The Virtual World / The Natural World

The Israeli Brand

We judge nations by their deeds rather than by spin.
The Israeli Brand

Just Do It. Where’s the Beef? Yes We Can.


The public relations (PR) industry has made exceptional use of the communications revolution. But for all the globalizing effects of multinational campaigns, many brands seem inextricably tied to their home country. Injecting products into foreign markets has, to a certain extent, acted as a driving force in the way nation-states are perceived internationally. Coke, Marlboro and Starbucks are inseparable from their provenance, and Brand America is intimately tied to its products. But consumerism alone doesn’t tell the story of how America is perceived in the world; military adventurism and moral exceptionalism undermine the feel-good aspects of consuming Americana. A nation’s brand is inextricably tied to its actions in the world.

Nations, like products, are perpetually re-branded for the international market. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), for example, spends millions on targeted PR campaigns in a number of Western cities designed to shift associations away from war and occupation.

In March 2009 New York-based GfK Custom Research and British “place branding” consultant Simon Anholt released the global Nation Brands Index (NBI). It rates countries based on international perception of various categories, including tourism, investment, and immigration and governance. Germany ranked 1st overall, the UK 3rd, Canada 4th, the US 7th and China 28th. Iran placed 50th and Israel failed to make the top 50. While it’s tempting to dismiss nation branding as an example of the PR industry’s cynical commodification of the world, its assumptions can shed some light on Israel’s self-inflicted inability to re-brand.

Nation branding reveals the inherent contrivance of the concept of “nation” – a European invention born of a disastrous period of 15th-century religious warfare, leading to a centralization of violent power in the hands of a sovereign. Nationalism is a product of 18th- and 19th-century Romanticism, and every bit a human artifice. It helped radically reconfigure Western political identity toward our seemingly immutable system of nation-states. Israel came late to the game and has, from its beginnings, undertaken a conscious and very public project of constructing a national identity of godly strength. The pre-state Zionists dreamed of constructing the masculine “new Hebrew” of Palestine in contrast to the anemic “Galut Jew” of the diaspora – all at the price of creating the Palestinian refugee diaspora. Israel’s brand has suffered since.

Nation branding is also premised on the fact that no single actor can simply dictate political perception. People have to agree on, or be convinced of, political facts in order for them to become reality. Conscription and astronomical military spending project Israel’s tough guy identity to the world, leading to a dominant perception of violence and aggression. Go figure.

As Anholt admits, “Places can’t construct or manipulate their images with advertising or PR, slogans or logos … Places can only change their image by changing the way they behave.” Nation branding is doomed to failure unless action substantiates pomp.

• • •

In August 2008 the Israeli consulate in Toronto launched a one-year test market for a re-branding campaign. Roundly derided by human rights and peace groups, the campaign idealized Israel as a hub of high-tech research and development, cultural history and glitzy beach life. When asked directly about the goals of the campaign, Consul General Amir Gissin stated, “Israel’s branding process is first and foremost an internal process aimed at answering the question: Who are we as Israelis when we are at our best? The [Toronto] pilot was therefore not a PR campaign but rather an attempt to test the public opinion response to Israeli answers to this question.” While Mr. Gissin dodged questions about the impetus for the campaign, his public remarks are infinitely more candid. In September 2008 he told a group of supporters: “It’s not that our audience is ignorant. They feel they know too much … The Western media narrative is the poor Palestinians, Israeli tanks and Israeli guns. We’ve been portrayed that way for years.” He continued, “I offer you a framework for winning the public relations war.”

When Israel, with its influence on the North American media, complains of an overemphasis on its negative aspects, it proves the difficulty of reconstituting a national brand without real action. While portraying Israel as a single-issue country would betray a lack of knowledge, the fact is that in 2008 Israel spent $2,300 per person on its military – the highest in the world. When asked about this, Mr. Gissin rebutted, “[The] question reflects a school of thought that assumes that Israel is not allowed to be viewed outside the framework of the conflict. It is absurd. The conflict is a major part of Israel’s brand, and we are not hiding it. We believe, however, that Israel is more than the conflict, and we will continue to share information about that.” Perhaps.

