In three years in Israel, I’ve been to some truly great national day celebrations, and some not-so-great ones. They all follow a standard pattern: speeches, national anthems, flags, toasts, and a general reaffirmation of the importance of the bilateral relationship between country X and Israel.
I’ve got no objection to the formula as such, except that it is rather formulaic.
But I’m convinced — perhaps because I’ve spent too long in and amongst Israel’s start-up scene — that this product is ripe for an overhaul.
So this year, Australia is attempting to disrupt that most dogged of diplomatic institutions, the national day reception.
As a group and as a profession, we diplomats need to find new and better ways of communicating with the public and reaching our target audiences, in a much more crowded and contested media environment.
The old public communication methods — the press release, the speech, the on-the-record interview — are no longer enough. These set-pieces still have a role, but it is a shrinking one. As tools they are generally too slow, too clunky, too dry, and too mono-directional to keep pace with the modern media cycle or grab the public’s attention.
The more savvy diplomats are reaching for social media and other new media tools, and finding new ways to engage the public, create relevance, and have their message heard amongst the din.
The national day reception fits firmly within the old public diplomacy toolkit. It has a limited reach, the guests are always much the same, and it struggles to generate wider public interest or profile beyond the social pages, given its rather stale format.
This year, Australia is trying something different. We’re calling it Ozraeli — a brand that seeks to capture what is best about Australia, Israel, and our friendship and partnership.
Ozraeli is a month-long series of events to celebrate, in deed rather than word, what makes our two nations great.
Last Sunday we assembled a group of young Australian and Israeli volunteers to clean up a section of the shoreline on the Sea of Galilee. Over several hours we picked up and hauled away bags and bags of rubbish. We left behind a cleaner beach but also, we hope, some of the enthusiasm and can-do attitude which inspired the Clean Up Australia campaign.
On Friday we are introducing Australia’s most famous football code to Israel, and staging an Australian-rules football match in Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv. There will be stands serving Australian football haute-cuisine (meat pies and sausage rolls) and the Australian national beverage, beer. A day at the footy is a quintessentially Australian experience, and we hope our Israeli friends will enjoy it as much as we do.
On 26 September we are holding the Ozraeli Gala event at the Peres Center in Jaffa. We’ll have Australian singers, comedians, musicians and of course food and beverages. Like our two countries, it is meant to be a fun and light-hearted, a celebration of our friendship. We are shaking up the guest list, asking people from all walks of life. My buddies from Hebrew class, the family vet, and my youngest daughter’s Gan teachers will be all be coming. We’re also giving free tickets away to the public, in an effort to get more engagement (tweet your best photo or meme about Australia and Israel to #Ozraeli).
We’ve also got three separate high-tech delegations visiting Israel this month, all looking for ways to partner with Israel’s innovation ecosystem to build new products, disrupt old business models, and improve society along the way.
And on top of this, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Israel earlier this month, affirming the strong and enduring friendship between our countries. Though in the ‘old diplomacy’ category, visits remain a traditional but still highly effective means of diplomacy. And Minister Bishop also found time to drop by our Landing Pad in Tel Aviv and talk with Australian entrepreneurs in Israel.
All up, Ozraeli is a month of celebration of the partnership between Australia and Israel, and some of the national traits that make us such good friends. The informality. The energy. The humour. The diversity. We figure you don’t need the speeches, the flags, or the national anthems to celebrate this closest of friendships.
Dave Sharma is the Australian ambassador to Israel, and he’s ready for #Ozraeli.
— Dave Sharma (@AusAmbIsrael) September 15, 2016