The naked face of Israel – Ilan Pappé on rebranding Zionism

 

In 2007, Wonderwoman star Gal Gadot was poster girl for a new Israeli branding campaign.
Credit: Maxim

In 2007 a poster of an almost naked Miss Israel, Gal Gadot, and a poster of four fit young men, equally barely dressed, were the faces of Israel in a campaign named Brand Israel, commissioned by the government and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The young woman (Miss Israel 2004 and a recent star in the Hollywood blockbuster Fast and Furious) was meant to attract the heterosexual young American to a rebranded Jewish State, while the young men became the faces advertising Tel Aviv as the gay capital of Israel. One wonders how Theodore Herzl or even David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin would have regarded this presentation of Zionism as a soft-porn wet dream. But policymakers had decided that anything and everything was appropriate in the struggle to fend off Israel’s negative image.

This passage appears in the Epilogue  to “The Idea of Israel” by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, published in 2014 with the subtitle “A History of Power and Knowledge”.   A “mordantly witty book” (Jewish Quarterly), it shows how Zionism operates outside of the government and military in areas such as Israel’s literature, education system, media and cinema. Pappé reveals how successive generations of intellectuals have framed the 1948 conflict as a liberation campaign, creating a foundation myth that went unchallenged in Israeli society until very recently. Its perpetuation is the goal of a “Brand Israel” campaign which continues to this day.

Prof. Pappé has kindly made his Epilogue, which focuses on Brand Israel, available to supporters of the boycott movement which seeks to unmask and challenge the weaponisation of culture in Israel’s war against Palestinians.

Brand Israel 2013

By Ilan Pappé

The Domestic Front
In 2010 the Israeli minister of culture and sport, formerly the minister of education, Limor Livnat, initiated an award for Zionist-oriented art. The prize would be given to artists who have produced a work that reflect Zionism, Zionist values, the history of the Zionist movement, or the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. It would be given ‘in all fields of culture – performing arts, plastic art, and cinema’, said the minister, ‘in a bid to make it clear that we are against boycotts and in favour of Zionist culture’.1

The choreographer Noa Wertheim won it for her piece The Birth of the Phoenix: ‘In her work this artist has stressed the links between a man and his environment, in the same way as Zionism stressed this association.’ The piece is ‘an eco-dance, updated and in tune with nature – as is Zionism’.2 Thus Zionism is not in fact the theme in this piece, but the artist had no problem in its being characterised as such, in as much as a 50,000 NIS prize is a hefty sum in Israel.3

The playwright Pnina Gery also received the prize for a play titled An Eretz Israel Love Story. The play was exported with a slight change to the name, An Israeli Love Story. It is a tale that erases any trace of self-criticism of the post-Zionist variety. The love story spans the period from the Holocaust through the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the war that Israelis call the War of Independence. There are hardly any Arabs or Palestinians in its chronology of the first three years after the Holocaust in Palestine. As in Theodore Herzl’s utopian Palestine, they appear once – as Bedouins who bless the arrival of the Jews. In Herzl’s novel it was a grateful citizen of the Judaicised Haifa; in the play it is a sheikh in the northern valleys who calls the settlers ‘my brothers’. The narrative and background resemble those of the early Zionist theatrical productions about the 1948 war.

Here it appears as a war of liberation against inexplicable Arab barbarism, and is meant to be a depiction of heroism against all odds. The metanarrative is fed into the play through news bulletins that tell the ‘true story’ of what happened in Palestine between 1945 and 1948. A worthy play indeed for the annual Zionist art award, and again an indication of how the idea of Israel was domestically marketed.4

Then there is Zionist film. The singer David ‘Dudu’ Fisher, a cantor who became a pop star in Israel (and on Broadway), has ventured into Zionist documentaries, the most recent being Six Million and One (2011), which, through a personal story, concludes that only the State of Israel could have been the answer to the Holocaust. The film was nominated for the 2012 Ophir (the local Oscar) Award for Best Documentary. Noam Demsky of the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts, Jerusalem, received 40,000 NIS in 2013 from Minister Livnat for a film called The Strength to Tell, which seeks to communicate ‘a new sense of relevancy of the Holocaust and its lessons’.5

In 2012 the composer Doron Twister received a prize for his Zionist musical piece We Are Your People. One can assume that there was nothing Zionist about the music, the arrangement or the composition, so the award must have been given for the title.