Other than destroying southern Lebanon in the 1980s, clashing with Hezbollah and bombing Syria, Israel hasn’t fought anything close to a state army since 1973. So the world’s highest per capita military budget is arrayed toward the world’s longest-running occupation of an often indigent and defenseless population. The December 2008/January 2009 assault on the civilian infrastructure of Gaza was perhaps the clearest possible message Israel could have sent to the world.

It was easy enough to sell the assault to a society instilled with the belief that intergenerational war and occupation are normal. A Tel Aviv University poll showed almost 90% support for the slaughter, so Mr. Gissin’s worries about Israeli self-esteem seem misplaced. External perception, of course, has fared much worse. Spurred by international outrage, the United Nations has launched an investigation into war crimes and illegal use of weapons: the independent press and human rights groups (both Israeli and international) have brought serious allegations against Israel; soldiers who took part in the war are speaking out; and even the American State Department is beginning to understand the occupation as a detriment to Israel’s, and consequently its own, national brand. Bikini models and one of the world’s most accomplished high-tech sectors can’t grab the spotlight long enough to distract the world’s attention from the brutality of the occupation.

This hasn’t stopped the MFA from trying. In terms of Anholt’s branding criteria, human rights abuses cannot be taken completely out of the realm of international perception, but they might be superseded by generically sexier issues. Israel’s latest stunt to woo the Canadian audience – a Jewish hockey tournament in northern Israel – was dutifully covered in the mainstream press. That same week Amnesty International released Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction, a detailed and gruesome report of the various war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Israeli state against Gaza’s civilian population. It received virtually no mainstream media attention, but grassroots media, civil society and academia have refused to let the issue go.

The offensive on Gaza will continue to affect Israel’s brand. As the American political scientist and coauthor of The Israel Lobby Stephen Walt wrote after Gaza: “The way a country regains the world’s admiration in the aftermath of misconduct is to stop doing it, admit it was wrong, express regret and make it clear that it won’t happen again. Restoring Israel’s image in the West isn’t a matter of spin or PR or ‘re-branding’; it’s a matter of abandoning the policies that have cost it the sympathy it once enjoyed. It’s really just about that simple.” The dissonance between Israel’s re-branding campaign and its consistently negative image shows that contemporary reality matters. Mr. Gissin isn’t convinced. When pressed on Anholt and Walt’s emphasis on concrete action, he referred to Israel’s negative brand not as a reflection of reality but as the result of propaganda: “Israel is not a regular brand in the sense that there is an active and powerful worldwide campaign aimed at hurting Israel’s image. Few countries or places need to cope with such an environment, and taking [these] statements at face value in regard to Israel is missing the bigger picture.” Given Israel’s place behind Iran on the NBI, it would seem that the bigger picture of the world’s largest, most enduring refugee population and a destructive 42-year occupation is exactly what shapes the Israeli brand.

Our political opinion may now be the target of the same sophisticated marketing techniques that produced corn-fueled obesity and SUVs, but the difference is that nation-states are irreducible past their human components: our perception matters. Sixty-plus years of co-opting social and behavioral psychology to ram products down our collective throat have yet to overwhelm our political or moral compasses. We are still able to judge nation-states by their deeds rather than by their spin.

Craig Smith is a student in Toronto, Canada. He is celebrating a decade of TV-free living.

172 comments on the article “The Israeli Brand”

Displaying 41 - 50 of 172

Page 5 of 18

Craig Smith - Author

McAnonymous, Slak and any others who for some reason imported religion into the discussion: invoking an image of Islam in regards to an article about Israeli PR is spurious at best. Israel is a distinct political unit with well-defined legal, ethical, and political obligations that it has broken or ignored in an increasingly violent and flagrant way for the past 42 years at least. Islam is a religious system with more adherents than any other faith inim- the world. Muslims are as diverse in political orientation as they are in terms of beliefs and practices. In its logical structure, it is no different than equating Israel with Jews or vice versa. I would advise you to take care with your ethnoreligious essentialism and pay attention to the validity of comparable categories or units. The anonymous reply from Oct. 14th at 9:34pm succeeds in this regard.

