Yesterday, I received an email from a community member commenting on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech before Congress in early March. There are a variety of opinions – right/wrong…election ploy…impact on US-Israel relations…or an opportunity to tell the American people Israel’s viewpoint on the negotiations with Iran. All political in their context – this seems to be the only way we talk about Israel in this day and age.
But, Israel and her people are so much more.
I am sure that many of you have seen the longstanding chain email that showcases many of Israel’s achievements – from science and technology advances to Nobel Laureates to making the desert bloom. This is something, I believe, an older generation takes great pride in. But for a younger generation, many of those achievements are just part of the world in which they grew up. It is like putting a man on the moon – I am not sure the younger generation senses the “awe” of that reality when it happened in 1969.
The Israel Foreign Ministry recently released a study – The Rise of the New Information Consumer and the Implications for Israel and the Jewish Community. They refer to the younger generation as “infosumers” – millennials that have an urban identity and global mindset, have a mistrust of government and institutions, want immediate gratification, follow issues they care about with little regard for those they do not, and find technology to be empowering. They live in an age of easily accessible information, an enormous volume and quantity of information, with less interest in accuracy and verification. They are connected via technology, but are often disconnected in their understanding and framing of the issues. And the impact on Israel (and other topics) is enormous.
Understanding this, the Foreign Ministry has refocused its energies on “marketing” Israel in a new way. For many years, Israel’s hasbarah (public relations) efforts were focused solely on explaining government policies to promote Israel in the face of negative press. This may have worked for an older generation, but not a younger one. Today, they are moving away from the “political” broadcast message to focus on “narrowcasting” issues that young people care about: lifestyle, health and fitness, sustainability and environment, sports, social justice, and technology.
How about these stats – last Sunday’s Super Bowl had 114 million viewers…Academy Awards last year had 43 million viewers...and the State of the Union address in January was the lowest rated in 15 years with 31.7 million viewers. This provides a glimpse into the interests of people.
Israel realizes that to reach a younger audience they must change how they present themselves. It is like a first date – you do not start with all your problems and idiosyncrasies. You first try to find connections and shared interests – eventually opening yourself up more and more. Israel seems to lead with its political realities. The Foreign Ministry’s conclusion – young people today will support Israel for what it offers to the world based on shared personal (and less so political) interests.
Globally, what is Israel’s “brand?” How do people characterize Israel? Israel’s “brand” based on surveys in 17 of the largest countries of the world represent two main themes – distant (not close to us geographically) and “no nonsense” (willing to be tough). But in places like Australia, Germany, Japan, and France, Israel is primarily viewed as “cutting edge and chic.” While people in the United States and India see Israel’s brand as “militarily superior.” Not the image they want to portray.
So, Israel understands it must find new media outlets to showcase Israel for “infosumers.” These include: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, and internet channels including Facebook and Vice. You may or may not watch/follow these channels/shows, but this demographic certainly does. They all relate the issues of the day in a digestible manner – in the language and terms that interest young people. It is a long-term strategy to create relevance to those who know little or care little about Israel. This may seem superficial or silly, but how many young people do you know who watch the 6:30 national news?
I am not trying to gloss over the political realities of Israel. I know many reading this will say perceptions about Israel cannot change without a resolution between Israelis and Palestinians. I am unsure how close we are to that. At the same time, others will argue that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not change the anti-Israel sentiments around the world. But is that looking at Israel only through a “political” lens?
So, I think back to the email about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned speech. Will his speech (if it actually happens) be of interest to the vast majority of the younger generation of Jews (or most Jews) in America? Even the American population? Will it alienate people or motivate them? More importantly, does this perpetuate Israel as a “political” issue?
Now is the time to strengthen connections with Israel based on shared personal interests. That is the other lens in which we can make greater strides and showcase the wonders that Israel brings to our world.
PS – Please open your hearts and provide victims of domestic violence with a ticket to a better life. The Jewish Federation is raising funds to purchase TriMet bus tickets for survivors and their children who live at the Bradley Angle House and The Raphael House so they can travel to medical appointments, school, and jobs - ensuring independence as their lives are mended. Our goal is to raise $6,000 in just 10 days. 100% of all donations will go to purchase tickets.