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Marketing Israel: Is it the campaign, or does the product suck?

A study shows that Israel’s tarnished image has nothing to do with its Hasbara mechanism. Actually, the reason for the failure is pretty straightforward.

Some ad companies can do miracles. They can actually do the impossible: sell a bad product.

The easiest examples come from the food industry. Take Coke, or McDonald’s burgers. These are products that are known to be unhealthy. Yet, the Mad Men still somehow get these companies to sell, sell, sell.

Israel has its own ad company. It’s an enormous, cross-ministry-organization apparatus known as Hasbara.

Yet, despite being one of the most successful propaganda machines ever made, Israel’s image in the world is tarnished. So, is there a problem with Hasbara? According to a study published today by the Molad think tank… no!

It is clear from an analysis of the data that the commonly held belief, obsessively reiterated by senior officials, that Israel has a “hasbara problem”, is fundamentally incorrect. The success or failure of the hasbara apparatus must be evaluated based on the relevant goals and standards of such an apparatus. This paper shows that, in light of the Israeli hasbara apparatus’s efficiency and sophistication as evaluated based on its goals and standards, one cannot attribute Israel’s poor international status and image to insufficient and inefficient hasbara.

The conclusion of this study is that the “hasbara problem” is a myth that diverts focus from Israel’s real problems which are the results of problematic policy, not flawed hasbara of appropriate policy.

Apparently, there’s just no way to spin Israel’s policies in a good way.

This conclusion reminded me of David Sable, Global CEO of Y&R, “one of the world’s leading global marketing communications companies, with 186 offices in 90 countries.” Sable was interviewed in 2009 on many topics by JInsider, including his perspective on the marketing of Israel.

I found these seven minutes to be fascinating. In 2009, I probably agreed a lot with what Sable said back then. But since then I’ve veered more to the left, and there are probably more than a few things Sable and I disagree with politically today.

Furthermore, at times, it seems that some of his critique was not a critique of Israeli policy itself, but more a critique of how Israel “allows” the policy to look. As I watched Sable speak, there were a few moments that  reminded me of the soldiers in the West Bank who recently complained that the presence of cameras as they are policing the territories is their own personal “kryptonite.” If only those darn cameras weren’t there, they’d be able to take care of things the right way.

Yet what I like most of this clip is Sable’s ability to look at the issue at hand purely from a professional marketing view. He does this quite successfully, for the most part, admitting that at times his analysis may sound like a political stance. His bottom line, as he says, is: “It is what it is!”

How true. The brutal occupation is a brutal occupation. The eviction of a family from Sheikh Jarrah is exactly that. The murder of a protester by shooting a tear gas canister directly at his chest is a murder. The expansion of a settlement is the expansion of a settlement. The dropping of a bomb on a Gazan family is exactly that.

There’s no way it can look good. Sable’s words from 2009 are as relevant today as they were then.

You might be Don Draper. But sometimes, no matter how good you are, you’re just stuck with a bad product.

Hasbara: Why does the world fail to understand us?

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    1. A couple of days ago a friend showed me an amusing excerpt from a glossy hasbara booklet that had been left in his university common room (in a UK university). It details all Israel’s various contributions to the world – technological, cultural, medical, etc. – and in the section on humanitarianism it says something like, “The Israeli flag has become an expected and familiar sight at scenes of humanitarian disaster.” While the product is definitely faulty, the campaign could do with a proofreader…

      Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      Ask people in the world outside of the Middle East what they think of when they hear the word “Palestinian”? Would it be “humantarianism”? or ….suicide bomber?

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      • JG

        And even such lame hasbara counterquestions won’t do the trick for your bad product.
        Read and understand the article. Ansd undestand that the outside world is thinking of suppression if they hear “Palestinians”. And it’s not because of a better propaganda, it’s because of facts on the ground. Get over it

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        • A. Kuperblum aaa.seo@gmail.com

          >And it’s not because of a better propaganda, it’s because of facts on the ground.

          Not really.

          Facts on the ground are that Palestinians had started this war nearly 100 years ago.

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          • Yonatan

            Arabs and Jews were living together in harmony in Palestine until the Zionists started to come in taking over the land and making their intentions clear.

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          • XYZ

            Oh, please, this myth has been around too long. There has always been ongoing tension between all the different groups in the Middle East from time in memoriam. It is true that on a day to day level people did live together and do business together, but the tension was and is always in the background. When something happens, like a dispute between two members of the group, it is always in the back of the minds of those involved that “you know, after all, he is one of THEM”!. Look at what is happening in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Libya and Algeria to see how different groups in the Middle East get along with each other. The Ottomans managed to keep a lid on things for 400 years because they cracked heads of those that got out of line. The Jews in the country were able to survive in the 19th century because they got various (antisemitic) powers in Europe to intervene on their behalf
            as a way to increase the influence of those powers with the Ottoman authorities (not out of any love of the Jews!).

