Today, at the Herzliya Conference, one session was held on strategic communications for Israel. In other words, Israel’s hasbara, or PR, problem. We all know that Israel has a serious PR problem. Israel is, almost always, painted in the worst of lights. There are times when criticism may be legitimate. However, often Israel is portrayed in ways that make even the world’s worst dictatorships seem like rainbows and puppies. Israel, as a nation, has a serious legitimacy problem. No other nation in the world faces questions as to its right to self-defense and right to exist, nor do other nations face threats of eradication from many of its neighbors. Nor is any other country as much in the spotlight as is Israel. So how can Israel change this situation? What can bring Israel to be seen in the media by a better light? Here are some ideas presented at the Herzliya Conference to get the discussion started.

Josef Joffe criticized that Israel has a tendency to sit back, and refuse to talk to people who would attack us. “…When somebody like Goldstone comes around, why sit back, and pout, and refuse all cooperation? Every two-bit lawyer knows when you are in court you talk. You don’t just sit back and pout. You try to structure the dialogue and the discourse.”

Ido Aharoni discussed the problem of Israel’s brand, as being solely associated with the conflict. “Every place has a brand. Israel has a brand, too. A brand can be a very strong band and can be a detriment. We set out to explore the question: if Paris is about romance then Israel is about what? And what we  we discovered was very interesting. We discovered that universally Israel’s DNA is about the conflict and the context within which Israel is being perceived is all about bad news. Whether you agree with Israeli policies or not is irrelevant. We have great story to tell, but when we’re given a chance the only thing we do is discuss the conflict and its a turn-off even amongst our biggest supporters.”

Eyal Arad discussed the three problems, that he sees, that Israel has in changing its image. “We have basically three problems that doom us to remain in that situation… The first requirement that we need in order to build image, change image, deal with images, is to understand the flow of information about our product; in this case, our country. Add to that, the fact that Jews were, and will probably continue to be, news. So for  the media bad news is good news. They look for the bad news. Jews are news. So bad Jews is probably great news.

“Our second problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What is it that we really want to communiticate? What is our target? Now, do we want to get Jews to come and live in Israel? Do we want to be an immigration country, so what we want to do is convince people that Israel is the best place, at least convince Jew,s that Israel is the best place for them ? Do we want to get tourists to Israel? Do we want to make business? Do we want to attract certain kinds of business partnerships? Do we want to convince people that we’re just? What is it that we want to achieve through our communications?

“The third problem that we have… and the third problem is probably the most important problem, and this is the reason we fail to address the two former problems, is that we don’t have a client. When we try to deal with Israel’s information campaign, you really don’t have a client. Israel’s problem, and I agree that our main problem in the world today have become a legitimacy problem. It’s not that people do not think that our policies are right,  it’s that people question whether we should exist or continue to exist in the first place. We are more and more becoming the South Africa of the 21st century. ”

Martin Kace took a different view. He brought forth the idea that the conflict should be a part of Israel’s brand. “A brand, when it comes to a nation, has to be true. That’s requirement number one. In order to establish truth, one does not go to the rest of the world, to the clients, as it were, one first speaks to the designers, the manufacturers, and the live-ers of that brand, in this case, the citizens of the State of Israel. Israel, with such an amazing, creative community, to me, is a very frustrating element. The Israeli creative community is not engaged in communicating the essence of this country. To the rest of the world, there is no Israel beyond the conflict. And, if you went and did a massive survey of every Israeli, I can guarantee you, that the conflict, and that war, security, walls, concrete, etc., will be as much descriptors of how Israelis themselves describe the country, as it is for people abroad. I, genuinely, believe that there is not such a wide gap between how we perceive ourselves and how the world, at large, does perceives us, in the same light. Israel’s communications need to embody the conflict. Israel’s brand lies in its difficulties, lies in it ts challenges; the conflict is such an integral part of what Israel is about. Before we talk to the French, before we talk to Americans, before we talk to the the British, the Chinese, the Japanese, or anyone, we need to understand what our brand is, ourselves. Once we’ve understood that, and once that rings true to all Israelis, we have a platform. Right now, our platform is, no, we’re not that Levantine conflict-ridden place, as you see us; we’re actually just like you. That’s nonsense. We’re not just like anybody. We’re absolutely unique.”

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  • thanks for the detailed updates, dahlia. did you catch fayyad’s speech – what did you think of it? how are peeps at the conference reacting to it?

  • wrote one about that too. It was posted be a couple of hours after the one on Fayad. The article in the Guardian is seriously misleading. As someone who was there, I can assure you that Barak did not call Israel an “apartheid” state. Rather, he said that if there won’t be a Palestinian state, and with the number of people who identify themselves as Palestinians steadily increasing, if a Palestinian state is not created, the result will be one of two things, both of which are unacceptable; the first is a non-Jewish state, and the second is an “apartheid-like” state. People generally liked his speech. It was fairly neutral, with very little flagrant, or at least controversial, politics involved.

  • Israel will not have good hasbara until the secular Israelis doing that hasbara are willing to reach back and connect to this nation’s previous “branding” – as the Jewish People.

