‘Brand Israel’ self-destructs

Stuart Littlewood
Stuart Littlewood
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“Israel’s brand image does not serve its interests right now,” said Ido Aharoni, head of brand management at the foreign ministry, five years ago.

So, Israel hired a British firm of image consultants.

Mr Aharoni blamed their image problem on the strain of the Israel-Palestine struggle and 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?”

These are desperate times for Israel. It has the worst brand reputation on the planet because the regime offers the world nothing except trouble.

Stuart Littlewood

Good question. But it is Mr Aharoni’s own government that needs to spend some time in front of a mirror... and recoil in horror. It assassinates opponents, routinely abducts Palestinians in the dead of night, demolishes their homes, confiscates their lands and strangles their economy. At the time of his remarks some 10,000 people, including women and children and MPs, languished 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 adventures.

A brand overhaul would, one might expect, force an honest self-examination. But no. Haaretz reported Mr Aharoni as saying: “Our research shows that Israel’s brand is essentially the conflict. Even those who recognize that Israel is in the right are not attracted to it, because they see it as a supplier of bad news. The conclusion is that it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right.”

I do hope he wasn’t charged too much for those laughable findings… “more important to be attractive than right”. And while all that re-branding talk was going on Mr Aharoni’s colleagues were planning their infamous “blitzkrieg” on Gaza, codenamed “Operation Cast Lead,” and the mega-deaths that went with it.

“Chi” magic

The London firm that accepted this impossible challenge, Acanchi, said it aimed to “unlock the magic that can be used to create a compelling brand positioning.” To achieve this it would 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 channeling this chi into a brand positioning that reflects the core truths of a place.”

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… The essence of a country has to be based on a core set of truths…” Gilmore and her team claim to be leading experts in these matters. “Acanchi delivers tailored positioning strategy solutions for countries, regions and cities and is a pioneer in the field of developing holistic country positioning strategies,” says the website.

One is left wondering if she ever managed to discover “the core truths and essence” of the Israeli regime and whether its tanks, occupation troops, helicopter gun-ships and white phosphorus bombs have a proper place in the Holy Land. The cruelly oppressed Christian and Muslim communities would love to know.

Acanchi's mission, according to Haaretz, was to create a brand disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict and focused instead on Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements… though how you can just sweep the ongoing crimes against humanity under the brand carpet isn’t explained.

It is puzzling why a respectable firm of UK consultants would wish to repair the image of the Middle East’s most notorious land-grabber, ethnic cleanser and all-round threat to world peace. Assuming that, as professionals, they observed the caveat that “no marketing communication should mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise,” how could their client – even with the help of chi’s magic powers – be made to smell like an English rose?

Yet by October 2008 Acanchi was said to be only weeks away from launching the new “Israel brand.” What happened? Today, the only reference to Israel that I can find on the Acanchi website is the Fuel Choices Initiative.

Mission Impossible

A brand is only as good as the actual product, its reputation and how it scores on all the measures people use to evaluate it. Upgrading the “Israel brand” can only be achieved if the product itself and the people behind it change for the better. That would require a courageous and seismic revision of attitude by committed Zionists, which isn’t about to happen. So it remains a “mission impossible.”

That’s why, four years ago, “The Israel Project,” a U.S. media advocacy group, produced a revised training manual to help the worldwide Zionist movement win the propaganda war, keep their ill-gotten territorial gains and persuade international audiences that their crimes were not only necessary but – would you believe it – consistent with “shared values” between Israel and the civilized West.

The manual teaches how to justify the slaughter, the ethnic cleansing, the land-grabbing, the cruelty and the blatant disregard for international law and U.N. resolutions, all made more acceptable with a liberal sprinkling of persuasive language. It is designed to make us American and European “persuadables” believe that we actually share values with the racist regime in Israel and that its abominable behavior deserves our support.

This quote at the beginning sets the tone: “Remember, it’s not what you say that counts. It’s what people hear.”
The strategy from the start is to isolate democratically-elected Hamas and rob the resistance movement and the Palestinian population of their human rights. Here, for example, is the manual’s advice on how to make a begging-bowl Military Aid speech:

- “Israel makes the request for military assistance out of self-defense. As a democracy, they have the right and the responsibility to protect our borders. As a democracy, they have the right and the responsibility to protect their citizens.

- “Israel does not ask for U.S. troops to protect itself. It does not ask for a single American soldier to protect its borders. It only asks for the funds for them to protect themselves. They need the equipment so that their own troops can ensure the safety of their civilian population through this gathering conflict with the enemies of democracy.