Appropriately Zionist poetry is now to be found in a new journal, Meshiv Ruah (Fresh Air), devoted to ‘national religious poetry’. There is also a Zionist plastic art, it seems. Yoav Ben-Dov and Serjio Daniel Chertko won a prize for their piece In the Spirit of Hope. ‘This work was particularly pleasing [for the ministry]’, wrote the critic Alon Idan, cynically, in Haaretz, since ‘it constantly fused the Star of David and the national anthem, “Hatikva”, in their work’ while broadcasting the universal and national meanings of Zionism.6

An obvious winner a year later was the author A. B. Yehoshua, who up to 2000 was active in Israel’s liberal left, together with Amos Oz and David Grossman. Minister Livnat declared that his work was a proof that ‘Zionism can inspire qualitative and excellent works of literature’. She also added: ‘All these works express, from different artistic angles, the Zionist narrative that unites the people in Israel. We are talking of very important works of art that enrich the Israeli culture’. The chair of the prize committee was the fiddler on the Zionist roof, Chaim Topol, who oversaw a budget of 53 million NIS for encouraging Zionist culture in Israel.7

To their credit, some artists expressed discomfort with governmental encouragement for Zionist art and culture. As they wrote to the minister of culture when the prize was issued in 2011, ‘This is a prize that encourages recruited art for the sake of political goals. We demand its abolition and would like to channel its funding to the depleted budget that is supposed to support free art in Israel.’8 The ministry rejected the protest, and its funding for 2013–14 increased.

Winning the prize was also the most effective way of absolving oneself from past allegations of post-Zionism. This is what happened to the pop band Habiluim. Named after one of the first Zionist settlers’ movement of the late nineteenth century, they were regarded as part of the ‘radical left’ in the 1990s. Not bothering to hide their desire to win the prize (unless this is a very sophisticated and subversive form of protest), they adapted their lyrics to its requirements by writing about the wish of the left in the past to make territorial concessions:

Maybe we should give the Arabs everything;
Maybe this is Zionism to leave a rotten place
and rebuild everything from the beginning9

Perhaps it is still a post-Zionist song nonetheless, thus explaining why they did not win the prize in 2013.
While official ministries were now openly encouraging Zionism as cultural production, it was left to less clearly identified bodies to spot the residues of post-Zionism in the local culture, academia and media. An organization called NGO Monitor (their motto: Making NGOs Accountable) posts a highly detailed list – the NGO Index – of hundreds of groups that in some way address matters connected with Israel, in some cases including the precise amount of funds they have received from abroad.

Ten groups are selected for special attention, but the index includes all the human and civil rights NGOs in Israel as well as the local branches of Amnesty International. These bodies have indeed been active, and I trust that history will judge them favourably for having kept alive a pacifist, humanist and socialist alternative to the way the idea of Israel has been implemented in the second decade of the twenty-first century. But for the time being, these critical NGOs number just a handful, and indeed, as some of the more acute observers of the scene have noted, the battle for the idea of Israel has moved abroad.10

 

Brand Israel: The International Version
In 2007 a poster of an almost naked Miss Israel, Gal Gadot, and a poster of four fit young men, equally barely dressed, were the faces of Israel in a campaign named Brand Israel, commissioned by the government and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The young woman (Miss Israel 2004 and a recent star in the Hollywood blockbuster Fast and Furious) was meant to attract the heterosexual young American to a rebranded Jewish State, while the young men became the faces advertising Tel Aviv as the gay capital of Israel. One wonders how Theodore Herzl or even David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin would have regarded this presentation of Zionism as a soft-porn wet dream.

But policymakers had decided that anything and everything was appropriate in the struggle to fend off Israel’s negative image. The local team explained that such posters ‘allowed us to gear our message to the younger generation, especially males, and towards a demographic that did not see Israel as relevant or identify particularly with Israel’.11 But in fact the campaign targeted people in all walks of life with images and texts tailored to the inclinations and preferences of every group. If the idea of Israel became a prize at home, abroad it became a product.

The campaign began in the summer of 2005, when the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Israeli Ministry of Finance concluded three years of consultation with American marketing executives and launched Brand Israel: a campaign to recast and rebrand the country’s image so as to appear relevant and modern instead of militaristic and religious.

Huge sums of money (the sums would be revealed some years later) were allocated for marketing the idea of Israel abroad in order to combat what the political and academic élite in Israel regarded as a global campaign to delegitimise the Jewish state. It was to be a gigantic effort, and the team appointed to see it through was accordingly called BIG (the Brand Israel Group).12

The first unit of the regime thrust into this campaign was the foreign ministry and its diplomatic service. But it needed an academic team, especially in the areas of political science, international relations and history. Using lessons developed in the study of anti-Semitism, they provided a narrative of the origins of this new challenge to the idea of Israel, a challenge that called for boycott, divestiture, and sanctions.

