Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, September 2013
Brand Israel Self-Destructs
By Stuart Littlewood
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 2, 2013
“It’s more important to be attractive than right”
“Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now,” said Ido Aharoni, head of brand management at the Foreign Ministry, five years ago.
So Israel hired a British firm of image consultants.
Aharoni blamed their image problem on the strain of the Israel-Palestine struggle and the unwillingness of the Palestinians to curb their terrorism. In an interview with The Tartan, the student newspaper of Pittsburg’s Carnegie Mellon University, he said: “It is time for the Arab world to look in the mirror… What is the future of a society that nurtures the culture of death?”
Good question. But it is Aharoni’s own government that needs to look in the mirror. It assassinates opponents, routinely abducts Palestinians in the dead of night, demolishes their homes, confiscates their lands and strangles their economy. At the time of his remarks some 10,000 people, including women and children and lawmakers, languished in foul Israeli jails, many without charge or trial. Let’s not go into the number of kills, especially the children. It’s too upsetting. And let’s not even mention the murderous Lebanon adventures.
A brand overhaul would, one might expect, force an honest self-examination. But no. Haaretz reported Aharoni as saying:
I do hope he wasn’t charged too much for those laughable findings – “more important to be attractive than right”. And while all the re-branding talk was going on, Aharoni’s colleagues were planning their infamous blitzkrieg on Gaza, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, and the mega-deaths that went with it.
What Israel needs: compelling brand positioning – and the magic of “chi”
The London firm that accepted this impossible challenge, Acanchi, said it aimed to “unlock the magic that can be used to create a compelling brand positioning”. To achieve this it would tap into a mysterious inner energy or life force called “chi”. “We believe that success for a country, city or region brand can be achieved by discovering, defining and channelling this chi into a brand positioning that reflects the core truths of a place.”
Fiona Gilmore, Acanchi’s boss, maintains that a new brand is always rooted in the reality and essence of the place. “We immerse ourselves in the place and its culture… The essence of a country has to be based on a core set of truths…” Gilmore and her team claim to be leading experts in these matters. “Acanchi delivers tailored positioning strategy solutions for countries, regions, and cities and is a pioneer in the field of developing holistic country positioning strategies,” says the website.
It is puzzling why a respectable firm of UK consultants would wish to repair the image of the Middle East’s most notorious land-grabber, ethnic cleanser and all-round threat to world peace.
One is left wondering if she ever managed to discover “the core truths and essence” of the Israeli regime and the place its tanks, occupation troops, helicopter gunships and white phosphorus bombs have in the Holy Land. The cruelly oppressed Christian and Muslim communities would love to know.
Her mission, according to Haaretz, was to create a brand disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict and focused instead on Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements, though how you can just sweep the ongoing crimes against humanity under the brand carpet isn’t explained.
It is puzzling why a respectable firm of UK consultants would wish to repair the image of the Middle East’s most notorious land-grabber, ethnic cleanser and all-round threat to world peace. Assuming that, as professionals, they observed the caveat that “no marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise”, how could their client – even with the help of chi’s magic powers – be made to smell like an English rose?
Yet by October 2008 Acanchi was said to be only weeks away from launching the new Israel brand.
What happened? Today, the only reference to Israel that I can find on the Acanchi website is the Fuel Choices Initiative.
A brand is only as good as the actual product, its reputation and how it scores on all the measures people use to evaluate it. Upgrading the Israel brand can only be achieved if the product itself changes for the better. That would require a courageous and seismic change of attitude by committed Zionists, which isn’t about to happen. So, it remains a mission impossible.
That’s why, four years ago, “The Israel Project”, a US media advocacy group, produced a revised training manual to help the worldwide Zionist movement win the propaganda war, keep its ill-gotten territorial gains and persuade international audiences that its crimes were not only necessary but – would you believe it? – consistent with “shared values” between Israel and the civilized West.
There are no rockets coming out of the West Bank, so why is the illegal security wall still there – and still being built? Why are the occupation troops still there? Why are hundreds of checkpoints still there? Why is Israel still stealing land, demolishing Palestinian homes and building squatter colonies there?
