Global, Identity, Israel, Politics

Rebranding Israel

The government of Israel is partnering with Jewish community organizations in Toronto to improve Israel’s image and to get Canadians thinking of the country outside “the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”Ido Aharoni, founder of the ministry’s Brand Israel concept said the ministry has conducted market research over the past few years that showed “Israel is viewed solely through the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict… Israel’s personality is 90 per cent dominated by conflict-related images and some religious connotations,” he said. “Those of us who know the brand intimately are disturbed by the divergence of brand and the perception.”
Federation spokesperson Howard English said his organization and other federated communities across the country are committed to supporting the branding initiative and mobilizing the Jewish community behind the effort. [source]

From my temporary station in the US, I heard the same spin coming from an AIPAC sponsored-speaker this weekend. Yes, there’s war, the speaker acknowledged, but why aren’t we praising Israel’s contribution to technology, alternative power sources, and films? (“Such a small fraction of a percentage of the world speaks our language, but yet our films win awards at all of the film festivals! Everyone should be seeing our films!”) Why is this the wrong approach? Why does this idea of rebranding, marketing Israel as “more than violence!” irk me? Because Israel’s military policies and human rights abuses should not be ignored just because some Israelis are also really good at developing computer chips. If anything, as the Jewish nation, Israel should be held to higher standards than secular nations, or nations of other religions.
And what about the other issue: not all Jews share the same views (ideologically, politically, religiously) of Israel. And yet Federations are supposed to (at least in theory), represent and support all Jews. If Canada’s Federations follow suit, as English suggests, won’t we just continue to further alienate those among us who already feel out of place in our communities? Any time a national organisation, or network of organisations, makes a statement saying “All of Us will do X, Y, and Z,” it makes me nervous – and makes me realise just how far removed those organisations are from the communities and people they’re supposed to be serving.

10 thoughts on “Rebranding Israel

  1. I think the violence in the “more than violence” approach refers to
    violence against Israel/Israelis.
    In any case, what do you want AIPAC or the federations to do, take on the Palestinian cause and become spokespeople for the PLO?
    I understand the legitimate critisicsms of Zionism, the Israel-lobby,etc. But do you now except AIPAC’s board to join Hamas?
    Maybe I misunderstand.

  2. Most people I’ve spoken to who have a limited knowledge of Israel generally only know one or both of the following:
    1. People in/around Israel are always bombing each other.
    2. Israel is where Christian and Jewish holy sites are.
    I don’t think it’s a bad idea to get other aspects of Israel into the public consciousness. It’s like Khazakhstan and Borat: Why should a country be defined for the world by something they see as portraying them negatively?
    I think that giving the general public the ability to know more about Israeli life, culture, history, etc. is a good thing. And if definitely can inspire more nuanced, informed opinions on the current conflict and how solve it.

  3. What a load of nonsense. Loving and supporting Israel doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to her lapses. It doesn’t mean that you can’t, in appropriate forums, discuss means to redress her failures. But what could possibly be wrong with wanting to show her beauty and her brilliance to the rest of the world? Its like saying that because my child gets bad math scores, I should focus only on that and not on the fact that she excels in other areas. Yes, we need to do something about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but that doesn’t meant that there is nothing worthy of celebration.

  4. I think it’s fine for Jews to hold Israel to a higher standard. I don’t think it’s okay for the world to hold Israel to a higher standard. This is why, without in any way diminishing any human rights abuses that may be happening in Israel, it feels like anti-Semitism when Israel is attacked for human rights abuses by groups who routinely turn a blind eye to the goings-on in the Sudan, Tibet, etc.
    And yet, whenever China’s human rights abuses are discussed, there’s always the “…but they’re a strategic political/economic/etc partner” proviso. Somehow, Israel never gets even a fraction of that consideration, and I am pretty sure that Israel’s record on human rights is about a million times better than China’s.