            Reply to Comment
          • Fernandes

            In all of the places that you mention, the sectarian clashes are of very recent origin – they aren’t just the latest manifestation of some very old rivalries. Plus, much of those recent tensions are fomented by new ideologies promoted by outside parties; most notably Saudi Arabia but also, to some extent, the US. In Iraq, for example, the sectarian clashes started when Iraqi Al-Qaeda, a group whose membership is largely non-Iraqi, bombed some important Shia shrines after the 2003 US invasion. In Lebanon, resentment (by Sunnis, Christians and Druzes alike) has much to do with the fact that Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon that gets to store weapons legally, and this gives the Shias a leverage regarding, for example, land disputes between sects, of which there are many thanks to the latest civil war. The violent, ultra-religious Salafi groups that will time and again try to provoke the Shias to a fight are propped up by Saudi Arabia, as some of its princes have proudly admitted, and do not represent the general Sunni population of Lebanon, which is, if anything, the most secularized sect in the country. And in Syria, the role of foreign fighters and Gulf monarchies in inciting sectarianism could hardly be clearer.

            When people cite the “tensions” between groups in Palestine before Israel’s establishment, they’ll cite, for example, the 1929 Hebron riots. But this particular event, and others similar to it, shouldn’t be lazily attributed to some perennial “tensions in the background”; they’re the product of identifiable historical developments; in that case, the Zionist attempt to plunge the native population of Palestine into poverty by taking over their lands, laying off non-Jewish workers whose families had been working on those lands for centuries; and denying them employment yet again when they migrated to the cities.

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          • Scootalol

            Of course there’s been “tension” between the different groups in the region. There’s always been “tension” everywhere that different groups of humanity meet – and a homogenous group will FIND differences to argue over.

            You claim “The Ottomans kept a lid on it”? Well, no, there was nothing to “keep a lid on.” It’s not as though the middle east were some chaotic place of perpetual warfare before Osman finished off the Byzantines and took over the Caliphate. Such periods of chaos and open strife in the region are the EXCEPTION, not the rule as you seem to wish.

            The violence and conflict we identify the Middle East with in the 20th century and beyond is INTRODUCED. Of course there were always “tensions,” but the artificial creation of countries by European powers and constant interference in the region has created the situation we see today.

            Spare the myth of “oh, they’ve been fighting forever,” that’s just a diversion, an excuse for apathy and a method by which the person using it passes away their own ignorance.

            Reply to Comment
      • Aaron Gross

        “Saintly victim.”

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      • Aaron Gross

        Israel’s problem is not hasbarah and it’s not policy. Israel’s problem is Israel. Settlements or not, Western Europeans and a growing minority of Americans are still going to adopt a stance against a (perceived) “Western” staatvolk ruling over “people of color.” Currently, that anti-Israel stance is focused on the 1967 occupation because that’s the site of most of the fighting, figuratively and literally. After a withdrawal from Gaza (yes), Judea, and Samaria, the anti-Israel attitude will be focused on “apartheid” in Israel proper, and on whatever else the Palestinians decide to focus attention on.

        This question is kind of a hobby horse of mine, so, sorry for repeating myself. Western opposition to Israel since the 1970s is much more about changes in Western culture and self-image than about events in the region. Ending the 1967 occupation won’t fix it. Neither will the best hasbarah. People very rarely change their sympathies in the middle of a war.

        Reply to Comment
        • Oriol2

          I don’t think what you say is true, Aaron. Israel was created on the land of other people, true. But you could say the same about the USA, Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and others. If there is a real end to the conflict and Israel remains in Middle East like just another country, and the descendants of Palestinians are assimilated in other Arabic countries, or elsewhere, I am sure Israel would be considered a “normal” country in a few decades, perhaps even less.

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            I agree with you that if there’s a real end to the conflict and Palestinians become like Indians in America or aborigines in Australia (or like the Druse in Israel), then the world will accept Israel. I don’t expect to see that in my lifetime.

            Conversely, if aborigines in Australia started acting like Palestinians, I think the same anti-Israel people would then sympathize with aborigines against Australia, just as they now sympathize with Palestinians against Israel, and as they used to sympathize with “colored” South Africans against the white regime.

