The Folly of “Re-Branding” Israel

Categories: Israel
By David J. Steiner

In my city, Chicago, the Jewish Federation is all excited about a new campaign to brand Israel to change the Jewish state’s current public perception. The Federation thinks such an initiative is imperative for Israel. I beg to differ.

The man known as the Doctor of Spin, Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, described his profession in a way that reflects the JUF’s objectives, but does not confront the reality of what is being framed.

Bernays proclaims that, “Public Relations is a management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.” In other words, don’t address the product being framed, address the perception.

I am a proud Israeli. I chose to move to Israel from Chicago. I served in my adopted home’s military and work to support one of its political parties. Even while I work on my dissertation from Chicago, my commitment to Israel does not wane.

At the same time, my strong desire to make my country, the homeland of my people, a better place does not lead me to the conclusion that we need to focus our energies on the public perception of the state. In fact, this seems to me an absurd assertion.

To help Israel, we need to reflect on both its accomplishments and shortcomings in the 59 years since its founding. I have heard all the praise we shower on our homeland. We have lots of museums, Nobel laureates, we contribute to technology and science. Yes, True. Wonderful. But what about examining our shortcomings? What benefit to Israel does rebranding bring to the children living in poverty, to the history of racism toward Jews from Arab countries, to the poor and declining educational system?

The Israel I came to in the 1970’s as a preteen just after my parents divorce had the greatest economic equality among its citizens. Today we have the largest gap between rich and poor in the world. In 1975 when I visited for my second time, Israel was still trying to decide what to do about the territories its army occupied since the Six Day War. Today we have over two million people living without political rights in the West Bank and a quarter of a million Jews living among them with the full rights of Israeli citizenship.

When Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and Lee Dranikoff, a business strategist and a co-founder of Brand Israel Group, tell us that our problem is the branding of Israel, I become suspicious. Why would we put Jewish money to work to cover up our warts and blemishes instead of putting our money and brain power to solving these serious ethical and social problems?

On June 5th of this year, Israel will face it’s 40th year of being a military occupier. Many Jews in America try to deny the fact that it is a military occupation. Instead of addressing President Carter’s book and accusations about apartheid, we address his credibility and regard for the Jews. I have not read his book. One of my teachers, Dr. Ken Stein of Emory University, quit his post at the Carter Center over it, and that is enough for me to know that I need to read it and can expect the worst from it, but I am still ashamed by the response.

After 9/11, Newsweek asked on its cover page, “Why do they hate us?” It was an appropriate question at the time, and still is. Self reflection is both humble and humbling. It helps you understand yourself for the sake of improvement, internally, and in the context of relationships. Where is our humility?

Jews who live in the West Bank receive more support from the government than their brothers and sisters living in poverty within the Green line. Beyond the Green line, our government tolerates the illegal action of building outposts, nascent settlements. There are numerous examples of Jewish violence against Arab neighbors. If this is hard to believe, get a copy of Chaim Yavin’s (Israel’s Walter Cronkite) 5 part documentary, Land of the Settlers. It it, he describes the behavior of some of the settlers as “not Jewish.”

Maybe we should also hire Lee Dranikoff to rebrand Judaism? Ultimately that is what this campaign is about: hiding our ugly side and focusing on image. This is a clear waste of Jewish money and energy when we should be using all the brain power and altruism we are so proud of to address our 59 year lack of a constitution and clear borders, the growth of Jewish poverty, religious fanaticism among Jews, and the complete lack of Jewish pluralism within the state and a military occupation that has lasted 40 years too long. I plead with my community: take a new course, look in the mirror.                     

About David J. Steiner

David Steiner is the Director of Education at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Illinois. He holds a doctorate in education from National Louis University and is currently studying to be a rabbi at the Hebrew Seminary for the Deaf.
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