The Brand on Israel's Brow

When Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently decided to tackle the rising chorus of criticism against Israel around the world, she didn't call on some sage of international diplomacy. Driven by the prevailing sentiment in this government that anything the public sector can do, the private sector can do better, the Foreign Ministry decided to hire the advertising wizards of Madison Avenue.

The objective of the drive to rebrand Israel, led by the Foreign Ministry and to be executed by a person recruited from Saatchi & Saatchi (for free, for the time being), isn't to improve Israel's relations with other countries. It is to improve Israel's image using marketing mechanisms, exactly the same ones used to plug breakfast cereals and car insurance.

The challenge that faces the rebranding experts is enormous: to sell the justice of Israel's war against the Palestinians, as criticism of Israel's heavy hand mounts. To make the image people envision when the word 'Israel' is said, not be targets for rifles and missiles, but for pleasure trips and investments, a place where the fundamentals of democracy are protected while it continues its existential struggle. That is how Livni described the challenge in her meeting with the admen in September.

Some circles feel that the rebranding effort is doomed. The British branding expert Simon Anholt ("Branding and Public Diplomacy for Nations, Cities the company) recently published a study he'd done. Israel had the worst image among 36 countries he checked, and he feels there's absolutely no point in a branding campaign, given how badly it's perceived.

Rebranding would be pointless unless Israel is prepared to change its conduct in respect to peace and security, Anholt advises. The most useful thing the Israeli government can do now is to stop wasting taxpayer money on a rebranding campaign.

But it seems there is a deeper reason for predetermining that a rebranding campaign will be a fiasco. Countries wanting to be democratic don't behave like brands. They sometimes behave in unexpected, unplanned ways. Unlike brand that are built on uniformity in the one-way message they seek to deliver, democracies are based on dialog. They tend to be rife with opposition, not to say rebellion.

The project to rebrand Israel is actually an attempt to create a uniform, sunny image, that fundamentally contradicts the substance of democracy, to which diversity of opinion is life-breath. Branding is the enemy of democracy and even pretty models can't change that.