            Reply to Comment
          • Oriol2

            Of course you are right. But there is a difference between the two situations: Aborigines sum up a 2,3% of Australian population. Obviously they don’t “behave” like Palestinians, because trying to expel the European population from Australia it’s not only impossible: it just doesn’t make any sense. Now Australia is an Anglo-Saxon country with minorities, we like it or not. As for the Palestinians, they should be right now about the 40% in territories under Israeli rule, and there is also a huge diaspora. They are not just a “minority”, in the sense in which Native Americans have become a minority in USA or Canada, but a population competing for power over the land. At least in this sense, I think Israeli leftist are right: either you give a state to the Palestinians on Gaza and the West Bank -in which case Palestinian Israelis would find themselves in a situation perhaps closer to that of African Americans in USA-, or you struggle to create a single political entity which encompasses both Jews and Arabs. This last option seems extremely difficult, but perhaps it’s not unfeasible. Of course the current apartheid state -if you don’t want to use that name, please invent another one- could survive for a long time, at a very high price, not just for the Palestinians, but also for the Israelis. (By the way, I know Palestinians hate Israelis, will never allow them to live in peace, blah blah blah. You go to any area in a situation of war and national/racial oppression and you will find similar feelings on the losing side -and also on the winning side-, but usually they fade away some decades after a reasonable arrangement for peace.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            I don’t think we’re disagreeing. I’m saying that Israel’s image would not improve (except briefly) if it completely ended the 1967 occupation. Israel has a bad image largely because the “Western” Israeli Jews rule over a non-Western population against their will, inside and outside of the 1967 lines. Australia, America, etc. are different; we both seem to agree that the difference is not Israel’s 1967 occupation, but population sizes and other factors.

            Reply to Comment
      • Brit


        Reply to Comment
      • Fernandes

        It depends where you ask. In most of Europe, people’s feelings at hearing the word ‘Palestinian’ will be more positive than at hearing ‘Israel’. The US is the only world nation where the truth the inverse.

        Reply to Comment
    3. chsangfeng

      Well XYZ,
      it’s SUPPRESSION.
      I’m from The Netherlands; 3.301 km from Tel Aviv

      Reply to Comment
    4. Why let others own the label “Israel?” Even if you are a One Statist, the ultimate constitution on that path will be significantly influenced by what Israel has evolved by then. The Israeli government should not own the Israeli State, nor its label. By claiming and acting as if it does, people as yourself are further marginalized.

      Reply to Comment
    5. JJB

      There’s a very good (if a bit crude) English expression for what you’re trying to say: “You can’t polish a turd”.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Khaled Khalid

      In the end after all the propaganda and reminding people of the Endless Suffering the final argument and Marketing Tool for the Occupation of the West Bank is “This Land is mine, God gave this Land to me.” Which I assume is to market the idea as being something Sanctioned by “The Big Guy”.
      Now to go from Inquisition to Holocaust to ‘The Tooth Fairy Left the “Holyland” under MY pillow’ is like entering Narnia.

      If “God gave this land to the Jews” then…Is there a STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
      I mean, who else can make this claim? The Mohawk Indians for Wall Street and all New York

      Reply to Comment
    7. Carl

      I’d say the fact that Israel has so many powerful countries on its side is testament to the success of its hasbara efforts through the decades.

      Israel still obtains at worst neutrality, though more commonly active support from the governments of the most powerful countries in the world. It’s very hard to see what these governments get in return for this: Obama and Bibi through the recent US election being a prime example, though what the Canadian and Australian governments hope to gain is a greater mystery.

      It’s beginning to change now as the active disdain of the Israeli right for these governments makes it untenable in the long run. Hasbara and an active diaspora have worked wonders for decades, but I’d bet on the end of the status quo having begun.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        Interesting your question “what do the pro-Israel countries get out of their support?”. It is inconceivable to post-Modernists, like those who post here at 972 and many of the commentors, that people support Israel because they actually like Israel and believe it is in the right. It seems that everything today boils down to “what’s in it for me” for the liberal-progressive-Left crowd.

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Carl – It is true that Australian govts have invariably supported Israel. The recent decision to abstain in the UN vote rather than vote with the US was described by Aust FM as a ‘significant policy decision’ (or words to that effect). But Australia’s mainly supportive stance of Israel is a reflection of its relationship with the USA. There is no advantage to Australia from Israel itself but Australia will not lightly go against USA. However, popular support for the Palestinian people is growing in Australia. We too have had our ’empty land’ days and the dispossession of land and resources of our indigenous people. Zionism and talk of religious/ethnic ‘purity’ will not go down well in multi-cultural Australia. I would expect support for Israel to continue to decline within Australia. BTW, if the current Australian Govt loses the 2013 election, which appears likely, Australia will probably appear more supportive of Israel, but that’s only a conservative Govt stance and not indicatative of popular support for Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Carl

      Look, come up with a proper name and we’ll talk.