- “They didn’t ask to have our nation built in range of Iranian missiles. They didn’t ask that their nation be a focal point for religious extremists who have declared war on the West and on democracy. But they are, and they need your help.”

And here’s the rationale behind it:

- “Americans fundamentally believe that a democracy has a right to protect its people and its borders. And while Americans don’t want to increase foreign aid in a time of significant budgetary deficits and painful spending cuts, there is one and only one argument that will work for Israel (in four easy steps):

1) As a democracy, Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend its borders and protect its people.
2) Terrorist groups, including Iran-backed Hezbollah and Hamas, continue to pose a direct threat to Israeli security and have repeatedly taken innocent Israeli lives.
3) Israel is America’s one and only true ally in the region. In these particularly unstable and dangerous times, Israel should not be forced to go it alone.
4) With America’s financial assistance, Israel can defend its borders, protect its people, and provide invaluable assistance to the American effort against the war against terrorism.

- “When the terror ends, Israel will no longer need to have challenging checkpoints to inspect goods and people. When the terror ends we will no longer need a security fence.”

Can you believe this baloney? There are no rockets coming out of the West Bank, so why is the illegal security wall still there- and still being built? Why are the occupation troops still there? Why are hundreds of checkpoints still there? Why is Israel still stealing land, demolishing Palestinian homes and building squatter colonies there? Evidently the British and American administrations didn’t believe in democracy enough to allow Palestinian democracy to flourish after full and fair elections in 2006.

Also note how Hezbollah and Hamas are linked to the word “terrorist” and Iran. Both groups were created to resist Israeli terror.

And here’s the manual’s advice on injecting “core values” into everything they say:

“The language of Israel is the language of America: “democracy,” “freedom,” “security,” and “peace.” These four words are at the core of the American political, economic, social, and cultural systems, and they should be repeated as often as possible because they resonate with virtually every American.”

“A simple rule of thumb is that once you get to the point of repeating the same message over and over again so many times that you think you might get sick—that is just about the time the public will wake up and say ‘Hey—this person just might be saying something interesting to me!’ But don’t confuse messages with facts… ”

The propaganda manual, which runs to 116 pages, is packed with techniques of deceit and distortion. It's a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work which recycles many of the discredited methods used by the advertising industry before standards of honesty, decency and truthfulness were brought in to protect the public.

And it serves to undermine with clever words the inalienable rights pledged by the U.N. and the world’s civilized nations to all peoples, including the Palestinians.

When you have to rely on something like this, you've lost it. Your brand is already on the scrapheap.

Teaching students to lie and engage in cyber-warfare

Last month saw a further escalation in Israel’s propaganda activity rather than improvements to the Israel product. The Times of Israel reported that “The Prime Minister’s Office is working to set up a network of advocacy units in Israeli universities, operated by students who will receive scholarships for their efforts totaling nearly $845,000.” The plan aims to harness 550 bilingual students drawn from the student pool at the country’s seven universities, who will target their efforts abroad.

Haaretz, in its report, calls the initiative “online public diplomacy.”

And according to IMEMC, “program organizers say that all criticism of Israel constitutes ‘anti-Semitism’ and should be combated using cyber-warfare and propaganda. To that end, they will be sending hundreds of self-proclaimed ‘student missionaries’ to colleges around the world to promote the online propaganda program and to encourage students to support the Israeli government’s agenda.”

PressTV points out that a liaison officer for the Zionist regime will oversee the dissemination of “rapid responses” from Israeli officials to news events, and coordinate with the regime’s other official bodies that deal with public diplomacy, including the Israeli military. One incensed commenter wrote: “You forgot to mention Israel already has over two million trolls and serfs hired by Tzipi Livni after the slaughter in Gaza called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ didn’t play so well in the World of Humanity. This is on top of the millions and millions of spies, trolls, and obfuscators Israel has in its back pocket, spewing lies and hatred on a daily basis.”

These are desperate times for Israel. It has the worst brand reputation on the planet because the regime offers the world nothing except trouble. It can't be patched up or made to smell fragrant with more lies and distortions. The skids are under it and the only way is down.

Meanwhile other nations – especially the U.S., UK, France, Canada and Egypt – need to beware “image transfer” and how association with Israel taints their own brand appeal.


Stuart Littlewood is a marketing specialist turned writer-photographer in the UK. He is a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English website and the author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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