The manual teaches how to justify the slaughter, the ethnic cleansing, the land-grabbing, the cruelty and the blatant disregard for international law and UN resolutions, all made more acceptable with a liberal sprinkling of persuasive language. It is designed to make us American and European “persuadables” believe that we actually share values with the racist regime in Israel and that its abominable behaviour therefore deserves our support.
This quote at the beginning sets the tone: “Remember, it’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.”
The strategy from the start is to isolate democratically-elected Hamas and rob the resistance movement and the Palestinian population of their human rights. Here, for example, is the manual’s advice on how to make a begging-bowl military aid speech:
And here’s the rationale behind it:
1) As a democracy, Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend its borders and protect its people.
2) Terrorist groups, including Iran-backed Hezbollah and Hamas, continue to pose a direct threat to Israeli security and have repeatedly taken innocent Israeli lives.
3) Israel is America’s one and only true ally in the region. In these particularly unstable and dangerous times, Israel should not be forced to go it alone.
4) With America’s financial assistance, Israel can defend its borders, protect its people, and provide invaluable assistance to the American effort against the war against terrorism.
Can you believe this baloney? There are no rockets coming out of the West Bank, so why is the illegal security wall still there – and still being built? Why are the occupation troops still there? Why are hundreds of checkpoints still there? Why is Israel still stealing land, demolishing Palestinian homes and building squatter colonies there? And evidently the British and American administrations didn’t believe in democracy enough to allow Palestinian democracy to flourish after full and fair elections in 2006.
Also note how Hezbollah and Hamas are linked to the word “terrorist” and Iran. Both groups were created to resist Israeli terror.
Reason One: If Americans see no hope for peace – if they only see a continuation of a 2,000-year-long episode of “Family Feud” – Americans will not want their government to spend tax dollars or their President’s clout on helping Israel.
Reason Two: The speaker that is perceived as being most for PEACE will win the debate. Every time someone makes the plea for peace, the reaction is positive. If you want to regain the public relations advantage, peace should be at the core of whatever message you wish to convey.
And here’s the manual’s advice on injecting “core values” into everything they say:
The propaganda manual runs to 116 pages packed with techniques of deceit and distortion, and is a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work which recycles many of the discredited methods used by the advertising industry before standards of honesty, decency and truthfulness were brought in to protect the public.
And it serves to undermine with clever words the inalienable rights pledged by the UN and the world’s civilized nations to all peoples, including the Palestinians.
When you have to rely on an elaborate lie machine led by Mark Regev, who has been described as “Israel’s Goebbels”, and the odious Danny Seaman, recently suspended for “unacceptable” remarks on Facebook, you’ve lost it. Your brand is already on the scrapheap.
Teaching students to lie and engage in cyber-warfare
This month saw a further escalation in Israel’s propaganda activity rather than improvements to the Israel product. The Times of Israel reported that “The Prime Minister’s Office is working to set up a network of advocacy units in Israeli universities, operated by students who will receive scholarships for their efforts totalling nearly 845,000 US dollars”. The plan aims to harness 550 bilingual students drawn from the student pool at the country’s seven universities, who will target their efforts abroad.
Haaretz, in its report, calls the initiative “online public diplomacy (hasbara)”.
And according to the International Middle East Media Centre,
PressTV points out that a liaison officer for the Zionist regime will oversee the dissemination of “rapid responses” from Israeli officials to news events, and coordinate with the regime’s other official bodies that deal with public diplomacy, including the Israeli military. One incensed commenter wrote:
When he returns from his suspension Seaman is expected to oversee this lamentable scheme to use students as cyber-tools in a propaganda exploitation of social media.
These are desperate times for the Israel brand – and truly desperate measures. The regime will eventually have to face it. Theirs is the worst brand reputation on the planet because they have nothing to give the world except trouble. They can’t patch it up or make it smell sweet with more lies and distortions.
Meanwhile other nations – especially the US and UK – need to beware “image transfer” and how association with Israel taints their own brand appeal.
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