ZOA Letter in Commentary Magazine About Israel’s PR
January 4, 2010

To the Editor:
Jonathan S. Tobin is absolutely correct to unravel the shortsightedness and ineffectiveness of public-relations strategies designed to turn Israel into a popular brand name rather than to refurbish its maligned image abroad.

Such marketing strategies cannot succeed, because Israel is not simply a commodity, or even a collection of impressive commodities, but a cause that has been viciously maligned and whose merits need to be affirmed anew. Let us put it another way: no one will change his visceral disgust for a murderer because he is shown to be handsome, charming, and intelligent. An effort to stress such qualities could be perceived as a smokescreen.

If people believe that Israel stole Arab land, regularly kills innocent Arabs, and makes no peace gestures, then they will not sympathize with and support it just because it can field glamorous models in bikinis or showcase spectacular holiday resorts. The hard work of affirming (not simply defending) Israel’s cause cannot be simply ignored or left to take care of itself.

Zionist Organization of America
New York City


Jonathan S. Tobin writes:
I am glad to read via Michael Kotzin that some backers of the Israel Branding Project believe their marketing strategy is merely one aspect of a multifaceted framework of Israel advocacy. As I wrote in the piece in question, there is nothing wrong with supporters of Israel attempting to promote a more attractive as well as a more realistic image of the country to the world.

However, a concept that dismisses the need to address attacks on the Jewish state’s legitimacy and right of self-defense as mere crisis management, while talk of beaches, science, and creativity is seen as the main strategic approach, is fundamentally flawed. A marketing plan that does not understand that debunking the “Israel equals apartheid” slander is the country’s main image problem must be judged as not being as sophisticated as its authors claim it to be. The notion that the Middle East conflict can be ignored or transcended at the very moment when it is intensifying is an act of self-delusion, not sophistication. Encouraging visits or product purchases may be desirable goals, but they are not the country’s main challenge for the foreseeable future.

It is understandable that those who love the country would like to accentuate the many positive attributes of Israeli life. But as Morton Klein and Daniel Mandel rightly note in their generous comments about my article, at this moment in history, supporters of Israel cannot afford to be distracted from their responsibility to speak up for the justice of their cause. To the extent that Israel Branding does serve as a distraction from that necessary duty, or as an excuse to de-emphasize political issues that some find troublesome, it must be seen as a dangerous failure.

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