  5. Thanks for posting this–difficult, and important questions to be asked and grappled with–this same questions were ones that many of us were grappling with around World Pride, and I find it interesting, and apropos that here again, a queer person is raising this question. Granted, I think you’re also a Canadian resident, yes? But it’s long been an insider joke (or maybe not so much a joke, hmmm) that since we already know what it’s like to have been treated as outsiders, to raise our voices and challenge our communities around Israel doesn’t always hold the same risk as some of my straight peers have said have been daunting for them–that loss of community. Of having people look at them as if they should no longer be part of whatever Jewish life is in that space.
    I’m going a bit off topic here, so apologies for the digression. The main point is, yes, I think there are always really important, and ethical questions, we must ask of ourselves in doing our work when we want to change a debate. What conversations are we trying to change, and what if any conversations are we either consciously or subconsciously, trying to silence–and are those for the greater good? What becomes the tension is that the ethics, greater good, etc are all often incredibly subjective. Yet, we can’t pretend that there aren’t serious implications in a “rebranding Israel” project. Thanks for challenging us to think about this more.

  6. Derek, if your son was G-d forbid a murderer and had great math scores, would you say, “yeah he has some bad points but he is great at math!”
    Now, you can say that you don’t think this is a good comparison, but if you think that the occupation is corrupt, and you realize that millions of people are living in sub human conditions to maintain it, and that Israel is not only in the territories to defend its borders but to protect religiously motivated settlers. and that Israel is constantly lying to the world about its desire to change the situation (see latest peace now report), and that in a pole from yesterday, around 75% of Israelis want to transport all Palestinian Israelis out of the country, and that in 60 years of the state of Israel, there were only 3 years when all people under its rule recieved equal human rights, then this isn’t just a lapse, and yeah, talking about a couple of films that do well, or how good toot-banana is, does seem a bit odd.
    And Jonathan, why are those the only two options- either support what you call zionism (even though it is a specific party policy- there are many political parties in Israel that think differently) or PLO (By the way, at least you are even. PLO and the Hamas are not just interchangable words for Palestinian, but actually mean something different)
    There are many people in Israel who think differently. I don’t understand why American Jewry always has to side with the elected party. Or why you think anything else is pro palestinian.

  7. Yael,
    Everybody knows that the PLO and Hamas are not the same thing. Who said that they were?
    Who said that a person needed to support only one of two options? To which options are you referring?
    I can’t think of many political parties in Israel that aren’t Zionists: the Communitst, UTJ, the Arab Lists. To which other non-Zionist parties are you referring?
    I must not write very well because I didn’t say that anybody was pro-Palestinian (which of course is a legitimate position.)
    What I say/said is that AIPAC/federations see themselves as furthering specific positions. Whether or not those positions are correct I don’t know, but it’s a bit strange that feygle seems to be advocating for AIPAC to start lobbying against the occupation.
    To me, that is the job of the PLO or Hamas, not AIPAC.

  8. I think there’s a further problem with comparing Israel to the math-genius muderer, or even to China (which I did earlier): in those situations, there is a one-sided power abuse happening. The situation with Israel and Palestinians is far from one sided. People (and governments/institutions) on both sides have done wrong. This isn’t a black and white situation, and to paint it as such for the benefit of either side is not right.

  9. Jonathan,
    i must really not understand. a lot of Zionist political parties don’t support the occupation. Why is that the job of the PLO and Hamas?
    Why can’t AIPAC say that the occupation is bad for Israel, like many zionists??
    Many people in Israel are opposed to the government policy, i.e. the occupation. Those were the people i was referring to (even though the parties you mentioned constitute around 20% of Israel’s population – that’s quite a lot of non- zionists living in Israel)

  10. I must not understand you.
    AIPAC and the federations see themselves as supporting the policies of the freely-elected Israeli government.
    Therefore, it seems a bit strange to expect AIPAC to openly speak out against the occupation, because that is the policy of the current government.
    If people want to start other American Jewish organizations–that are against the occupation–of course it is perfectly legitimate, and it has been done.
    It’s not some secret that many people in Israel are opposed to this government’s policies. Anybody who reads this website can just as easily read Haaretz (in English or Hebrew) or even the JPost to know this. So?
    There are a lot of non-Zionists living in Israel, indeed. But those parties that consider themselves Zionist include Meretz and the Green Leaf party–staunch opponents of the occupation. Why do you assume that if somebody writes “Zionist” here they are referring only to Efi Eitam, etc.?
    There are a lot of non-Zionist Jews in America too. So?
    AIPAC happens to see itself as the pro-Israel lobby, ie, supporting the democratically-elected Israeli government.
    Your expectations/critisisms of AIPAC seem a bit farfetched.
    Ok, I’ve written way too much about this.

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