Lessons for Israel and the Jewish people.
I lived in Israel for nearly two years after graduating from college. Along with two friends, I formed an organization called Yerushalayim Shelanu (Our Jerusalem). My two cofounders are today among the youngest members of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) and rapidly rising political stars: Danny Danon (current deputy speaker of the Knesset) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima Member of Knesset). In 1997, one of the first activities we undertook was participating in an action where Jews moved into a home that had been purchased legally in an area of eastern Jerusalem.
The neighborhood’s construction provoked an international storm in September 1997 and the U.S. pressured Israel not to go ahead with the plan. The pressure was rebuffed by then (and current) prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and backed by then Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. I conducted hundreds of worldwide media interviews at the homes of the new Jewish residents of the area. All of them were done as I held an Israeli flag, with the Temple Mount (where the recognizable Dome of the Rock is located) in the background. That way, no matter how reporters editorialized about this “disputed” area of Jerusalem, viewers could see just how close this territory was to the Jerusalem they recognized. No matter what the reporters said, the pictures didn’t lie. As of 2011, more than 70 Jewish families live there and conditions on the ground in that area of Jerusalem have changed, with Israeli schools, bus service to the Western Wall, and other benefits making the area connected to western Jerusalem.
This effort, while effective, was a drop in the bucket. Israel is a young country and it often learns things painfully. A justified cause is not enough to be right these days, either in politics or in business. Anyway, being right does not help you frame the debate nor does it keep you from being constantly on the defense. It’s not enough to simply convey a message—you need people to listen. Preparation for war includes a PR battle plan because PR is a crucial element of any war today.
Having worked with and for the Likud Party, the mayors of Jerusalem and of Tel Aviv, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel Ministry of Tourism, and a slew of other Israeli government officials and offices for many years, I know that Israel has so much rich history and many incredible attractions, from the Bible to its beaches. It needs to put them to use actively and to employ a comprehensive, systematic “PR machine” that generates regular positive content.
Israel also needs to make its own case, because that case is not being made widely, often, or clearly enough. The advice I have for Israel stands for any organization or group with an “underdog” status or that is suffering the consequences of being misunderstood. The following points are useful for any brand or business:
Make your own case. Be proactive and passionate in educational PR efforts. In Israel’s case, for instance, there should be a concerted PR effort to continually refute “moral equivalency” myths that are perpetuated in many corners of the press. It shouldn’t be saved only for a crisis.
Argue on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Harmful framing by the media or others can be handled effectively only with counterframing—presenting your narrative without debating the negative frame (thereby giving it credibility) or trying to justify yourself against it. Israel needs to talk about how it made the desert bloom.” From its founding in 1948, it transformed a land that is 65 percent desert into a country rich in diversity and teeming with technology—Intel, Microsoft, and IBM have all developed robust, profitable, and innovative businesses in the country.
Consistent and united PR. There is nothing more counterproductive and irritating to a spokesperson than having to compete with a colleague who is operating with a different message. This is the case with Israel—spokespeople for the state often speak at cross-purposes with the press and contradict each other.
Act with rapidity. Israel is agile and dynamic. It can use this to its advantage. In PR terms, Israel can change key messages quickly and deftly when necessary. The ability to respond quickly has many benefits.
Use social media frequently. Social media shouldn’t be used only as an emergency channel or to impart pearls of wisdom a few times a year. Social media should be used on a daily basis, and in a positive way. In the long run, it is the daily actions of a brand that determine its overall image.
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