Israel Seeks Public Relations Makeover – Bring On Ty and the Gang

This is one of those news items that would be a lot funnier if it wasn’t true:

“Israeli missions abroad and the Foreign Ministry are hoping to "rebrand" Israel by focusing less on the regional conflict and more on Israel’s achievements in science, culture and other areas. In cooperation with the Advertisers Association, the foreign and finance ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office have started drafting PR firms, associations and businesspeople in efforts to find a new image for Israel in keeping with commercial PR and marketing models.”

Public relations and marketing firms work for countries all the time. A friend’s firm in Washington, D.C., represents Saudi Arabia – and unlike the City of Los Angeles, I’m willing to bet the Saudi’s never complain about over-billing.

But while PR may help in lobbying Congress, I don’t think many Americans are looking at their summer vacation calendars and penciling in shopping trips to Riyadh. Even some devout Muslims think twice about the Haj, which in recent years has made the running of the bulls in Pamplona seem as uneventful as a day at Disney’s California Adventure.

So an image campaign for Israel? Is that the key to peace in the Middle East, a good PR plan? Please, dear God in heaven, make this a public RFP process. Reading those proposals could be the funniest thing since John Stewart called Tucker Carlson a “dick” on CNN’s Crossfire. For example, you might see:

Objective: Improve Israel’s image in the world.

Strategy: Focus more on the positive stuff like soccer matches and floating in salt water, less on the negative stuff like suicide bombings and Madonna visits to the Western Wall.

An image campaign may not be a bad idea, but I wouldn’t hire a PR firm for the job – instead, I would hire the cast from ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Except I would rename it “Extreme Makeover: Country Edition.”

Just imagine: The bus rolls down King Ben David Street, Ty and the gang having just watched the application video starring a melancholy Ariel Sharon. As Paul wipes away his first of many tears, Ty jumps out, megaphone in hand, and yells, “Gooood morning Israel! Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Gaza, come on out and meet the design team!”

ABC sends the Israelis and Palestinians on a Disney World vacation while the Makeover crew redesigns the country in seven days. Dismantling settlements is a breeze, and the separation fence gets a fresh coat of paint and plasma screen televisions every few hundred meters. The Dome of the Rock is Ty’s “special project,” featuring gorgeous throw pillows and a dream master bathroom.

Yeah, I know, it sounds ridiculous – and so is the belief that following “commercial PR and marketing models” alone can change a country’s image. It’s great that Israel’s Foreign Ministry wants to send scientists, businesspeople and artists to the United States and other nations to promote Israel’s successes. But “rebranding?” That’s for cornflakes, not for countries.

The violence in Israel is not nearly as bad as it is portrayed in the American news media, but life there is also not nearly as good as the Israeli Foreign Ministry wants us to believe, either. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and this is where the Israeli government should begin.

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