Changing the perception of Hasbara

It isn't about fighting BDS. It's about giving people a positive reason to talk about Israel can help them in their everyday lives.

Raphael Poch,

Online incitement (illustrative)
Online incitement (illustrative)
Thinkstock

There is a new wave of Hasbara that is sweeping through Israel, and it does not involve, the politics, the security situation, the "Middle East conflict" or the BDS movement. It is strictly focused on the innovative and creative energy that makes Israel great. At least that is what the focus is, according to Joanna Landau, founder and director of Vibe Israel.

Vibe Israel is self claiming to improve Israel’s global positioning by reaching the public that is not involved in the conversation about Israel, which according to studies performed since 2003, is the majority of the population out there.

“Studies have shown that the majority of the people are not pro-Israel, nor pro-Palestinian. They are simply not engaged in the conversation about the conflict in the Middle East,” said Landau in an interview with Arutz Sheva.

The problem according to Landau is one of perception. “When people think of Israel they think of the conflict, of soldiers, and of religious issues. There are a lot of positive associations that people should be thinking of that are missing and that don’t come to mind.”

Vibe Israel is aiming at turning the conversation about Israel to include issues that people think about on a day to day basis. Topics such as business, culture and education. When Vibe Israel was founded over five years ago, the question became "how do we get the world engaged with Israel on a non-political level and to know about Israel’s uniqueness and innovative energy and spirit".

“We looked at Birthright and we saw that people’s picture of Israel changes dramatically just by being here. The change doesn’t even matter what you tell them but just by being here,” Landau explained. “We aren’t specifically targeting Jews or Evangelical Christians. Neither are we aiming to engage people who are vehemently anti-Israel. We are aiming to engage those who aren’t part of the current Middle East conversation, which are the majority of the people out there.”

“Israel is removed from their lives, and they are just not interested about it. Especially the younger generation,” Landau pointed out. “So we asked how can we bring Israel into the conversation that people are having that is not currently about Israel, but that Israel has something innovative to contribute in that field.”  

According to Landau, “What Israel has to offer is the creative energy of the people here.”

Vibe Israel is hitting their PR machine right where it counts, with people who have a powerful online and social media voice.

“We figured we we will look for the people who have the most power online and in social media, and bring them to Israel to learn about a specific topic. To learn about the item of interest to them. We bring groups of five of the top bloggers in a specific field to Israel to learn about what innovations Israel has created in their field. They will come to Israel to learn about something of global interest, that is being done in Israel. They then blog about it if they so choose, and we build the perspective of Israel differently. As a place that is engaged in dealing with issues of global interest.”

The current Vibe Israel Tour is exploring Israel’s innovative programs in informal education. Landau explained the selection process of how Vibe Israel brings the live stream team to Israel.

“We sent out an invitation to approximately thirty of the leading bloggers in the word and chose five of them, who together have at least 1,000,000 followers. It has been very successful and quite easy. People are really interested to get a free trip to come to another country and learn about the content that they write about, and about how it is done somewhere else.”

Landau said that the program has yielded some wonderful results inside of Israel as well. “Sometimes I’m personally surprised by the content, and the reactions of people who see that Israel has so much more to offer than what we think we do. Most Israelis complain about the educational system, even the informal stuff. And then I see the bloggers who are world experts in the field, come here and be overawed by what is going on here. They think it is unbelievable, and that gives us some perspective internally as well. It would be helpful if we ourselves give Israel some more credit for its achievements and advances and not take them for granted. There are really unique things going on here in Israel.  

“We don’t bring them to Yad Vashem, and we don’t hit them over the head with the political situation, and we don’t really reference BDS. We focus on the topic of interest to them.”

The system seems to be working, as already, only days into the trip, the bloggers have been lauding their experiences to their online audiences.

Utkarsh Lokesh on the first day of the trip wrote on his blog: “Innovation in Education Tour (from 10-16th Dec) being organized by Vibe Israel, which is a philanthropic-business initiative to improve Israel’s global positioning. Selected people from the US and India are here to explore Innovation in Education. Over the week, we'll be crossing the country, meeting the people, places, companies and organizations that are making Israeli education innovative!

Israelis are among the most schooled people in the world. The Israeli education system has been praised for various reasons, including its high quality and its major role in spurring Israel's economic development and technological boom. The multi-cultural nature of Israel's society is accommodated within the framework of the education system.”  

Vibe Israel has run 20 such sessions in the past five years with more on the way. Each of the sessions is about content which appeals to expert bloggers in their own fields of study, and covers education, art, culture, business, high-tech and other categories. The current session is about innovation in education that takes place in Israel and the bloggers who are on the trip have a combined audience of over 2 million people.

They include: David Wilson from TeachHub.com, who has 300,000 followers, Utkarsh Lokesh from Ed Tech with 350,000 followers, Ronnie Burt from Edublogs, with 150,000 followers, Lisa Nielsen from The innovative educator with 150,000 followers, and Terry Heick from Teach the Thought with over 1,000,000 followers. 


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