After decades of using the same strategies and tactics, the same words and ploys and the same litany of "look-what-they did to us/look-what-they're-doing-to-us-now" language to try to improve Israel's image and more effectively advocate for Israel's interests, it is now essential that we look to a new paradigm for our efforts.
We seem stuck in a pattern some would call an alternative definition of insanity: We don't like the way Israel is perceived in the world, but we keep doing the same things over and over again expecting, somehow, that the outcome will be different. Israel's image around the world will not improve until we change the way we present Israel to the world.
Israel isn't a case and it isn't a cause. Yes, it's a sovereign state, yet it is a culture, an economy and a way of life as well. The totality of Israel is more than what is generally seen around the world through the media; usually what they cover is the result of policies created and actions taken by the government in a given period of time. Those of us who know the real Israel that exists today in the 21st century know that Israel is so much more, and so very different from what it seems to be when seen through the lenses and eyes of the cameras and reporters that deliver the news from Israel during these days of conflict.
If you "get" what I've just said, that the reality of Israel is different from the Israel as portrayed by a media that, quite expectedly and routinely, focuses more intensely on what blows up and dies as opposed to what adds value and saves, then you are on your way to understanding what I call The New Paradigm.
Paradigms are simple structures, and paradigm shifts are simple too, once the presumptions and prejudices that lock in the old paradigms are invalidated. So let's look at the current paradigm, the one that doesn't work and needs replacing.
Using the American perspective, we can say the following:
- 98% of what Americans see, read and hear about Israel is focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
- and 98% of what passionate, well-meaning pro-Israel interests do about this situation is either proactively or reactively related to the conflict;
- therefore, Israel becomes more and more defined by the conflict, and the conflict only.
This is disastrous for Israel, and The New Paradigm changes it. This is what it says:
- there is more to Israel than conflict and war;
- that "more" is a society that does things every day that add value to the world;
- therefore, we need to show the world what Israel is beyond the conflict; we need to show people how Israel innovates and creates.
We need to show the world what Israel is beyond the conflict; we need to show people how Israel innovates and creates.
Think of it this way, if we were to take every possible topic you can discuss about Israel -- the good and the bad -- and pile them one on top of another and they created a pile 50 stories high. The topics that are about the conflict would be two, maybe three stories high (and other problems of Israeli society another two or three stories). That leaves a pile of positive stories towering over the landscape that our present advocates -- with their myopic focus on the conflict and trying to prove Israel is always right -- can't even seem to see. Many of these stories are reasons for Americans to care about Israel -- all of them say something that Americans desperately need to know: that there is something other than war going on in Israel.
Last year the results of a major piece of research -- an in-depth study of Israel's "brand" in America -- were shown to officials of the Israeli government and selected interested parties. They showed that while Americans think Israel is unique, they don't think it's relevant to their lives. They found that while Americans think they know a lot about Israel, they don't very much like what they know. So Israel has some problems because of the way it is seen, but these problems don't conform to the critics' usual carping about the accents of Israel's spokespeople or the cacophony of the opinions raised in its vibrant democracy. The problems can be overcome, said the strategists from the major marketing conglomerate that conducted the study and shared its finding, and they said how to do it.
Israel needs to increase knowledge of Israel that also increases respect and esteem for Israel. Israel needs to make Americans think Israel is relevant to their lives. How? It's not more material about the history of the conflict and who's doing what to whom; people are clearly showing conflict-fatigue. It's information on how Israel's technological and biomedical innovations are saving lives and changing the world. It's information about the hundreds of millions of people who aren't hungry because of Israel's advances in agriculture and the hundreds of millions of computers and cellphones and other devices made possible or made better by Israeli ingenuity.
This is not to suggest that Israel not defend itself nor take appropriate defensive measures in the communications war. Rather it is the suggestion that Israel open another major front -- one that Israel has plenty of credible, effective ammunition with which to fight. It is not a suggestion that we ignore the issues of the conflict, it is the suggestion that we reallocate our effort and spend more time focusing attention on the Israel that exists beyond the conflict so that Israel's image won't be a prisoner of the conflict.
ISRAEL21c is a soldier in that battle. Our Web site has identified and distributed more than 800 stories that give Americans reasons to care about Israel and give Jews new reasons to be proud of Israel. Millions of people have seen our Web products. Our proactive PR program has placed more than 2,000 stories with positive images of Israel and Israelis in mainstream American media -- including The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, CNN, NPR and hundreds of dailies across the nation -- that wouldn't have been there without our effort to put them there. In June, we'll bring more than a dozen reporters from youth market media to Israel and show them the Israel beyond the conflict that young Israelis are creating through fashion, music, lifestyle, cinema, environmentalism and extreme sports.
For non-Jewish young Americans who have known nothing of Israel except the conflict, these reporters may show them their first-ever images of Israel that are not related to war. They'll see just how much life in Israel looks and feels like life in America. We're not alone. We work with the government of Israel, UJC, AIPAC, Hillel, federations and many other agencies. We're collaborating with like-minded groups in Canada, France and hopefully soon in the United Kingdom.
It's absolutely time for a new paradigm in Israel advocacy. We need to stop trying to prove Israel is always right - something that most moderate Americans are just not inclined to believe - and start showing that Israel has value and adds value to the world everyday. A very prominent businessman once said, "When cancer is cured in Israel, the world will think better of the Jews."
It may not be quite that simple, but the great things Israel does for the world do count for something. We just have to be sure the rest of the world knows about that Israel too.
The writer is executive vice president of ISRAEL21c, a California-based non-profit helping to rebrand Israel by focusing media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. www.israel21c.org