The initial attempt to define the origins was more descriptive than analytical, but it did succeed in locating the moment of birth: the UN’s World Conference on Racism, which took place in Durban, South Africa, in early September 2001. According to the initial academic narrative, this meeting, with its obvious interest in Palestine, marked the launch of the delegitimisation campaign against Israel. The fact that it culminated on 8 September, three days before 9/11, did not escape the Brand Israel team, and thus the two events were directly linked as being two sides of the same assault against the free world.

This connection between 9/11 and the so-called delegitimisation campaign was made very openly by Benjamin Netanyahu on various occasions. During a speech in the Knesset on 23 June 2011, for instance, he referred to an unholy alliance between radical Islam and the radical left in the West against the free democratic world, of which Israel was the ultimate symbol. He lumped together in addition to the UN meeting in Durban and 9/11, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruling against Israel’s apartheid wall in 2004 – and then, he added to that history for good measure, the famous case of the MV Mavi Marmara, an attempt by an international humanitarian-aid flotilla to reach besieged Gaza in the spring of 2010.

The main task of Brand Israel was to depict the country as a heaven on earth, a dream come true. Israel would now be identified with beauty, fun and technological achievement. This was the new version of the idea of Israel, and the messengers were newly created front organisations. One of them was the David Project in North America, which became very active in articulating the campaign among college students. One of its many actions was to try to counter the view of Israel as one of the most hated states in the world, together with such countries as Iran and North Korea, and stress the fact that was among the top twenty-five states whose citizens were glad to be part of it.13 The project’s purpose was to convince everyone that Israel was one of the happiest places on earth because of its high-tech achievements.

The Brand Israel team felt that Israel’s history was another asset that would help sell the country in the twenty-first century:

In terms of heritage benchmarks, Israel is home to fundamental religious and historical landmarks, including the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Baha’i Temple in Haifa. Israelis boast a high quality of life, and the country’s democratic values focus on inclusion and political representation of all its citizens, including women and religious and racial minorities.14

The David Project came up with its own explanation for the discrepancy between what the country had to offer and its negative global image:
We know misperceptions of Israel are rampant in the media; ordinary citizens across the globe see Israel cast as yet another violent nation in a region steeped in unrest and war. Conversations taking place in print, on television, and in the blogosphere often regard the Arab-Israeli conflict as both all-consuming and myopic; the diversity and excitement of Israeli society is often subsumed by 20 second sound bites focusing on only one aspect of the Israeli story.15

And it pinpointed the mission for the Brand Israel team:

How do we change perceptions? How do we introduce nuance into global conversations surrounding Israel? How do we discuss the highlights and achievements of Israeli society, while also recognizing its weaknesses and shortcomings? What needs to happen to remove Israel from the bright spotlight of a violent conflict?16

The answer to these challenges appeared on the official web site of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rather than winning the argument with facts, information or moral viewpoints, the ministry proposed, it would be far more useful to brand Israel and market it like a product. Gideon Meir of Israel’s foreign ministry told Haaretz in 2007 that he would ‘rather have a Style section item on Israel than a front page story’.17

What this meant in practice was that any PR campaign for Israel should avoid any association with the conflict or the Palestinian issue. This was the spirit of the guidelines given to yet another front organisation founded to help disseminate the new take on the young country. In 2001 a group in California, ISRAEL21C, began its work to ‘redefin[e] the conversation about Israel’ and ‘show how Israeli efforts have contributed incalculably to the advancement of health-care, environment, technology, culture, and global democratic values worldwide’. As in the famous episode of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, when the hotel owner is trying not to mention the Second World War to his German guests, so too this NGO was instructed not to mention the war or the Palestinians. The other side of the equation was elegantly articulated on America’s East Coast by a PR expert on the team, who advised his colleagues to give up the attempt to win the argument against the Palestinians, because, as his words were paraphrased in Jewish Week, ‘proving that Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong may be emotionally satisfying for advocates, but not necessarily effective in changing people’s way of thinking about Israel’.18 This expert, the executive vice president of ISRAEL21C, also remarked that discussing Israel in terms of its conflict with the Palestinians was probably the wrong way to go about it: ‘You have a narrow bandwidth, where Israel can only win some of the argument. We are trying to broaden the bandwidth to include Israel’s accomplishments.’19

Soon after, the separate efforts of the various organisations and individuals were put under one management. This was an operational decision taken by the foreign ministry’s first-ever Brand Israel Conference, convened in Tel Aviv in 2005, which officially kicked off the campaign. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed Ido Aharoni to head the brand-management office and gave him a $4 million budget, in addition to the $3 million established annual budget for hasbara (propaganda) as well as the usual $11 million for the Ministry of Tourism’s promotional efforts in North America.20 Funding was also earmarked for work in Europe.

