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The failure of Brand Israel

Image of Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel [lleewu/Flickr]
Image of Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel [lleewu/Flickr]

More than a decade ago, the Israeli government launched a new strategy that it dubbed “Brand Israel”. This began in 2006 as an effort to improve Israel’s negative image overseas, “by downplaying religion and avoiding any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians.”

This was no simple effort to increase the number of tourists coming to the country. It was a political propaganda campaign which aimed to staunch the long, slow bleed which has led to Israel’s haemorrhaging of political support caused by its violent and oppressive actions against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.

Expensive public relations firms were hired and millions of dollars were spent; all, it seems, in vain. Brand Israel has failed.

In January this year it was reported that tourism to Israel has fallen for the third year in a row. This continued the negative trend that started with Israel’s brutal 2014 military offensive against the people of Gaza, during which the Israelis killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children.

A massive $23 million advertising campaign to attract European tourists to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem “fell flat,” reported Haaretz. More bad news arrived last month, when the tourism ministry had to concede that a big-budget effort to attract Oscar-nominated Hollywood stars to Israel had entirely failed. The ministry invited 26 film stars to the country, aiming to attract them with glitzy tour packages with an estimated value of $55,000 each, but not a single actor took up the offer. Only Jennifer Lawrence made any use of the package; she gave it to her parents.

It was also announced that members of the winning Super Bowl team from America would be going on a trip to Israel; sadly for the Israelis, more than half of the players pulled out. NFL superstar Michael Bennett made specific mention of Israeli injustice towards the Palestinians as his reason for doing so.

Read: BDS and ‘commercial reasons’

While all of this is going on, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has vowed to campaign against Israel until it ends the occupation, gives equal rights to all Palestinians and allows refugees to return. As BDS continues to grow, the Israeli government’s counter-BDS campaign only seems to grow more hysterical, oppressive and ineffective.

With the country still topping global unpopularity polls, Brand Israel has, by any reasonable measure, been a spectacular failure. One of those behind the strategy has been the influential Tel Aviv think tank the Reut Institute. In 2010, its founder gave a PowerPoint presentation which included “Branding Israel”, championed as a key part of a campaign against the global solidarity movement for Palestinian rights. It was part of a greater effort that advocated “attacking” the movement and its “sabotage” by Israeli spy agencies. Since then, anti-BDS efforts have escalated to include increasingly desperate measures, with the Palestinian founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, being arrested on fabricated charges this month in what can only be described as a dirty tricks campaign.

The Reut presentation that advocated “Branding Israel” as a response to the “existential threat” of BDS, and other forms of solidarity with Palestinians, suggested several examples of what it thought would burnish Israel’s “liberal” credentials. These included the animated film Waltz With Bashir, Israeli wine and Idan Raichel, the dreadlocked white Israeli musician.

“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits,” explained one Israeli official. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

Raichel followed this through with an Israeli government-produced tour across Africa in 2012 and 2013. He said in 2008 that he considers himself to be one of Israel’s “cultural ambassadors.” The musician’s liberal credentials fell apart, though, when it became clear that he not only endorsed a fund raising project for Israeli soldiers, but also advocated the torture of Palestinian prisoners; he once said that an Israeli soldier accused of torture deserved a “medal of honour.”

This is quite emblematic of Brand Israel’s total failure. War crimes and apartheid are ultimately quite a hard act to sell. The reason behind Israel’s unpopularity is no secret and has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Israel is losing the battle for hearts and minds not because it has the wrong marketing strategy, but because it treats Palestinians appallingly. This much should be obvious to all but the most unreasonable of people.

That is why the BDS movement goes from strength to strength. It is also why Israel will continue to face the “existential threat” of BDS for as long as it continues to deny basic human rights to Palestinians.

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  • Fasdunkle

    wishful thinking again from Asa

  • Michael Abramov

    Interesting. Asa’s sources are the usual culprits. Haaretz, a left-wing paper. Throughout the ME, a paper like Haaretz would have been shut down and the journalists jailed (Egypt and Yemen are good examples and outside the ME, Turkey).

    However, I will address his points. On the one hand, tourism has dropped. On the other hand, Israel’s economic success as a start-up nation continues to balloon. We do not know exactly why these stars have declined an offer of a $55,000 trip to Israel. Frankly, $55,000 is nothing compared to what they earn per day. So, the lack of take-up may be coincidental.

    On the other hand, there are many rock stars that are ignoring the BDS campaign and journeying to Israel to tour. However, I cannot see the likelihood of Rod Stewart or the Rolling Stones playing in any Arab countries…..they would be too scared.

    • Fasdunkle

      Tourism is down across the area, for obvious reasons.

      • Michael Abramov

        I think we both agree. Fear of being blown up and stabbed.

    • Ken Kelso

      Michael, its silly for Asa to describe the usual ultra looney left wing chanting Haaretz as normal

      Gideon Levy Caught Lying. (Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy, 7/18/04): The heritage of Golda Meir–it was she who said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want–is now having a late and unfortunate revival.

      Fact: Challenged for a source for the virulent quote, Levy acknowledged in an Aug. 12, 2004 e-mail to CAMERA he had none. Therefore we dropped the quotation in the original version in Hebrew and by mistake it was printed in the English version, he stated.
      ———————————-

      Jeffrey Goldberg from the Atlantic on Haaretz from last year.
      Look, when neo-Nazis are e-mailing me links to Haaretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I’m going to take a break, sorry.
      ——————————————

      Amira Hass of Haaretz sets new low by promoting Elder of Zion forgery
      Google this article.

      Haaretz journalist evokes ‘Elders of Zion’ at UK university
      Amira Hass evokes anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at recent UK anti-Israel event – and no one batted an eyelid.
      Ari Soffer, 31/01/16
      ——————————————

      Gideon Levy, Amira Hass and Akiva Eldar wont even criticize when Israelis are lynched.
      Another Israeli journalist at a different newspaper, Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot, wrote in November of 2000 that there are Israeli reporters who do not pass the “lynching test.” These are journalists who could not bring themselves to criticize the Palestinians even when two Israelis were savagely murdered by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah. Which journalists? Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, and Akiva Eldar of Ha’aret
      ——————————————

      Google this article.
      Why Does Haaretz Host a Shrine to a Dead Terrorists?
      Israeli rapper exposes portrait ‘museum exhibit’ of terrorists, asks what would happen if right-wing paper praised murderer of Arabs?
      Shimon Cohen, Ari Yashar, 10/02/15

      • Mike Abramov

        Ken – Haaretz and loony-left anti-Israel Jews, are living in a world of idealism. I would like to suggest to one of these loonies that if Israel reverted back to Palestine, would their support over the previous years mean that they would be welcome inhabitants of the new Palestine?

        I think not.