and also a belief that it should be preserved as a Jewish state. There is no reason to argue the obvious - when you do that what happens is that you create doubt in the minds of your supporters.
  8. Get unified. There is an old cliche, "two Jews, three synagogues," and the tendency to debate and disagree is extremely valid for Israelis and Jews in general. Unfortunately, so is the tendency to hate oneself simply because one is Jewish (internalized anti-Semitism.) If the Jewish people cannot agree on the notion that Israel is a legitimate state, and that the problem is terrorism, how can we expect the rest of the world to?
  9. Don't compete for victimhood. No two brands can operate in the same space. The Palestinians, for better or for worse, own the status of "victim." Portraying images of kidnapped yeshiva students or slain Israeli soldiers does not provoke sympathy but rather the opposite, rage that the "oppressor" seems to value its own lives over the quantitatively higher number of lives lost on the other side.
  10. Stop the glitz. Instead of branding campaigns aimed at portraying Israel a certain way - e.g. as a high-tech center or a tourist destination - open the doors to the world and let the media, social media, movie and TV cameras in. The aim is to dislodge the terrorist narrative, which has it that Israelis are an evil cartoon character. In reality, the state is complex, full of good and bad and fascinating and frankly the utterly confusing. Social media would show the impossibility, in many ways, of trying to secure a tiny state while also humanely fighting an enemy full of trained dedicated killers who are also held hostage to the cause by their communities.
* All opinions my own. 
** This article may be reprinted with attribution.