Craig Smith - Author

McAnonymous, Slak and any others who for some reason imported religion into the discussion: invoking an image of Islam in regards to an article about Israeli PR is spurious at best. Israel is a distinct political unit with well-defined legal, ethical, and political obligations that it has broken or ignored in an increasingly violent and flagrant way for the past 42 years at least. Islam is a religious system with more adherents than any other faith inim- the world. Muslims are as diverse in political orientation as they are in terms of beliefs and practices. In its logical structure, it is no different than equating Israel with Jews or vice versa. I would advise you to take care with your ethnoreligious essentialism and pay attention to the validity of comparable categories or units. The anonymous reply from Oct. 14th at 9:34pm succeeds in this regard.

Reason Rebel

In March 2009 New York-based GfK Custom Research and British “place branding” consultant Simon Anholt released the global Nation Brands Index (NBI). It rates countries based on international perception of various categories, including tourism, investment, and immigration and governance. Germany ranked 1st overall, the UK 3rd, Canada 4th, the US 7th and China 28th. Iran placed 50th and Israel failed to make the top 50. While it’s tempting to dismiss nation branding as an example of the PR industry’s cynical commodification of the world, its assumptions can shed some light on Israel’s self-inflicted inability to re-brand.

This article is a lie. Spin at its worst. The NBI is a list of 50 countries that are ranked by 20 developed and developing nations. What is important for you all to know (Lloyd check for yourself) is this:

1) This is not a top 50 list, it is a list of 50 therefore Iran is ranked the worst of all that participated. No country was ranked lower.

2) Israel is not a country selected to participate in the list of 50. Therefore no effort was made to rank Israel on the list. This means that no insinuation of our perception of Israel can be made from the NBI study.

3) Craig Smiths conclusion is false because he interprets Israel exclusion from the entire study as being lower than Iran.....no reasonable person can make this conclusion.

No matter the opinion Adbusters.org has on Israel's brand or Identity, I would expect that they do try and uphold a level of credibility and Truth for its readers. That said I would like an editor to comment on this mistake and at least admit the allegations of Craig smith to be false.

In closing Craig Says:
Given Israel’s place behind Iran on the NBI, it would seem that the bigger picture of the world’s largest, most enduring refugee population and a destructive 42-year occupation is exactly what shapes the Israeli brand.

This is possibly the weakest conclusion a student could present. Not only is it factually incorrect, it is twice removed from any form of strong argument. 1) Israel never appeared on the list 2) if they were, their rank would be an average of 6 factors only one of them being their governance. Any total score would be attributed equally to categories including: people, culture, tourism, exports, governance, and culture meaning that there is only a lukewarm argument that a drop would be from the countries international policy.

You can check out the site at http://www.gfkamerica.com/practice_areas/roper_pam/nbi_index/index.en.html/ look for youself people. You can agree with the sentiment that Israel is Evil, but i would hope Culture Jammers wont take lightly being lied to by their big brother.

Reason Rebel

In March 2009 New York-based GfK Custom Research and British “place branding” consultant Simon Anholt released the global Nation Brands Index (NBI). It rates countries based on international perception of various categories, including tourism, investment, and immigration and governance. Germany ranked 1st overall, the UK 3rd, Canada 4th, the US 7th and China 28th. Iran placed 50th and Israel failed to make the top 50. While it’s tempting to dismiss nation branding as an example of the PR industry’s cynical commodification of the world, its assumptions can shed some light on Israel’s self-inflicted inability to re-brand.

This article is a lie. Spin at its worst. The NBI is a list of 50 countries that are ranked by 20 developed and developing nations. What is important for you all to know (Lloyd check for yourself) is this:

1) This is not a top 50 list, it is a list of 50 therefore Iran is ranked the worst of all that participated. No country was ranked lower.

2) Israel is not a country selected to participate in the list of 50. Therefore no effort was made to rank Israel on the list. This means that no insinuation of our perception of Israel can be made from the NBI study.

3) Craig Smiths conclusion is false because he interprets Israel exclusion from the entire study as being lower than Iran.....no reasonable person can make this conclusion.

No matter the opinion Adbusters.org has on Israel's brand or Identity, I would expect that they do try and uphold a level of credibility and Truth for its readers. That said I would like an editor to comment on this mistake and at least admit the allegations of Craig smith to be false.

