Jonathan Tobin at Commentary Magazine brings to light one of the biggest questions in Israel’s history and politics: How to manage the image of a country whose raison d’etre is, in part, to convince the world of its necessity and validity, a goal that becomes increasingly elusive as factions from the Arab right to the American left stake their identities on criticism of the nation.
Tobin starts in on Maxim Magazine’s spread of cheesecake photos of female Israeli soldiers last year, which was pitched as an effort “to promote Israel as a normal country.” Never mind the disturbing implications of the equation of normality with the objectification of women, Tobin is more disturbed by what he sees as “a decision to ‘accentuate the positive’ rather than to invest more effort in speaking up for Israel’s side of the story.” He goes on to examine the merits of “rebranding” the nation versus facing political criticism head-on.
He contrasts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “ability to speak in short, coherent sound bites” with President Shimon Peres’s conviction, when he was prime minister, that “the problem wasn’t a matter of presentation but of wrong politics.” He also contrasts two PR initiatives: Israel21c, which focuses on advocacy journalism in the form of features about technological advances and human interest stories, steering away from the conflict; and The Israel Project, committed to “debunking the notion that Israel sought war, but was instead consistently seeking peace.” Of course, in both of these cases, the elephant in the think tank is “their own unwillingness to answer criticisms of settlement policies or the treatment of Palestinians that they may share.”
Although he sees some merits to both tactics, Tobin does not keep it a secret that he believes the “lion’s share” of advocacy resources should be directed toward “countering the evil arguments” of those who oppose Israel’s existence. And while he makes a cogent case in favor of this point, he also plants the idea, at least in this reader’s mind, that as long as there are people supporting a Jewish state that, however necessarily, relies heavily on its military and often acts first, defends itself later, there will be college kids, leftists, pacifists, self-serving politicians, and anti-Semites, who will oppose those actions. “Freedom fries” may not have done much to hurt a strong “French brand,” but, as Tobin acknowledges, “Israel is not France.”
Will the World Buy Israel’s New ‘Brand’? [Commentary, subscription required]