It is noteworthy that the politicians in Israel decided to focus on the United States, where they sensed that delegitimisation had become particularly ripe and successful. One might have thought that the Israelis saw the US as a safe, long time bastion of pro-Israeli bias, but apparently not. As we shall see towards the end of this chapter, the academics would try to convince the politicians that the plague was rampant in the United Kingdom, which they saw as the preferred main target for the Brand Israel campaign.

Aharoni recruited top people in the advertising world. It included the Saatchi brothers (reportedly they did the work for free) and PR experts such as David Saranga, the former consul for media and public affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York. Saranga told the industry’s major publication, PRWeek, that the two groups Israel was targeting were ‘liberals’ and sixteen- to thirty-year-olds (hence the posters of the miminally clad Miss Israel and the fit gay men in bathing suits). In 2005 Aharoni’s office hired TNS, a market research firm, to test new brand concepts for Israel in thirteen different countries, and also funded a billboard pilot program in Toronto.21

At the centre of the team were members of Brand Asset Valuator, or BAV, the world’s largest brand database, working alongside the best publicists and marketing people. BAV specialised in exposing the target community’s emotional attachments to brands. Fern Oppenheim, an advertising and marketing consultant and a member of the Brand Israel group, said that the BAV data would be part of a long-term strategy that would also include ongoing research and evaluation: ‘We want to be a resource everyone can benefit from, the way a corporate management team would manage a brand’.22

Another expert, David Sable, who was connected to Young & Rubicam, told the diplomats that Israel had not ranked among the well-liked countries because, at least in the United States, people ‘know a lot about Israel, just not the right things. They think of Israel as a grim, war-torn country, not one booming with high-tech and busy outdoor cafes’.23 So, in 2005 the orientation was to sell Israel as, in effect, a branch of American society. This task was handed to Young & Rubicam. David Sable again: ‘Americans don’t see Israel as being like the US’.24 Israel, as a brand, was already strong in America, but ‘it is better known than liked, and constrained by lack of relevance’. He went on to say that Americans ‘find Israel to be totally irrelevant to their lives, and they are tuning out, and that is particularly true for 18- to 34-year-old males, the most significant target’.25

Brand Israel intended to change this by selecting aspects of Israeli society to highlight, and then bringing Americans directly to them. They started off with a free trip for architectural writers, followed by one for food and wine writers. The goal of these efforts was to ‘show Americans that there was another Israel behind the gloomy headlines’ and convey an image of Israel as a ‘productive, vibrant, and cutting-edge culture’, as Gary Rosenblatt of Jewish Week put it. He summarised the blueprint for the next few years this way:

Think of Israel as a product undergoing an overhaul to make it more competitive in the marketplace. What’s called for are fewer stories explaining the rationale for the security fence, and more attention to scientists doing stem-cell research on the cutting edge or the young computer experts who gave the world Instant Messaging.26

It was not only American PR and branding wizards who were recruited. The government also asked for deeper involvement from the public. In a show of total mistrust in its professional diplomats, it recruited commercial Israeli television to seek alternative messengers for the new idea of Israel through a reality show called The Ambassador. The winner of a thirteen-week elimination contest won a job with a Zionist advocacy group called Israel At Heart to boost the diplomats with the best of Israel’s youth. One of Israel At Heart’s initiatives was to send Ethiopian Jews to speak in black churches in the United States. (Consider the idea of bringing African Americans from inner-city US ghettos to tell people in Brixton about the ‘American dream’, and you may grasp the absurdity of such a move.) High-school student cadres later took over the mission.27

Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked every Israeli artist, acting troupe, and dance company to include a Brand Israel component in their shows. A typical example of such a tour was the one undertaken in 2012 in the US and UK by the dance company Batsheva; the tour was openly described by the ministry as part of the Brand Israel campaign and the dancers as ‘the best global ambassadors of Israel’.28

The Ministry of Tourism went a step further. It was not enough to present an image of the most relaxed, groovy, fun country in the world. In 2009 the State miraculously succeeded in getting rid of Palestine and the Palestinians, and received the Golan Heights as a gift from Syria. The ministry’s updated maps of a greater, border-free Israel, which were shown worldwide in ads and posters, including in London’s Underground, indicated no Golan Heights or Palestinian areas. Hundreds of protests caused the removal of the posters from the Underground.29

By 2010 the Israeli financial daily Globes reported that the foreign ministry had allocated a hundred million shekels (more than $26 million) to branding during the coming years. This money was mainly destined to help fight the delegitimisation that was becoming increasingly evident in social networks and cyberspace generally. The ministry was optimistic about the chances of such a campaign, since its research unit had determined that Web surfers relate well to content that interests them, regardless of the identity or political affiliation of the source.30

