Israelis Just Wanna Have Fun, Part One

It’s obvious.

So obvious that most people either fail to notice or fail to pay it heed.

Problem is, the cost of forgetting or violating this particular chunk of the obvious grows ever more costly to Israel.

This obvious is — hasbara, public diplomacy; indeed, any defense or explanation of Israel; indeed, an awful of what Israelis and Israel’s defenders communicate to and in America — should not be either ideological bombast or emotional gush.

It ought to be purposeful communication.

In this case, purposeful persuasive communication.

By definition, persuasive communication is designed to and intends to alter the opinions, attitudes and (possibly) present and future actions of others, to the benefit of the communicator.

Also by definition, any opinion/attitude/action change that takes place, happens on somebody else’s inner turf. Any serious attempt at persuasive communication must never, ever forget this.

And any serious persuasive communication must offer something of value to the recipient. That value may be very specific and material, very diffuse and psychological, moral, spiritual, anywhere in between, or potentially any or all of the above.

In this struggle to persuade people and to keep them persuaded, the worst response you can get isn’t, “Go entertain yourself.”

It’s: Why tell it to me?

Therefore, almost by definition, persuasive communication is not:

  • Expressing yourself.
  • Feeling good about yourself.
  • Talking about your life and what’s important to you.
  • Group therapy.
  • Getting mad when somebody doesn’t get it.

The litany of sins could go on, but there’s really no need. Israel’s defenders, governmental, organizational and private, already know it. After all, they do it so often and so well.

Practice makes perfect. Of course, if you’re practicing mistakes, all you do is perfect your mistakes. Still, as long as you’ve got the contract, or feel good about yourself, or know the joy of having your prejudices vindicated, what of it?

Getting back to the definitional:

Persuasive communication is, or should be, targeted communication. At whom do you wish to speak? Why? What appeals might avail? Keeping always in mind: Most sentient human beings have lots of people and things and ideas clamoring for their attention. Advertising long ago took to heart physiological psychology’s great truth that the human sensory apparatus screens out far more than it lets in. How do you get past this selectivity to reach your targeted audience?

A matter I’ve been pondering ever since I did my doctoral dissertation and a subsequent book on the relationships between advertising and trendy psychopathologies, and how it got/gets into politics and political/cultural discourse.

People seem to be neurotic? Pander to neurosis.

Identity crises suddenly fashionable? Peddle identity.

Narcissism and borderline disorders currently en vogue? Huckster that.

So what’s the current fad? Or, more aptly, what’s likely to be coming down the dysfunction superhighway? And is Israel taking advantage of it/ready to cash in on it?

Or would that be yet another mistake?

At this point, the alert and intelligent reader — you’re reading The Times of Israel; you fit the call — will be wondering something on the order of:

“OK, you’ve said what persuasive communication is not supposed to be. But if it’s targeted communication, might not some of those self-referential no-no’s have at least tactical value to some groups? Different strokes for different folks and all that.

“And didn’t you just remind us that advertising, political as well as product, keys on our psychopathologies and character dilemmas?

“And aren’t there programs for young Americans, peer-to-peer, where Israelis and Americans who’ve been there are encouraged to talk mostly, if not entirely, about themselves? Skip the issues, emphasize the warm fuzzies. Doesn’t that work?”

Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. What “works” is determined by what you wish to accomplish and by how you choose to measure success. In reality, opinion/attitude and behavior change “work” only if they last. But let’s tuck this whole issue of selling Israel via emotive self-reference and related appeals for a few paragraphs and return to the tale.

Shortly after making Aliyah, two items lodged themselves somewhere between my cerebrum and my viscera.

One came on a weekend Shabbaton sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh (a blessing on their heads; they do great work). Among the speakers was a gentleman who’d recently made Aliyah after working for many years in PR/communications for a major Zionist organization. His presentation ended with a stern warning that if you absolutely had to criticize Israel, “criticize responsibly,” responsible criticism left carefully undefined. Later, I approached him with a question:

“Back in the US, what was your communications strategy?”

He looked at me blankly, then muttered, “Two-step.”

Not the dance. The “Influence the Influencers” model hatched, for the most part, by Jewish Frankfurt School intellectuals who took up residence in New York after Herr Hitler encouraged their departure.

Perhaps the theory had some value back when media and information options were limited and people devoted serious attention to Influencers like Walter Lippmann, Walter Winchell, Walter Cronkite, and non-Walters with names like Ed, Dan, Dorothy, Eric and (lest we forget) Gabriel.

But that was one Internet and a multiverse of social media, blogs & apps ago.

Today, a certain unnamed television network (“We Distort, You Cavort”) notwithstanding, people are far more likely to get their attitudes adjusted God only knows where and by whom, than by a few highly-public potentates and sages. But this major Zionist organization was still acting like, “Just get Walter” was the key to success.

Some months later (or maybe before), I came across an item on YNET News. A New York PR/marketing firm had received an Israeli government contract to study ways to “make Israel fashionable again.” Apparently, this firm, whose stable of celebrities included pre-fall-from-grace Lance Armstrong, intended to refashionable-ize this nation by giving away, among other things, Israel-logo lanyards, great for hanging keys and other stuff around your neck while bicycling.

It worked for Lance. At least, until his sins caught up with his image.

I don’t know whatever happened to this particular initiative. But a few days ago, I watched a video, “This is Israel (in 60 seconds).” You’ll find it on the English-language home page of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Just go there and scroll down a bit.

I know this is a lot like assigning homework, but do please watch it before the next blog post. Watch it more than once, if you can. You’ll find it . . . what?

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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