In closing Craig Says:
Given Israel’s place behind Iran on the NBI, it would seem that the bigger picture of the world’s largest, most enduring refugee population and a destructive 42-year occupation is exactly what shapes the Israeli brand.

This is possibly the weakest conclusion a student could present. Not only is it factually incorrect, it is twice removed from any form of strong argument. 1) Israel never appeared on the list 2) if they were, their rank would be an average of 6 factors only one of them being their governance. Any total score would be attributed equally to categories including: people, culture, tourism, exports, governance, and culture meaning that there is only a lukewarm argument that a drop would be from the countries international policy.

You can check out the site at http://www.gfkamerica.com/practice_areas/roper_pam/nbi_index/index.en.html/ look for youself people. You can agree with the sentiment that Israel is Evil, but i would hope Culture Jammers wont take lightly being lied to by their big brother.

Craig Smith - Author

Reason Rebel, thank you for the research and clarification; it seems I was hasty in my initial reading of the nature and scope of the NBI, and I accept full responsibility for my scholarship. My oversight does indeed bring up questions about the effectiveness of the argument, which I will address below. In sum, however, I disagree about the invalidity of the argument and its conclusions. Before I explain, I must forcefully disagree with your assertion that I somewhere labelled Israel as ‘Evil’, this is simply not true, an utter fabrication. ‘Evil’ is rhetorical, loaded, junk term. Whether used as a device to spur a ‘war on terror’, to legitimate an image of the ‘great Satan’, or for any other utility, it simply holds no analytical weight. If you are somehow interested in the term ‘evil’ in a political/philosophical context, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the concept as it occurs in the work of Hannah Arendt. A useful, recent, and insightful discussion of its application can be found in Patrick Hayden’s "Political Evil in a Global Age: Hannah Arendt and International Theory", (Routledge, 2009).

In regards to the article: Let’s assume for a moment that neither the opening nor closing paragraph (the ones you quoted) mentioned the NBI as evidence. What would the effect on the argument be? Very little in fact. The Israeli MFA has gone to great lengths and great expense to shift its image from a pariah actively engaged in colonization, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, to an innovative and progressive member of the international community. Their PR tactics are multi-faceted to say the least. Fortunately for us, international human rights groups, excellent independent media like DemocracyNow!, and decades of serious scholarship have made the truth of the matter plain for anyone who takes the time to investigate facts and ignore spin. Active inquisition into the truth bears fruit in short order, and utterly demolishes the effects of propaganda. Reading books instead of watching TV helps a great deal.

But it’s not as if the NBI and Anholt’s branding criteria don’t play any role in the Israeli MFA’s considerations, nor is it true that the Israeli MFA hides the fact that it is engaged in an active campaign to shift focus away from the brutality of life as experienced by Palestinians. My conversation with Mr. Gissin centred on the concept and project of Nation Branding as it is presented in the article. In fact, here’s a direct quote from Mr. Gissin that didn’t make it into the piece: “I tend to agree with Mr. Anholt's perception. One should remember, however, that Israel is not a regular brand in the sense that there is an active and powerful world-wide campaign aimed at hurting Israel's image. Few countries or places need to cope with such environment, and taking Mr. Anholt's statement at face value in regard to Israel is missing the bigger picture.” What is this ‘bigger picture’ that Mr. Gissin would have us take into account? It’s exactly as I presented it in the article. We simply need to analyze the content and effects of the rebranding campaign, which has, as a result of the truth the MFA is trying to marginalize, failed. This is the central claim of the piece and it holds despite my problematic claims about the NBI.

I’ve contended repeatedly that Israel is not a one issue country. I have spent a significant amount of time there, and a good amount of my research focuses on Israel’s identity, self-image, and image to the world. These are not entirely the same thing, but nor are they different phenomena entirely. The rebranding campaign is but a contemporary manifestation of both an internal and external process of identity creation. I highly suggest Yael Zerubavel’s "Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition", (University of Chicago Press, 1995) as an entrance into the themes.

Again Reason Rebel, I appreciate your research. I will indeed be more careful in the future. I know you’ll be watching.

