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Yet another survey about Israel is making the rounds these days. This one, as reported by Ha’aretz, reveals that The More Americans Learn About Israel, the Less They Like It. Apparently, when you think of Israel,

If you�re like most Americans, you picture walls of concrete enclosing an austere and strict country. The men wear black hats, the women long skirts. Everyone looks pretty serious.

More to the point, the survey apparently indicates that compared to 2010, while Americans claim to know more about Israel in 2016, they seem to like Israel less. This of course is alarming to Brand Israel Group, which commissioned the 2016 survey done by Global Strategy Group.

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Of course, before getting far into the article, one really has to wonder how a person can claim to know more about Israel and still think that men in black hats and women in long skirts are typical of the average Israeli.

Actually, that would seem to be the same view people had of Israel back in 2008 — according to the Nefesh B’Nefesh First International Jewish Bloggers Conference. At the time, I blogged about Zavi Apfelbaum, Director of Brand Management, Foreign Ministry who spoke on: Branding Israel – From Vision to Reality. As I described it back then:

To illustrate how the world sees Israel today, Apfelbaum showed a short clip of a focus group study. Small groups of Americans sitting around a table were asked to imagine stopping by various homes, each one inhabited by a family of a different country, and described what they imagined they would see and experience. In each case, the participants decribed a pleasurable experience–all, except in the case of Israel.

When describing walking to and entering an Israeli home, participants described a home dominated by cement without a grass lawn. As opposed to all the other homes, in this one the man of the house answers the door–the woman of the home is not even seen. One participant said that it would be uncomfortable to enter, because the home would be ‘Orthodox’ and the people living there would probably not even want guests. In essence, many of the participants identified Israel with Saudi Arabia. It reminds me of when I was at Disney World–in the “It’s A Small World” exhibit, Israel was represented by a chassid.

The key point is that here were intelligent Americans, Americans who tend to support Israel–yet they had no clue as to what Israel and Israelis are like. The fact that Americans support Israel is not because they actually understand or identify with her.

So first of all, apparently 9 years later, this view of Israelis seems not to changed — they are still viewed as being comprised mostly of Orthodox Jewish men and women.

But if so, the apparent drop in a favorable view of Israel does not seem to be related to what they think Israelis are like.

An article at the time in The Canadian Jewish News described the new direction the branding effort was going to take in 2008. It would not focus on the Tel Aviv beaches and Israel as a tourist site. Ido Aharoni, founder of the ministry�s Brand Israel concept, described the results of the market research done at the time.

Aharoni said the ministry has conducted market research over the past few years that showed �Israel is viewed solely through the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict� Israel�s personality is 90 per cent dominated by conflict-related images and some religious connotations,� he said. �Those of us who know the brand intimately are disturbed by the divergence of brand and the perception.�

…aspects of Israel are worthy of promotion, including its culture and arts; its accomplishments on environmental matters such as water desalination, solar energy and clean technology; its high-tech successes and achievements in higher education; and its involvement in international aid, he added. [emphasis added]

Getting Canadians � both Jewish and non-Jewish � to see Israel in that light is part of the branding effort. Not only would that change Israel�s image, it could lead to more tourism and investment, educational exchanges and other benefits, Aharoni said.

In fact, those are the Israeli accomplishments that have been emphasized over the past 9 years — and today they are the ones that Israel is identified with.

Not only that, but due to this image, Israel has made enormous progress since 2008 in overcoming its past isolation and making allies in India, China and Africa, to the extent that some level of diplomatic relations are seen as possible between Israel and some of the Arab states. True, those latter relations are due in part to a reaction against Iran, but part of that is due also to an Arab desire to make use of the Israeli technology.

So if Israel’s branding project seems to be a success, why does it also seem to be a failure?

First of all, the fact that people claim to “know” more about Israel in 2016 than in 2010 is a subjective evaluation based on the assumption that people who didn’t know that much about Israel actually know more now.

What exactly do people think they know about Israel?

These 3 short videos by ACT.IL llustrate not only that people don’t know what they think they know, but also how easily they can be led to believe negative things about Israel and express their disapproval of the Jewish State.

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Still, why is the “favorability” level of Israel down, even with the progress made in recognition and alliances with more and more countries?

Perhaps the reason is that unlike countries whose actions and policies are dictated by need, individuals will judge countries on a different value-driven basis.

The problem is that there is a topic not being addressed fully, neither by this new rebranding effort nor by the hasbarah effort to defend against attacks on Israel’s legitimacy — and that is the long-standing indigenous rights of Jews to the land based upon their 3,000+ years on the land and connection to it based on history, culture, language and religion.

Beyond the names, dates, history and treaties that we often summon in defense of Israel’s right to exist, when we as Jews, wherever we are, can unabashedly and unapologetically talk about the Jewish right to the re-established land of Israel, then branding will have accomplished its purpose, by rebranding not only Israel as the Jewish home but also Jews as proud residents of the land.

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