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 aÂ tendencyÂ 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 Â 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 Â 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, Â it’s that people question whether we should exist or continue to exist in the first place. We are more and moreÂ becomingÂ 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.Â 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 muchÂ 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.”