Craig Smith - Author

Reason Rebel, thank you for the research and clarification; it seems I was hasty in my initial reading of the nature and scope of the NBI, and I accept full responsibility for my scholarship. My oversight does indeed bring up questions about the effectiveness of the argument, which I will address below. In sum, however, I disagree about the invalidity of the argument and its conclusions. Before I explain, I must forcefully disagree with your assertion that I somewhere labelled Israel as ‘Evil’, this is simply not true, an utter fabrication. ‘Evil’ is rhetorical, loaded, junk term. Whether used as a device to spur a ‘war on terror’, to legitimate an image of the ‘great Satan’, or for any other utility, it simply holds no analytical weight. If you are somehow interested in the term ‘evil’ in a political/philosophical context, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the concept as it occurs in the work of Hannah Arendt. A useful, recent, and insightful discussion of its application can be found in Patrick Hayden’s "Political Evil in a Global Age: Hannah Arendt and International Theory", (Routledge, 2009).

In regards to the article: Let’s assume for a moment that neither the opening nor closing paragraph (the ones you quoted) mentioned the NBI as evidence. What would the effect on the argument be? Very little in fact. The Israeli MFA has gone to great lengths and great expense to shift its image from a pariah actively engaged in colonization, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, to an innovative and progressive member of the international community. Their PR tactics are multi-faceted to say the least. Fortunately for us, international human rights groups, excellent independent media like DemocracyNow!, and decades of serious scholarship have made the truth of the matter plain for anyone who takes the time to investigate facts and ignore spin. Active inquisition into the truth bears fruit in short order, and utterly demolishes the effects of propaganda. Reading books instead of watching TV helps a great deal.

But it’s not as if the NBI and Anholt’s branding criteria don’t play any role in the Israeli MFA’s considerations, nor is it true that the Israeli MFA hides the fact that it is engaged in an active campaign to shift focus away from the brutality of life as experienced by Palestinians. My conversation with Mr. Gissin centred on the concept and project of Nation Branding as it is presented in the article. In fact, here’s a direct quote from Mr. Gissin that didn’t make it into the piece: “I tend to agree with Mr. Anholt's perception. One should remember, however, that Israel is not a regular brand in the sense that there is an active and powerful world-wide campaign aimed at hurting Israel's image. Few countries or places need to cope with such environment, and taking Mr. Anholt's statement at face value in regard to Israel is missing the bigger picture.” What is this ‘bigger picture’ that Mr. Gissin would have us take into account? It’s exactly as I presented it in the article. We simply need to analyze the content and effects of the rebranding campaign, which has, as a result of the truth the MFA is trying to marginalize, failed. This is the central claim of the piece and it holds despite my problematic claims about the NBI.

I’ve contended repeatedly that Israel is not a one issue country. I have spent a significant amount of time there, and a good amount of my research focuses on Israel’s identity, self-image, and image to the world. These are not entirely the same thing, but nor are they different phenomena entirely. The rebranding campaign is but a contemporary manifestation of both an internal and external process of identity creation. I highly suggest Yael Zerubavel’s "Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition", (University of Chicago Press, 1995) as an entrance into the themes.

Again Reason Rebel, I appreciate your research. I will indeed be more careful in the future. I know you’ll be watching.

Lloyd Pitcher

Reason Rebel,

You are indeed right. I did some research on the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) and I'm was shocked to see that Israel wasn't even a country that was analysed! Thus, the idea that Israel was part of this study is totally preposterous!

Adbusters, you owe your readers an apology! This entire article is based on false logic! It should be pulled immediately. Shame on the editors of Adbusters for not catching this, and kudos goes to Reason Rebel for Adbusting Adbusters!

Lloyd Pitcher

Reason Rebel,

You are indeed right. I did some research on the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) and I'm was shocked to see that Israel wasn't even a country that was analysed! Thus, the idea that Israel was part of this study is totally preposterous!

Adbusters, you owe your readers an apology! This entire article is based on false logic! It should be pulled immediately. Shame on the editors of Adbusters for not catching this, and kudos goes to Reason Rebel for Adbusting Adbusters!

Reason Rebel

Lloyd what is worse is that this was even published in the magazine. volume 17 number 6. The natural world virtual world issue.

Reason Rebel

Lloyd what is worse is that this was even published in the magazine. volume 17 number 6. The natural world virtual world issue.

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