Another collaboration launched in 2010 was aimed at the gay community, emphasizing Tel Aviv as a gay- and lesbian-friendly destination for European LGBTs. The collaborators included Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, the Tel Aviv Tourism Board, and Israel’s largest LGBT organization, the Agudah, and their campaign was called Tel Aviv Gay Vibe. Critics called it a version of ‘pinkwashing’, comparing the use of women’s rights in the nineteenth century to justify colonisation with the use of gay rights as a tool to legitimise the continued oppression of the Palestinians.31

Re-Branding the Rebrand – New Plans and Visions
Despite all the activity, the reports of success did not even convince those who published them. A new actor was asked to join the crew to find out why success was still elusive and what else could be done. The Jewish Agency works with several think tanks; one such was the Reut Institute. The institute claimed in 2010 that the threat to the State of Israel in the areas of diplomacy and international relations was on the rise. It described the 2009 report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, as epitomising the delegitimisation campaign, its origins, logic and possible consequences.32

What became known as the Goldstone Report gently accused Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the Israeli assault on Gaza that began at the end of 2008. Later, under Zionist pressure, Goldstone, who is Jewish, partly retracted the mission’s findings. In early 2010 the institute characterised the report as the centrepiece of efforts to subject Israel to ‘increasingly harsh criticism around the world’ and said that in certain places, ‘criticism ha[d] stretched beyond legitimate discourse regarding Israeli policy to a fundamental challenge to the country’s right to exist’. The institute’s own report, The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall, connects the Goldstone Report to the international condemnation directed at Israel after its second attack on Lebanon in 2006. That condemnation, according to Reut, is the product of a radical Islamist ideology emanating from Iran, assisted by Hezbollah and Hamas.

The problem, the report suggested, was ‘a conceptual inferiority’ of the ideological forces within the Jewish state. Israel had failed to market itself as a peace-seeking Jewish and democratic state, hence the great success of the vicious delegitimisation campaign. If this campaign continued, warned the Reut Institute, Israel would become a pariah state and there would be no solution for the Palestinian question, bringing a one-state solution to the fore. When Zionist bodies warn against the danger of a one-state solution, what they mean is what Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert warned against in 2007: that Israel would necessarily end up as an apartheid state under such a scenario.33 ‘A tipping point in this context would be a paradigm shift from the Two-State Solution to the One-State Solution as the consensual framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, states Reut. Even a comprehensive permanent status agreement would not be capable of putting an end to the delegitimisation campaign, because inherent in those efforts, contends Reut, is the negation of Israel’s right to exist.

So what is to be done? ‘It takes a network to fight a network’, concludes the Reut report. ‘Israel’s diplomacy and foreign policy doctrine requires urgent overhaul: ’Allocating appropriate resources will be essential, but it must be recognised that there is a ‘clash of brands’: ‘Israel’s re-branding is strategically important’, but ‘it is equally important to brand the other side’. Since Israel’s adversaries have succeeded in branding it as ‘a violent country that violates international law and human rights’, Israel must isolate the delegitimisers, work with NGOs, mobilize pro-Israel factions internationally, and cultivate personal relationships with ‘political, financial, cultural, media, and security-related elites’.

In other words, at least according to the Reut Institute/Jewish Agency, all the money and experts in the world could not help rebrand Israel as a peaceful, fun country. One might have thought a less violent policy would help, but no. Instead, Reut wanted the government to seek ways of pressuring the Western élites to broadcast a different image of Israel and to hope that Jewish communities could deliver the goods.

Another group connected with the Jewish Agency for Israel (in fact, created by it in 2002) is the Jewish People Policy Institute, commissioned to face threats to Israel’s national security. Although a collection of demographers, historians, sociologists and propagandists, it is treated, in the context of the war against delegitimisation, as a military unit. Its master document on the topic, arising out of the 2010 Conference on the Future of the Jewish People warned that the ‘de-legitimization has to be understood not only as a threat to Israel but to particular Jewish existence everywhere’.34 In a similar way, the annual state of the nation conference in the Herzeliya Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, already mentioned in this book in its 2010 annual conference called the marketing campaign of Israel a war, but not just a war – it is ‘an a-symmetric warfare . . . conducted on the battlefield of ideas’. Since Israel had not been defeated militarily or economically, its enemies were trying to destroy it with ideas. There was an imbalance because the enemy was ubiquitous and powerful.35

Three years earlier, this Jewish Agency think tank associated its previous worry – about the assimilation of US Jews in the Gentile community – with the unequal war. It concluded that younger Jewish Americans were ‘distancing themselves from Israel’. This was reaffirmed by a famous article by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books in 2010, but Beinart, like Norman Finkelstein, attributed this distancing to the wish not to be identified with the occupation and the criminal policies of the State.36 The Jewish Agency would have none of that. For them, the reason was that Reform Judaism, which was very popular in the United States, was not sufficiently respected in Israel and was not allowed to convert non-Jews on Israeli soil. Thus, while the Reut Institute was asking for more aggressive lobbying, the Jewish People Policy Institute sought the façade of an Israel that would be more pluralist in Jewish matters.

