You Can't Rebrand the Occupation

Israel's Challenge in Trying to Sell Itself to a Diaspora Audience

getty images

By Mairav Zonszein

Published September 23, 2013, issue of September 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

No sum of money can rebrand Israel’s occupation

The Jewish Agency has teamed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American Jewish philanthropists to launch the most exorbitant “pro-Israel” campaign ever — expected to reach an annual budget of $300 million by 2015.

The stated aim of the lavish endeavor — which will only be formally announced at a conference in Jerusalem in October — is to strengthen the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities. The project will reportedly focus on Israel education, Israel’s image on campus, free trips to Israel and giving incentives to immigrate to Israel — all programs that the Jewish Agency, American Jewish organizations and the State of Israel are already deeply invested in.

So, why the sudden need to pour millions of more dollars into a set of programming that doesn’t appear to offer anything new?

It may have something to do with the fact that Israel is a hard commodity to sell these days. The 46-year occupation is going strong, settlement construction continues unabated, settler violence is on the rise and an increasing number of Israeli members of Knesset are openly coming out against the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution. For “pro-Israel” professionals who make their living building up Israel’s brand identity as best they can, just like any product on the market, this is, as Daniella Peled put it in a recent op-ed for Haaretz, a “marketing nightmare.” Despite Israel’s gay-friendly beaches, successful start-ups and Nobel Prize winners, its most popular brand by far (and unfortunately) is its occupation. And there’s some buyer’s remorse.

The European Union is set to implement guidelines in 2014 that restrict cooperation with Israeli entities operating in the West Bank, something the Israeli government and the U.S. have been desperately trying to stave off; renowned physicist Stephen Hawking decided to turn down an invitation last May to Israel’s Presidential Conference out of solidarity with the Palestinian call for boycott; popular cultural figures like musician Roger Waters and author Alice Walker have endorsed the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, and continue to make headlines every time they urge another artist to follow suit.

All this has the prime minister concerned. Senior Israeli businessmen have warned Netanyahu that the stalled peace process threatens Israel’s economy; in June, he called on several American Jewish millionaires to help him combat efforts around the world to “delegitimize” Israel (often his codeword for boycott) and endorsed recommendations by the Jewish People Policy Institute – a think tank founded in 2002 by the Jewish Agency – to counter what is described in their annual report as “anti-Israel sentiment on the settlement issue” (making it clear their definition of pro-Israel is pro-settlement); and at around the same time, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations announced it was launching a major social media campaign to fight BDS.

In this context, it is difficult to see the new multi-million dollar “Prime Minister’s Initiative” as anything but a desperate and misguided campaign to try and rebrand Israel – but without dealing with its most defective product. A campaign that could bolster Israel’s image much more effectively and probably be cheaper for both Israelis and Americans is one that neither the Jewish Agency nor the prime minister have put on the table: Ending the longest-running military occupation in history.

Mairav Zonszein is a writer and editor based in Israel. She blogs at +972mag.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.