By Stuart Littlewood – London
As many others have remarked, Israel is among the worst brand-names on the planet.
That’s understandable considering the regime was founded on terror, is massively armed and subsidised by the US, thrives on lands seized from its neighbours at gun-point, and is bent on making its illegal occupation permanent. As a brand it never had a chance to flourish in any nice way.
So what’s to be done? Could clever PR hush the bad vibes and amplify the good… and change our perceptions?
The Israelis seem to think so. A report in The Guardian says they’ve hired a British firm of image consultants.
Top brass in Tel Aviv are right to be worried. "Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now,” warns Ido Aharoni, head of brand management at the foreign ministry.
The Israel-Palestine struggle has been a stain on it for years and Mr. Aharoni blames 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. Mr. Aharoni’s own government assassinates opponents, routinely abducts Palestinians in the dead of night, demolishes their homes, confiscates their lands and strangles their economy. Some 10,000 including women and children and MPs, are banged up 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 adventure.
Research shows that the brand spells conflict and Israel is seen as the bringer of bad news. "The conclusion is that it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right," says Mr. Aharoni.
I do hope he wasn’t charged too much for these findings.
The Magic Powers of ‘Chi’
After behaving as they have for 60 years and earning worldwide opprobrium it’s no surprise that Israelis are eager to re-brand. But do they realise what it involves? There’s more to it than a new logo, a new PM, a slick new website and early retirement for Mark Regev. Deep reforms to the whole Israel project must go hand-in-hand.
The firm that has accepted the challenge, Acanchi, says it aims to “unlock the magic that can be used to create a compelling brand positioning”. To achieve this it will 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."
No, really. 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. We get to know real people, their traditions and their way of life. We listen to the music, read the poetry and novels, look at the visual art and interview the poets, writers, musicians and artists. We discuss heritage and provenance… The essence of a country has to be based on a core set of truths derived from the experiences, thoughts and feelings of the people of that country… "
Good hunting, Ms. Gilmore. Please tell us when you have managed to discover the core truths and essence of the Israeli regime and the place its tanks, troops and helicopter gunships occupy – the Holy Land. Readers throughout the Christian and Muslim worlds would love to know.
As we speak Israel continues to persecute Christians as well as Muslims, and is said to be planning a reinvasion of half-starved Gaza to crush the remnants of Palestine’s democratically elected government – never mind the cost in blood, flying body-parts, vaporized torsos, wrecked infrastructure and wiped-out economy.
It continues to scupper the peace process with even more illegal settlements in the West Bank. And instead of heeding instructions to dismantle that abomination, the Wall, Israel carries on building it. Theft of land and water resources continues unabated, and Palestinians now have to make do with meagre rations, or go without, while Israelis fill their swimming pools and wash their cars.
These abuses do not sit well with ordinary people in the West but luckily are OK with our corrupted politicians.
A favourite PR trick is the use of great cruelty to goad Palestinians into violent response that can be twisted into ‘positive’ Israeli propaganda for Western consumption. The hysteria whipped up over home-made Qassam rockets "raining down" on Sderot is a prime example.
What provokes these rockets, which are so crude that only 1 in 500 proves fatal? It’s the Big Lie – the fact that Israel continued to occupy Gazan airspace and coastal waters, and keep 1.5 million people bottled up in that tiny enclave, after telling the world it had “withdrawn completely”. There’s a long list of other provocations such as the never-ending occupation and cynical exploitation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, 40 percent of which is now off-limits to Palestinians.
And we never hear about the countless thousands of cannon shells and other deadly fire relentlessly poured into the tight-packed community trapped in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s advanced weapon systems… like shooting fish in a barrel.
The puzzle now is why a respectable firm of UK consultants would wish to boost the image of the Middle East’s most notorious land-grabber, ethnic cleanser and all-round threat to world peace. Is the Acanchi team going into it with eyes open? Assuming they observe the caveat that "no marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise", how can this client – even with the help of chi’s magic powers – be made to smell like an English rose?
Face it: a brand is only as good as the actual product, the way it behaves and how it scores on all the measures people use to evaluate it. Upgrading the Israel brand can only be done honestly if the Israel product itself changes for the better. That requires a courageous and seismic shift. Perhaps Acanchi has advanced knowledge of a major revolution that will set Israel on a more enlightened path…
Now that would be something truly worth celebrating – the turning point millions have prayed for. Here would be the hook on which to hang a new brand. Ms Gilmore might then have a sporting chance.
But any cold-light-of-dawn reality check will tell her she’s on a ‘mission impossible’.
-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.