Thursday, 5 July 2007

Branding Israel

It’s a question that we’ve been asking ourselves for 40 years: Why is it that we're so bad at PR? I might be a little biased, but even when I try really hard to be objective, I'm still convinced that Israel has a pretty good case. But when it comes to the media, foreign governments and hearts & minds in general, the Palestinians have done a far better job at making themselves heard.

Everything seems to be a PR disaster for us. So much so that we resort to getting some Israeli girls to strip down and model for lads’ mags as “sexy Israeli soldiers”. This might be a bit of harmless fun, but quite embarrassing to have come from an Israeli diplomat, as an official Israeli hasbara initiative. Why is it that no one considers even West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that the BBC even felt the need to apologise when a sports presenter referred to it as such? Why is it that Israel has to defend its “right to exist”, a phrase never used for any other country?

I was driving through a predominantly Arab neighbourhood of Lod on the way to work when I spotted a house at the side of the road. It was a pretty large house, probably owned by one of the town’s more well to do residents, or perhaps simply home to a very large extended family. In the brickwork there was a plaque marking the year it was built (1990) and with an illustration of the Dome of the Rock. The Palestinians love imagery. Every Palestinian official sits in an office with a picture of Jerusalem fixed to the wall. And what have they talked about non-stop for the past forty years? Three things. Jerusalem, the Occupation and refugees. They go on and on about them and find a way of attaching everything that happens to one (or two or three) of them. As far as marketing is concerned, continuously reiterating your key messages is the secret to building up a brand. Ask anyone about the Palestinians and they will know that they stand for these three things.

What about Israel? What are our key messages? Hmmm. We want peace… or at least no war or perhaps separation. We love Jerusalem even though most of us don’t talk about it or even visit it very often. We’re good at science and technology. But our most important message – the one we always like to focus on – is that we want to be accepted by the world. That’s all, just accepted.

So put your feet in the shoes of a neutral and ask yourself, ‘Whose message would convince you?’

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