    Until then we will endure this absurdity: the children of Arab migrants and squatters spinning a “Palestinian” identity out of thin air, while Israelis tie themselves up by refusing to connect their new “brand” the the Jews who lived here before.

    Notice how Israeli hasbara always stops short at the Holocaust. As if there is nothing before, no previous connection to this land.

    No wonder more and more people believe the Palis are the authentic residents of this place. There is nothing more inauthentic than an Israeli “brand” self-consciously scrubbed of any overt Jewishness.

  • A comprehensive, integrated branding communications strategy is as important as any IDF strategic policy.
    If it is not given this kind of signifigance internally, then it is doomed from the beginning. It not complex, but it is difficult. There are specific steps to its creation and execution. Part of the problem lies in a kind of “attitude” that Israelis don’t need help and they already know what to do. My question would be “how’s that working for you so far on the national scene of public opinion?” Isreali has a temendously colorful and meaninginful story to tell regardless of the Palestinian issue. Every country has issues. The key is to see reality and tell the truth well. Glad to help.

    Ben May
    Noble Calling
    Orlando, Florida USA

  • Hasbar•tising

    A word blend combines portions of two existing words to make a new word with the potential for new interpretations. For example, getting invited to brunch, as opposed to “breakfast” or “lunch” promises a more informal time structure and, perhaps, a glass of champagne to boot.

    Hasbartising is also a word blend that attempts to break free of the limitations of its roots. Hasbartising combines the Hebrew word “Hasbara” (to present the truth about Israel) with “Advertising” (a communication intended to persuade viewers to take some action.) Through combining information with personal action, Hasbartising has the potential to become a new, powerful method to build connection between Americans and Israel.

    Traditional Hasbara efforts highlight Israel’s unchallenged status as an oasis of democracy in the Middle East. Often cited are Israeli innovations in technology, medicine and the environment, and Israel’s enlightened treatment of its LGBT, women and Arab citizens. While these positive messages continue to be enthusiastically disseminated by Israel supporters everywhere, the overall community effort has been unsuccessful at stemming one-track media coverage of Israel’s dispute with the Palestinian people. Mention Israel in conversation, and most people, including many Jews, will think of “the conflict” first.

    During the last few years, organizations like BlueStar have ramped up the creativity and the volume of disseminating Hasbara-style messages on campus, the internet and on billboards overlooking busy highways. Many Israel supporters have responded positively – grateful that “finally someone is doing something” about Israel’s tarnished image. However, even these high-profile efforts to show the positive sides of Israel have not been able to alter perceptions about Israel for most Americans.

    While many people may find the content of these Hasbara messages to be fascinating, they do not know how to use the information in their daily lives or ever. Blunt survey feedback to BlueStar’s public space campaigns have included comments like the following, “Why are you telling me that Israel is a leader in solar technology? What is your goal?…Why am I supposed to care about Israel’s successes? I am not an elected official, so why tell me?”

    It may be difficult for some Israel supporters to understand Hasbara’s limitations until they imagine how they might respond with similar disinterest to billboards touting women’s rights in Papua New Guinea, or how researchers in Uruguay have discovered novel uses for recycled automobile tires.

    Successful consumer advertising works differently. Whether an ad asks you to purchase a particular brand of toothpaste, or to solicit your vote for a political candidate, or to encourage you to stop smoking, the goal is clear: get the viewer “to take some action.” Changing perceptions is great, but it does not make the cash register ring until the viewer takes an action. Contrary to the fears of many Israel supporters, BlueStar’s initial attempts at Hasbartising show that Americans are ready and willing to take action in their relationship with Israel.

    For examples, when we erected a billboard in downtown San Francisco showing five young women walking down a fashionable, tree-lined street in Tel Aviv combined with the words, “Visit Israel,” we heard feedback like, “Why not? I never considered it before,” and “Who knew Israel had trees?” and “I didn’t know that they were outdoor cafés in Israel.” No one needed to think beyond the easy-to-understand request to “visit Israel” about our motives or goals for the campaign. People understood the call to action as they took in the simple everyday scenes showing an unfamiliar Israel, one with shopping streets, green trees and women in skirts.

    On campuses challenged by anti-Israel activity, BlueStar now uses the Hasbartising approach to promote “Study in Israel.” We highlight the same images of diversity, democracy and normalization in a way that no one questions our motives or asks us “why are you telling me this information?” The ads simply asks undergraduate students to take action and go to Israel for their year abroad. While we do not expect that the majority of students will take us up on our offer, everyone who sees our ads understands the invitation and is likely to surprised by how desirable a year in Israel might be.

    Future Hasbartising campaigns are only limited by imagination and budget. Informal feedback to BlueStar’s Hasbartising pilot efforts has demonstrated that the approach connects Americans to Israel far more successfully than traditional Hasbara. While BlueStar understands that Israel supporters will never be able to compete with well-financed advertisers like Coca Cola and Nike on national campaigns, carefully directed Hasbartising can inoculate viewers against anti-Israel media coverage while favorably changing perceptions.