If it wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be funny. Israel, long known for its ceaseless efforts to inform the world of its good intentions through its propaganda apparatus known as hasbarah, has supposedly abandoned the effort. Or at least, it’s attempting to reframe the message, to use numbing political jargon all the rage here. So hasbara is out and ‘rebranding’ is in:
After decades of battling to win foreign support for its two-fisted policies against Arab foes, Israel is trying a new approach with a campaign aimed at creating a less warlike and more welcoming national image.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has argued that the protracted conflict with the Palestinians is sapping Israel’s international legitimacy, this week convened diplomats and PR executives to come up with ways of “rebranding” the country.
“When the word ‘Israel’ is said outside its borders, we want it to invoke not fighting or soldiers, but a place that is desirable to visit and invest in, a place that preserves democratic ideals while struggling to exist,” Livni said.
The campaign is a departure from the government’s long-held practice of “hasbara,” or “explaining” itself to Western audiences that may have little sympathy for crackdowns on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Now Israel wants to create an alternative image abroad, focused exclusively on assets like tourist attractions and business innovations. In the words of one campaigner and ad executive, the aim would be to create “a narrative of normalcy.”
“Israelis feel the need to explain themselves, to prove that they are in the right, but this doesn’t always create empathy,” said Guy Toledano, who represents British PR firm Saatchi & Saatchi and is helping the Foreign Ministry free of charge.
You’re damn straight it doesn’t create empathy. Why should anyone in the world feel empathy for a government that empties its wrath and warplanes on its neighbors?
I also like ever so much the Orwellian “narrative of normalcy.” Actually, the phrase sounds like it comes out of the Bush PR-propaganda game plan for Iraq. We had a narrative of normalcy there too. But unfortunately reality impinged in the worst way. Of course, it impinges on Israel too. You can’t just play a game of smoke and mirrors and make Israel’s lunatic war against Lebanon and its forced strangulation of Gaza disappear only to be replaced with frolicking maidens playing volleyball on a Tel Aviv beach. That may work with Israel’s fiercest supporters in the Diaspora. But it will not work for the rest of us. And finally, the idea of Israel as “normal” is rich. I suppose if you see the Middle East as a lunatic asylum then Israel is normal, being just another one of the inmates. But the nation cannot be said to be “normal” in the normal sense of the term.
To be clear, I’m not intending to say that the Israeli people are not “normal.” But the situation into which they and their government have led themselves is the absolute antithesis of normal. And no amount of flackery will change that. Only good policy, courageous decisions, and visionary leadership can do that. Negotiations can do that. Compromise can do that. Peace can do that. PR cannot no matter how hard you try.
And the PR consultants hired by the Israeli foreign ministry don’t seem to have a clue what they doing:
“The process of getting a new image to be internalized is a world unto itself. I can’t say right now that we know exactly how we are going to do it,” Toledano said.
Luckily this “advice” Israel is getting is free. Otherwise, I’d say quit while you’re ahead and before you waste another kopek on these guys.
The foreign ministry PR flack too is trying to convince us that the sun is really the moon and that it is night when it is, in fact, broad daylight:
In the wake of 9/11, the objective now is to place Israel among the coalition of the moderates, facing off against Islamic radicalism,” Gissin said.
Israel among the “moderates?” Gissin may’ve gotten the Islamic radicalism part right. But Israel is not moderate compared to them. In reality, Israel is their direct antithesis, a western anti-Islamic force adopting a harsh and radical response to any perceived hostility against it. As such, Israel is a radical among radicals.
All of this comes from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been at odds with Ehud Olmert’s iron fist almost from the beginning of the Lebanon war. This initiative is her attempt to strike out on her own and show the rest of the hawks in his cabinet that there is an alternative softer version that Israel could and should be projecting to the world. The only problem is that since she does not have the ear of Olmert (who perceived her as disloyal for not flacking hard enough for the disastrous Lebanese misadventure) she cannot change policy. It is the policy that is the problem, not the atmospherics. Change the policy and the need for puffery ends.