What do Tzipi Livni, Simon Anholt, Bill O’Reilly, Terry O’ Reilly, Barack Obama and Anshel Pfeffer, have in common?
Hint: In order to answer the question, please disregard Bill O’Reilly as I often confuse the bloviated gasbag “O’Reilly Factor” Bill with the bloviated smart-alecky “Age of Persuasion” Terry.
Did I just give it away? The answer is ADVERTISING.
In the chapter on Disaffection (the third of four diabolical “D”s) in End Of The Jews, I wrote about a 2008 effort by Amir Gissin, Israel’s Consul General, to spearhead a (Re-) “Brand Israel” campaign in Toronto. The original idea came from Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who, in 2006, argued that hasbara (lit. “explanation”) was not enough to improve Israel’s standing in the realm of public opinion. (The emphasis is mine. You will see why later…) Israel had to create an alternative image for itself, one more positive and “normal” for Western consumption.
Branding guru Simon Anholt, founder of the Anholt Nations Brands Index, agreed. Israel received the most negative numbers ever measured by the NBI in 2006, with the lowest rankings in almost every area. So Anholt was heartened by the Israeli government’s awareness of its “brand problem”. However, he cautioned that:
as regular readers of the NBI and my other work will know, I find it inconceivable that any country can change the way the world views it as a whole purely through marketing communications and forms of deliberate propaganda.
(You can read the full report here.)
Terry O’Reilly, advertising guru and CBC resident smart-aleck has also made this point in numerous podcasts, blogposts and even a book! President Obama made a similar declaration in the 2008 campaign when he dismissed John McCain’s “change” mantra: “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.”
And before I get hate mail from Gerald Steinberg, or a cease and desist letters from AIPAC, or the Emergency Committee for Israel takes out a full-page ad accusing me of calling Israel a pig, I want to be clear: I am not calling Israel a pig or any other four legged animal whose appearance would not be improved by some blush and/or lipstick.
What I bring to your attention, dear NextJew blog readers, is what Simon Anholt, Terry O’Reilly, Barack Obama (with whom I share a birthday and Kenyan birthplace) and now what Anshel Pfeffer wrote about today in HaAretz – but Pfeffer is even more strident in his critique.
If you hearken back to the “emphasis mine” portion above, you will note that even Tzipi Livni understood way back in 2006 that hasbara would not be enough to make Israel’s case. And yet, six years on, Pfeffer points out, that is the Israeli government’s grand strategy – pure, unadulterated hasbara:
The believers of hasbara are certain that if only Israel could find the proper way to frame their explanations and Israelis were brave enough to explain their case to the world, then surely fair-minded journalists, politicians and ordinary civilians – those not tainted by anti-Semitism, of course – would have to agree that the Jewish State is a shining beacon among the nations. Israel and its supporters must sally forth to the TV studios, the news rooms, on the blogosphere and in twitterverse, spreading the good word, attacking those who spread poison, rebutting and rooting out inaccuracies and calumnies.
The only problem is that for all the money spent by the State of Israel and Jewish philanthropists on the hasbara industry with its array of professional spokespeople, public affairs ministers, delegations of amateur masbiranim let loose on campuses, websites and blogs, and all the Israel projects, campaigns for accuracy and communications and research centers – none of it has ever worked.
As Pfeffer concludes, hasbara is nothing more than a chaltura, “an amateurish diversion, a poor excuse for a real job.” What Israel needs, he writes, is “statesmanship”.