Israelis Just Wanna Have Fun, Part Two

The video is entitled, “This Is Israel (in 60 seconds).”

It might just as well have been entitled, “Israelis Just Wanna Have Fun.”

As a little item promoting Israeli tourism, it’s a pretty good piece of work. Quite pleasant, actually.

As a featured post on the English-language home page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, it’s a disaster.

Don’t they understand what kind of message they’re sending by offering it there?

And insofar as this video exemplifies one of several reasons why Israel’s getting its derrière smacked upside the head by BDS and global Islamism, it merits serious attention.

Or is it just me?

Does my discomfort with this video’s placement touch upon something that too many people know at some level, but don’t really care to bring to full consciousness?

Sometimes, little things can tell you a lot, one way or another.

We spent the last post belaboring the obvious. Hasbara and other organizational and private defenses of Israel are (or should be) by definition, purposeful persuasive communication. It should also be targeted communication.

This requires knowing more than what you’d like to hear yourself saying. More than the talking points du jour. It requires knowing, and sometimes creating, potential audiences.

Who might be receptive to persuasion? How is the message to be crafted and presented to reach them? What short and long-term responses do you want from them?

Just as important, what responses don’t you want?

Framing a persuasion strategy means keeping in mind that the goal is rarely some instant conversion experience, some politico-cultural-socio-strategic equivalent of a Big Mac Attack. The goal, as with most advertising, is to keep the product out there as favorably as possible — to create reservoirs of good will, receptivity and understanding against the day they’ll be needed.

To create those reservoirs with different kinds of people.

And always, always, always: What works with one target audience may not work for, and may even actively offend and alienate, another. In this Age of Globalized Everything, it grows ever harder to segment messages. So it grows ever more important to keep messages intended for one group from alienating or offending another.

Now, what kind of person (excluding BDS-niks scanning for usable tidbits) might visit the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s English language website?

Presumably, a native English speaker. An Anglo. Likely an American.

Likely a better-educated American. Perhaps a pro-Israeli fanatic looking for the latest talking points. But them types you don’t really need to persuade, just congratulate from time to time on their perspicacity, morality and yichus. But perhaps among the visitors, might be Americans with honest questions about Israel and an honest desire to listen. They’d know that the website will, of course, offer the official line. But they want to know what that line might be.

Also, journalists and bloggers and folks looking for ammunition for the next dinner-table or bar-room verbal slugfest. Also a miscellanea of others. But if I had to suggest what these folks might have in common, I’d hope it might be:

They’re serious.

Now, what’s in “This Is Israel” for serious people with serious concerns and likely not a lot of time?

The video, as is standard in the tourism genre, is a fast-paced montage. The scenes are quick but recognizable. Two almost-exceptions here. The establishing shot, of Jerusalem, they zip through really fast. They also flash by something that appears to be a Gay Pride Parade. It’s almost as if the video’s creators said, “OK, let’s get through the Jerusalem pic, with all its meanings, and concentrate on pretty stuff that could be found in twenty other Mediterranean locales. As for the Gay Pride shot, stick it in, get it over with, fast.”

And so they do. Lots of standard imagery. Pretty young people (girls, especially: cleavage noted) disporting themselves. Great restaurants. Glorious beaches. Picturesque and magnificent tourist attractions. History, too. Some Happy Haredi. A Bedouin (happy?) in full regalia, seen from behind.

All in all, whoever paid for this work, got a pretty good product.

But if you’re that serious person visiting the Foreign Ministry website, the message comes across as: Forget your doubts. In this world we’ve portrayed (This Is Israel), no bad things happen. Certainly, we don’t do any. Israelis just wanna have fun. We’re sybaritic and trivial and we expect you to focus on that. As for all that nasty stuff, what’s wars and terrorism and scandals compared to such delicious offerings?

My wife saw it differently. Among other things, she’s a professional copywriter who understands Internet sales techniques far better than I. She drew out the message, “See, we’re just like you. We want to live, to enjoy life.” And within that, a more plaintive subtext:

Please let us live.

Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I’m just a superannuated, acerbic, oh-so-last-century grouch. Either way, my reaction matters only insofar as it reflects and expresses the reactions and potential reactions of a conceivably vital audience segment:

Serious adults who’ve grown endlessly weary of what passes for discourse in this world; who want more than Screamage & Cleavage; and who would be insulted to have this video thrown at them in this particular forum.

C’mon, this is what you really want. Isn’t it?

Or did I over-react? Dunno. But as an adult starved for adult conversation on matters of serious consequence . . .

Long ago, a smart Jewish boy who left the ancestral faith to sign on with a start-up religion, wrote “To the Greeks I become as a Greek, to the Jews as a Jew.” Paul wasn’t being hypocritical. He was simply affirming that his message was, to him, so important that he would deliver it in the manner most accessible and appealing to his listeners, whomever they might be.

Israeli public diplomacy, and far too much of what passes for the defense of Israel in America, cannot be taken seriously by serious adults. Perhaps that’s because the various disasters now converging on Israel and the world cannot be wished away either by arrogant, self-righteousness pouting or by pretty little videos of pretty little people and places. Fun can be great fun, but that’s all it ever will be. And when an arrogant somebody screams at you, chances are, all you’ll remember are the arrogance and screaming, And not favorably.

So perhaps Israel and Israel’s defenders might try talk to people, at least some people, quietly, like they was people with brains, with consciences, and the desire to be treated as such. Not just at elite seminars or on fancy junkets for journalists and generals and such, but openly, to whomever might respond.

But what might the defenders say? To the Greeks and to the Jews?

Next: Peripherocentrism, Grand Strategy, and What Happens When the Promotion’s Better than the Product


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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