Thursday, August 21, 2008

Branding Israel

So I liked the lady from the foreign ministry who addressed the blogger conference yesterday, and not just because she came schizophrenically dressed. (Elbows, cleavage, and a tichel?) She made some excellent points about branding Israel, and wasn't afraid to tell a room full of likudnik-aliya-happy warbloggers that they, alas, are part of the problem. [Related]

According to the focus group information she shared, ordinary upscale Americans think Israel is a scary place. This is not because the editors of the New York Times have implanted microchips in their brains, nor is it because ordinary, upscale, Americans are all liberal, Jew-hating anti-Semites, who descend from Cossacks and Nazis. It is because Israel is always presented through either the prism of the conflict or as the Jewish homeland. The latter no one cares about. The former scares the crap out of people.

Why does this matter? Because its bad for business. If Israel is perceived as a drunk-on-religion sort of place, where people carry guns and live behind barbed wire fence, they will be less likely to visit or to buy Israeli made products. They won't hire Israelis. They won't invite Israelis to speak, or buy books by Israeli writers because they imagine it's either all about God, or about the war - two topics ordinary, upscale Americans prefer to ignore. [Aside: I once told an educated, Republican, church-going Southerner that I was planning to visit Israel. She asked: "Will the hotel provide you with towels, or do you have to bring your own?" Her picture of the place was pure third world.]

The answer, we learned yesterday, is for Israel to put another foot forward, to share other facets, and other sides of the Israeli experience. To let people know that Israel is something besides fanatics with machine guns. Predictably, this suggestion has irritated more than one RW lunatic. [Including the genious who heckled the speaker with chants of "But Israel is a Jewish state." I mean, duh, but not the point: Sure, Israel is a Jewish state, but if most people don't care, what are you going to do? Stamp your feet?]

The root reason for their ire, I believe, connects to why they are RW lunatics in the first place.

See, the RW lunatic tends to see only black or white -- you're either with or us against us -- and he is usually able to recognize only one truth: his own. In the mind of a RWer, the ordinary, upscale American who sees Israel as a scary, dangerous place, is simply wrong. She's not her own perceiving center, with her own truth. She's a flawed human being, with mistaken ideas, who needs to be corrected. The idea that perhaps some common ground is available is an anathema. Those who would attempt to do this by presenting Israel to the world as something other than the Jewish state, aren't seen as pragmatic patriots attempting to make a sale, but as ideological traitors.

[Meanwhile, my fellow LW lunatics all seem to think her ideas were swell]

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