Given that Brand Israel was not producing the desired results in 2010, local academics were also recruited. Until then, they had been busy struggling against the post-Zionists on the domestic front. First, it was Bar-Ilan University, the national religious institution, that led the way, but soon it was joined by Tel Aviv University. The academy’s main role was to explain why, in 2010, Israel was still delegitimised. The first to venture an answer were ex-generals and previous heads of security services working in academia or in semi-academic institutes that served both the universities and the intelligence community. Among the latter was the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center near Tel Aviv, which identified the same web of enemies that everyone before and after it had named: radical Islam working together with anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

The Israeli deputy foreign minister affirmed this new Elders of Anti-Zion conspiracy in a speech he gave to the Jewish Agency in October 2010, in which he declared that Israel’s enemies recruit agents who work under the pretence of human rights activism to delegitimise the nation. To deal with this problem, the politician echoed the Jewish Agency’s position, which called for ‘a counter web made of Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs and academic institutions that would join forces in the front against the delegitimisation and describe the reality in the world as it really is’.37

By 2011, the government had already invested millions in creating centres for Israel studies in various universities around the world and in sending high school graduates – the most handsome and articulate among them – to market a youthful, Western Israel. Teams of Twitter users, Facebook users, and bloggers began to work 24/7, responding to anything that sounded remotely anti-Israel, while lobbies, modelled on AIPAC in the United States, began to operate on the European continent. The campaign was conducted with military precision. Major General Eitan Dangot, the co-ordinator of Israeli policy in the occupied territories, spelled this out when he said, ‘The war on legitimisation and public opinion is not easier than that fought in the battlefield . . . there is a culture of lies, distortion and fabrication’.38 He happened to be referring specifically to Hamas, but indicated that the phenomenon was global.
For example, in 2011 in the annual state-of-the-nation conference organised by the afore-mentioned Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, delegitimisation was chosen as a major theme. One speaker after another regarded this assault as part of the ills of a ‘left-wing postmodernism’ that wishes to ‘conquer the sources of cultural production to control the truth’.
As they put it, an op-ed in the Guardian or Le Monde would not turn them into Zionists. They also complained that Israel would be blamed, no matter what it does and asserted finally that Israelis should not wash their dirty laundry in public and must instead present a united Israel.39

The academics working for the Jewish Agency blamed the United Nations, Western legal systems, and Western academia for the ongoing assault. Britain was singled out as being at the centre of the campaign to tarnish the idea of Israel, owing to the growing number of Muslims in the UK, although it was pointed out that there were still corporations, such as Tesco, that could be trusted to remain faithful to both the old and new versions of the idea:
Britain is the capital of communication in the world. It is the centre of the world’s principal NGOs but it is also a country with a fragile Jewish community. Amnesty and Oxfam are preoccupied with delegitimising Israel. The government is more sympathetic, so what should be done? Whoever is the delegitimiser, including Israeli professors [who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS], should be fought as in a war. They should be targeted and fought, not engaged intellectually, and all the means not used before should be employed. This is the battlefield for the Israeli right to function, defend itself.40

So far, it is the Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy at Tel Aviv University that has commissioned the most comprehensive analysis of the issue at hand. In 2008, it produced a ninety-page policy paper on the topic, ‘The Israel Brand: Nation Marketing under Constant Conflict’. Yet that paper, as well as luminaries such as Alan Dershowitz, a frequent visitor to the university, were somewhat at a loss as what countermeasures should be offered that had not been tried before. The paper’s author, Rommey Hassman, proposed an interdisciplinary tool that would integrate strategic management, marketing, and branding approaches with diplomatic and ideological doctrines; underlying the mix would be the Jewish notion of tikkun olam, which, as Neil Gandal, the head of the Hartog School, wrote in his opening note, ‘posits the ethical and moral responsibility of the Jewish people to the world’. Gandal contended that the State of Israel could improve its image by emphasising its contributions in the field of humanitarian assistance and development, while also strengthening its work in the developing world.41