      I’m not post-modernist; I am left wing.

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      • XYZ

        Every time I try to fit an easy-to-use label for the views you and others promote here, someone objects. I really don’t know how to classify views such as yours, note I also said “left-liberal-progressive”. Left seems to popular in Israel (althouh many “Right-wing” voters have Leftist views on social and economic issues), in the US, they seem to prefer “progressive”. From what I have studied about post-Modernism, all seem to accept the premises of that philosophical school…if you don’t, I apologize.

        Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        From wikipedia:

        Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change … In particular, it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial…

        You are a post-modernist, Carl. Rather uneducated one though.

        Reply to Comment
    9. Khaled Khalid

      Are you part of Israel’s Hasbara Propaganda Ministries?
      What’s in it for me Liberal Left Crowd??? Are you kidding?
      So the Right Crowd are “In It” out of some, as of yet, unidentified Principle?
      Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers are doing things for Principle? Or for maintaining Tax Cuts for the Super Rich? I must be wrong on that. After all I didn’t say I am Pro-Israel. Indeed I must be Anti-Semitic as I’ve never said I loved Israel more than Botswana.
      What you are trying to do is an Orwellian Thought Control Police routine…Anyone who disagrees with your Backwardness is evil. Where as anyone who wants Tax Breaks for the Rich is Good. I know people have been trying to milk the Rich Zionists by telling them what they wanted to hear during the US Elections but you seem to think you might ingratiate yourself to them incase the money flows your way.

      You’re quite the Zionist Busy Body – A real Arm Chair Apparatchik. I’m sure your Mossad handlers can identify, locate and track me.

      Reply to Comment
      • XYZ

        I find your outburst here to be quite enlightening. I am always attempting to fathom the mind of the “Liberal-Left-Progressives” who have “human rights on their lips” but never seem to actually care about them except to use them as a hammer to bash Israel. I never, I repeat NEVER see them advocating action to save the people of Syria who are being slaughtered by demanding boycotts of China and Russia who are propping up Assad’s regime. NEVER. So we see “human rights” are not their prime motivation. Bashing Israel and Jews is a “stand-alone” advocation.
        Next, it is interesting how you seem to assume that support for Israel in the US is limited to Adelson . Then you throw in “tax cuts for the rich”. I didn’t mention anything about that, but you assume that since I support Israel, I must be a Tea-Party Republican. What is the connection? You seem to think that people don’t think for themselves, everyone except you (of course) is some sort of cut-out.
        There are many, many non-Jews in the US AND IN EUROPE, for that matter, who support Israel. I realize that is difficult for you to understand, but since apparently you only move around in closed circles among people like yourself, assuming like all good “progressives” that everyone who opposes you is a moron or corrupt, you have a very distorted view of what humanity is really like and what real people think.

        Reply to Comment
        • There is, XYZ, something to what you say about selectively targeted human rights. Liberal/Progressives tend to care most about arenas they are tied to by citizenship. I cared much about Iraq until the withdrawal but now find myself not reading news reports much thereon. I do not keep up with Syria because my “world” can do nothing. While you are right that China and Russia played a role in marginalizing the West and US through promised Security Council vetos, that is partly the point: Obama, when announcing the Libya action, called the Security Council vote an “international writ,” meaning international law had been activated.

          The problem for Israel is that it accepts enormous political and economic aid from the US. This ties in the liberal effectiveness I just mentioned. On top of this, there are self defined aggressive and quite effective pro-Israel lobbies in the US, which again activates the zone of liberal effectiveness. When Bibi cuddles Romney, he himself is activating that liberal zone.

          Rwanda was ignored until too late, and Cambodia, save for the occupying Vietnamese, was ignored nearly completely. There are amazing hearts that do not act this way–often associated with faiths or medicine (Doctors without Borders). Yet even with all this mental blinders, the effectiveness lever vis a vis Israel is real: the UN, EU, and US have gone far to propping up the PA, and the UN has probably kept Gaza somewhat about mass starvation. With all these inputs, often accepted by Israel, Israel is fair game on issues of rights given the way minds tend to work. And I emphasize that the Israeli right works hard to ally individuals in the West to its policies. This in itself generates a reponse.

          Reply to Comment
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