Bikini Branding and the Holy Land

It is precisely by embracing, and not blunting, our image as the real-life successors of the Biblical past that we will create a winning PR campaign.

Yishai Fleisher,

OpEds לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Arutz 7
In a bid to "re-brand" Israel's unpopular world image, Tzippy Livni and the gang at the Foreign Ministry are about to embark on a massive PR campaign. Livni plans to paint Israel as a sexy, modern country with beautiful beaches and a successful high-tech industry to boot. Livni believes that by embarking on this "nation branding" campaign, she can move the perception of Israel away from war-torn and fanatical, to an image of the great Israeli dream - normalcy.

No doubt Israel does have something to offer those looking for beaches, night life and technology. But as the focus of a public relations campaign, this direction is doomed for failure.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe told a story to illustrate this point:

After the Six Day War, France, unhappy with Israel's grand victory over the Arabs, stopped their sales of the Mirage fighter jets to Israel. Israel, in need of fighter jets, turned to the United States with a request to buy American jets.

The US sent a delegation to Israel and the Israelis wanted to impress the American group and promptly took them to what the Israelis thought the Americans would be most interested in. They took them to Tel Aviv, to the playhouses, to the bars, to all the modernity that Israel could muster up at the time.

However, the delegation was nonplussed. They returned to America, gave a lukewarm report to Congress, and the sale did not go through. A few months went by and again the Israelis requested the sale of fighter jets. Again a delegation was formed and was flown to Israel. This time, however, the Israelis took the delegation to the Kotel (the Western Wall) and to the yeshivas of Meah Shearim, where the Americans saw the old study benches that were brought over from Europe.

When the Americans returned home and testified in front of Congress, they said: "We saw the Holy Land." The sale, of course, went through.

The point is so obvious, yet Israel's image makers cannot grasp it. Israel's image strength is not in its limping normalcy. Nor can Israel ever compare to the US's flesh-pots, Amsterdam's night life or the beaches of South America.

Israel's real image strength is in its unparalleled link to the Bible. Have you ever seen the ecstasy of a person, Jew or Gentile, as he or she sees the Kotel for the first time? Is it a coincidence that both Jews and Gentiles cry when they arrive in Israel? Israel has emotional impact not because of the beaches or the hi-tech, but rather because this place is the spiritual capital of the world.

How can you beat the branding effect of the most widely read book in the world? The Bible is the globe's all-time bestseller and Israel should capitalize on it. Israel's image makers, however, do everything in their power to distance Israel from this kind of image. Their world view is dissonant with Jewish history and religion, and therefore they do not see, nor do they want to see, the public relations benefit of Israel's Biblical-spiritual image. Moreover, they fail to see Biblical Israel's economic potential.

Yet, it is precisely by embracing, and not blunting, our image as the real-life successors of the Biblical past that we will create a winning PR campaign.

Tourism

The festival of Sukkot should be mega-season for spiritual tourism. Sukkot is the holiday when world citizenry was traditionally invited to Jerusalem to take part in the celebrations, and this custom should be revived. While this trend has already begun, it needs to be bolstered. Instead of making flights outrageously expensive during the Sukkot season, Israel should charter flights to encourage a world-wide pilgrimage.

Hebron is the great burial place of the Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the first capital of young King David. Hebron is a must-see for anyone seeking to connect with the roots of monotheism, yet Israel's image makers couldn't get themselves farther away from it. This special place should be transformed from a neglected and governmentally-rejected "fringe" town into a bona fide tourist site. Hebron could be a big winner if Israel would re-brand itself in Biblical terms.

The Old City of Jerusalem is a natural-habitat, authentic Biblical experience. In order to further this atmosphere, the Old City should be made off-limits to car traffic on Shabbat (the Sabbath). Tourists from Israel and abroad should be able to walk the stone-lined streets of the Old City with complete freedom, into an atmosphere of transcendent calm and warmth. The Kotel and the diverse communities in all quarters of the Old City will benefit by the creation of a unique cultural zone in the heart of the world's most special city.

Diplomatic Public Relations (Hasbara)

In our continuing struggle against terrorism, Israel would do well to paint its story in a Biblical context. Today's Israel and yesteryear's Israel are the same - the same nation, the same land, and the same problems. By providing such historical perspective, we can help people reframe the conflict in the Middle East. Suddenly, Mahmoud Ahamedinajad's Iran is akin to Haman's Persia and Palestinian suicide-bombers are not unlike the ancient Philistine guerrilla attackers. Girded with Biblical perspective, the world will root for Israel - just as they do when they read the Bible.

Another important aspect of a Biblical perspective is tikvah, hope. The Bible is full of hope for the Jewish people and for Israel. In today's dreary climate, we need to broadcast that message of positivity loud and clear.

In the Long Run

We can create a successful image of Israel abroad, but we need to start by creating the right self-image within. Israel must learn to see itself as a light unto the world, and not just as a bastion of normalcy. Israel's 'light' includes a unique blend of medicine and technology, law and spirituality. Where else in the world can you find a country that is a world leader in microchip development, in-vitro fertilization, farming innovations, Talmudic law and Kabbalah?

A practical way to sow this image in the long run is by creating mega-schools that would teach medicine, environmental sciences and technology to the people of the world. Israel is already an internationally respected educator in a variety of fields, including counter-terrorism, health and agriculture. This role should be increased into all fields of Israeli and Jewish expertise. Israel should be seen as the world's educational destination. And while foreign students study here, they will learn to love Israel and will always be its greatest ambassadors. Indeed, there are thousands of ways that a Biblical Israel can flourish once this way of thinking crystallizes in the minds of our leaders and our nation.

For the last 3,000 years, the Holy Land has been the preeminent destination for all mankind - travelers and conquerors all sought this piece of real estate. Today, maybe more than ever before, Israel can quench the world's thirst for authenticity, spirituality and purpose - but it has to rise to the occasion. Let's not cheapen and degrade the image of Israel by bikini-branding it. Let us market it for what it is - the most special place on the Earth, the Holy Land.



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