The abstract of Hassman’s paper sets forth three main steps through which the government of Israel should market the nation:

1. Establish a national communications council: This council would be established in the framework of the Prime Minister’s Office, and would be headed by the government’s chief spokesperson. It would administer and oversee a network of government spokespersons, coordinating their stand on policy, security, and economic and social issues.
2. Market the nation: To do this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would function as the international marketing arm of the State of Israel. In this capacity, it would coordinate the marketing of Israel, supervising international press secretaries and spokespersons, contact with foreign journalists and media, and monitoring the international media. The Ministry would also be responsible for all of Israel’s embassies, consulates, missions and representatives throughout the world.
3. Establish a Communications Division within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF): This unit would coordinate an expanded IDF Spokesperson’s Bureau, any units in the military dealing with research and consciousness design, the network of soldier-spokespersons, and Israel Army Radio (Galei Zahal). In working with the foreign media, the IDF Spokesperson’s Bureau would function as an implementing body, acting on the recommendations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and under the guidance of the national communications council.42

He then ends the abstract by cautioning:

Since it is not possible to simultaneously address all target markets, priorities will have to be set. This paper prioritizes nation marketing by country, based on a measure of the strength of the relationship between each country and the State of Israel.43

I introduce this lengthy quote in full because it constitutes the kind of knowledge that neo-Zionist academia is producing on Israel as we move into and through the second decade of the twenty-first century. The past has been rewritten as a Zionist narrative, while the present is depicted as a battlefield for survival. The impressive and hopeful challenge from within has disappeared. Here and there, yes, it is still alive in the work of brave NGOs such as Zochrot, New Profile, Ta’ayush, and others which, when counted together, form just a tiny minority within the society. But in the academy, media and other cultural stages, there remain few individuals who, under heavy censorship and a campaign of intimidation, still dare offer alternative interpretations of past and present reality. As before, much of what they do relates organically to the Palestinian, native and indigenous narratives of the past and the information campaigns of the present.

But the sheer power of the Jewish state, and its potential to destabilise the region, if not the world, fuels the continuing attempt to comprehend the idea of Israel in the twenty-first century. Such efforts take place mostly outside the entrenched State, although quite a few fugitives from it are important partners in this enterprise. In the new division of labour, at present, Palestinians seek to redefine who they are, following a century of dispossession, fragmentation and colonisation. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, since Israelis have ceased to do so, is trying to grasp the nature and future intentions of the State created in 1948, with the blessings of the international community but against the wishes of the indigenous population and the region on which that State was forced.

For everyone concerned, one issue is painfully – or gratefully, as the case may be – clear. The idea of Israel became a living organism: a State of seven million people, an advanced economy, a powerful army, a thriving culture and a third generation of settlers who become native as time goes by.

In recent years, two progressive paradigms have emerged in the scholarly/activist attempt to depict the phenomena of Zionism and Israel as accurately and ethically as possible. They are the settler colonialist paradigm and the apartheid paradigm. Both challenge effectively the official Israeli, and mainstream scholarly, approach, which insists on seeing Zionism exclusively as a national liberation movement and Israel as a liberal democracy.

And yet, despite their usefulness, both paradigms are unsatisfactory. They apply historical case studies with a known closure to an ongoing reality. In the conventional study of colonialism, settler colonialist states are states whose colonialist history is behind them. But until we find something more appropriate, these paradigms are the best we have. In this respect, we face difficulties similar to those faced by the academics, experts and pundits who try to explain the nature and orientation of the revolutions in the Arab world, the so-called Arab Spring. Both are open-ended phenomena. Their closure is yet to occur.

Pressure from the outside world reached a peak in the summer of 2013 with the decision of the EU to impose partial sanctions on Israel. The cartographic image Israel has broadcast of itself since 1948 – an island of stability, civilization and morality in a sea of barbarism, primitivism and fanaticism – has already been challenged. Even the half million Israelis who demonstrated in vain for a better standard of living in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011 recognized that this map is becoming reversed, not only in the eyes of the world but also in their own perceptions. ‘Tel Aviv is the new Tahrir Square’, they chanted, and in 2013 threatened to create a new Tahrir Square because the government that had been elected in 2012 was not meeting any of their basic demands for better housing, employment and education.

The powers that be in the State of Israel are thus far tolerating the uglier face of the Arab Spring, in particular that of the Syrian government as it sends its air force to bomb freely whatever it deems a strategic threat to the state. The Israeli élite are hoping that the Spring will once more produce a monstrous Islamic sea that will restore Israel’s image as an island of stability. But this is not going to happen.

