Over the past month, we have seen a series of events that prove Israel is an excellent “product” that deserves outstanding marketing. It can be said that, despite the extensive efforts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to brand Israel an inhumane, aggressive apartheid state – and without getting into the brand’s weaknesses – the current situation is relatively good.
In this year’s U.S. News & World Report Best Countries survey, which ranks people’s perceptions of 80 countries, Israel came in 30th (the same as in 2017). The index gauges perceptions rather than facts, since currently, in the age of fake news, that’s almost all that matters.
Given Israel’s relatively high standing in the index, it turns out the claim that the whole world is against us is also kind of fake news.
If we were indeed a global pariah, we would be bottom of the list. We would not have a chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest (part of whose scoring involves votes by people around Europe and Australia). And those running the Giro d’Italia – the cycling race that is watched by nearly a billion viewers worldwide – would not have dreamed of holding the opening heats in Israel, as they did earlier this month.
The problem, though, lies in figures from the Best Countries survey that are not available online, but which I have access to as a result of my work with the academic research and consulting firm that works on the index.
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According to these data, a third of the respondents who participate in the survey are millennials (aka “Generation Y”). These aren’t only young people of 20 and over whose heads are constantly buried in their smartphones. They are also the backbone of the current leadership of the business and public sector – including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Adam Neumann from WeWork, and even New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In other words, these are people whom we cannot ignore or discount.
If we look specifically at the perception of Israel among millennials, Israel drops almost 20 notches, to 49th place. There is no other country on the entire list – including Iran, Nigeria and Ukraine – for which there is such a stark generation gap when it comes to perception of the country.
This is a problem we can no longer ignore. The ranking reflects the apathy of millennials toward Israel; not hatred, but rather apathy. Elie Wiesel once said that “the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” The indifference on the part of this generation to Israel is dangerous, because if we don’t do more to change this trend, within a few years we could see Israel ranked 60th or even lower.
The apathy will be reflected in a decline in foreign tourism, a lack of interest in investment in Israeli companies or consumption of Israeli culture, as well as the genuine difficulties in diplomatic moves that Israel will need to carry out.
Nevertheless, over the past year or two, we have seen the beginning of a turnaround – particularly in overseas tourism. The Tourism Ministry has received a huge amount of funding and the ministry’s staff is open to innovative and new approaches, on the understanding that they are involved in a never-ending marketing campaign.
But Israel, with all its sensitivities, can’t lead with tourism.
We need to carry out a bigger marketing effort in other sectors as well, including business, culture, sports and social initiatives, with the aim of strengthening Israel’s image in the world over time, particularly among young people.
This is also important in strengthening the national pride that we Israelis – and Diaspora Jews – depend upon to deal with the realities of life here.
Just over a week ago, Israel’s Eurovision winner, Netta Barzilai, waved her trophy and thanked Europe for “accepting differences.” In return, Europe flooded her with love and admiration. “Israel,” they were roaring, “we’re interested in you. We want to hear from you. Show us what you have to offer – and we’ll show you in return that we’re with you!” It was a powerful roar and we need to respond to it accordingly.
The writer is a city branding expert and CEO of the nonprofit organization Vibe Israel.