Even in the most chaotic and violent moments of this new historical process, world public opinion has not absolved Israel from its continued oppression of the Palestinians. Israel is seen more and more as a colonialist state that survived the twentieth century but is maintained because of its usefulness to the United States and its effective role in the global capitalist economy. There is no longer any moral dimension for the global support, and when the more functional side of this support starts to weaken, the scenarios shared, for better or for worse, by post- and neo-Zionists alike – of life in a pariah state that maintains an apartheid regime – may come true. This book was written with the hope that these grim scenarios would not transpire, but with the uncomfortable sense that they are already unfolding before our eyes.


References:

1 From the official website of the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport, speech made on 3 May 2012. On the debate in English one can look at Haaretz, 6 October 2011 when the initiative was announced and the subsequent debate on 6 December 2011. The full list of the 2012 winners appears only in the Hebrew version of the ministry of culture website; not in the English one.
2 Ibid.
3 Haaretz, 6 October 2011 ‘Ministry of Culture Offers Prize for ‘Zionist-Orientated’ Art.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Reported in Haaretz 28 April 2013.
8 Reported in Haaretz, 6 December 2011.
9 Haaretz, 25 May, 2013.
10 All the reports appear in website: http://www.ngo-monitor.org.il in three languages: Hebrew, English and French.
11 The quote is taken from Sarah Shulman ‘A Documentary Guide to “Brand Israel” and the Art of Pinkwashing, Mondowiess, http://www.mondoweiss.net 30 November 2011.
12 Ibid.
13 The David Project, http://www.davidproject.org
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 Quoted in Schulman, A Documentary.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Reported in Yediot Achronot, 27 July, 2011
22 Quoted in Gary Rosenblat,’ Marketing a New Image,’ Jewish Week, 20 January 2005.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid. 25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 See their website, http://www.israelatheart.org
28 ‘Calls to Boycott Batsheva in the Edinburgh Festival’, Haaretz, 17 July 2012.
29 It was first reported in The Guardian on May 22, 2009 and removed on July 15 that year
30 As reported in Schulman, A Documentary. Globes reported on 9 March, 2011 that the Ministry of Education decided to invest 45 million NIS in furthering the campaign. And about 88 million dollars were invested in imaging Tel-Aviv as the gay capital of the West.
31 Schulman, A Documentary.
32 The report can be found also in English. ‘The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewell, the Reut Institute, http://www.reut-institute.org, 13 February 2010.
33 An Interview to Haaretz, 28 November 2007.
34 Also exists in English, Jewish People Policy Institute, Annual Assessment 2010, Executive Report 7, p. 182.
35 Lea Landman, ‘Winning the Battle of the Narrative’, in the Tenth Herzeliya Annual Report, 31 January-3 February 2010, pp. 56-60.
36 Peter Beinart, ‘The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, New York Review of Books, June 10, 2010.
37 Publicised by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Press report see the Israeli Foreign Ministry official website, 21 October 2010.
38 A lecture he gave in the Law College in Netanya and was publicized on the official website of the office called in Israel ‘the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories’, on April 18, 2012.
39 The Summary of the Eleventh Herzliya Conference in http://www.herzliyaconference.org.
40 Ibid.
41 Rommey Hassman, The Israeli Brand; Nation Marketing under Constant Conflict, the Hartog Harold School of Government, University of Tel-Aviv, April 2008.
42 Ibid, p. 5.
43 Ibid, pp. 57-58.

One thought on “The naked face of Israel – Ilan Pappé on rebranding Zionism

  1. Zoe says:

    This pornographic advertising the State of Israel engages in is *bizarrely* at odds w/ its religious Zionism claims. Which is so very puzzling; it makes those claims suspect. I can’t get my head round how people rationalise that glaringly obvious contradiction.

    The indigenous very elderly Oriental Jews who live there must be *very* unhappy of what has become of their home. (Something I know is true – for some of those people – from firsthand knowledge. As those elderly indigenous Jews my good friend from Nazareth knew called the State of Israel & its newcomers ‘The Occupiers/Occupation’). People should be ashamed of embarrassing their elderly modestly dressed neighbours (Syrian Jewish & Christian & Muslim) in their thobs (long trad. male shirts/frocks) & suit jackets & lambswool caps – by forcing these obscenities upon them. Smh…

    This is a very loud clue that Judaism & religious Zionism & secular anything goes modernism are used *equally* to advance the heavy weaponry colonialism in place.

    This actress who played Wonderwoman was in the IDF (& not against her will as is true for some anti-war Israelis) & more importantly was defending the bombing of Gaza & excusing the killing of innocent civilians there inc. children. Hence Lebanon boycotted the film. As should everyone w/ a sliver of humanity.

    Like

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