zondag 20 september 2009

Het fiasco van de "Israel Branding" pr-campagne blijkt op Toronto filmfestival

Zo nu en dan lanceert Israel een nieuwe campagne om haar imago te verbeteren, en dat wordt dan altijd groot gebracht door de Israelische kranten, met ronkende quotes van de betreffende mensen, waarna het door kritische correspondenten als Guus Valk en Alex Burghoorn wordt opgepikt en uitvergroot als een bewijs van de machtige Israellobby die alles recht kan praten wat krom is. Vervolgens hoor je er niks meer van.
Deze campagnes doen Israel meer kwaad dan goed, maar daar zijn de bedenkers en hun opdrachtgevers blijkbaar nog niet achter.
Een van de problemen met deze campagnes is, zoals Ami hieronder treffend opmerkt, dat ze proberen de zaak waar het om gaat te omzeilen en Israel neer te zetten als een moderne high-tech staat met mooie stranden en hippe uitgaanstenten (wat allemaal klopt), terwijl de mensen het steeds meer als een schurkenstaat zien die een Holocaust op de Palestijnen pleegt. Het doet er niet toe of de stranden mooi zijn en de vrouwen heet (of andersom), het gaat erom dat Israel bestaansrecht heeft als Joodse staat, dat zij het recht hebben daar te zijn en niet op 'gestolen' grond leven, en het recht hebben om tegen hun vijanden te vechten en het recht hebben om fouten te maken zonder daarom gelijk met de nazi's te worden vergeleken of als internationale paria te worden behandeld.
Ideals cannot be sold like peanut butter or political candidates. The issue about Israel is not Israel as a tourist destination or investment, but the legitimacy of Zionism. At stake is the right of the Jewish people to self-determation, not the pulchritude of Israeli womanhood or the attractivness of our antiquities to tourists. Therefore, the Israel Branding campaign, conceived by people who haven't a clue evidently about why they are in Israel and what it is all about, was doomed to failure. The idea was to portray Israel as a country with great beaches, pretty girls and good investment opportunities  -- a campaign pitched to airheads. We do have great beaches, pretty girls and good investment opportunities, but that's not really the point, is it? We have a few problems that can't be ignored. Ignoring reality is bound to lead to problems.
The first launch of this turkey of an idea was scheduled for July or August of 2006. What common sense could not stop, was stopped by the Hezbollah. It was not appropriate, of course to launch a campaign of fluff and tourist attractions while rockets were falling all over northern Israel. But the advocates of this idea didn't give up. They are extremely stubborn, and will listen to no criticism of their idea. 
It was relaunched as a pilot in Toronto, only to run into a different sort of problem - boycott of Tel Aviv at the Toronto film festival. A PR campaign is an admission that you don't believe in what you are doing and need to "improve the truth." 
The Ben Harris article below was written before a different group of celebrities came out against the McCarthyite blacklisting of Israel, and before Jane Fonda admitted that she had not bothered to read the anti-Israel protest before signing it. Protest first, then find out what it is all about. Way to go, calamity Jane. They shoot horses, but not harmful illiterates unfortunately.
Ami Isseroff
By Ben Harris · September 15, 2009
NEW YORK (JTA) -- When Amir Gissin helped come up with an idea to remake Israel's international image several years ago, it's unlikely he imagined that the showcasing of Israeli films in Toronto would spark a star-studded Hollywood brouhaha over artistic expression and cultural boycotts.
But that's what happened as Israel became the major flashpoint at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.
In an interview last year with the Canadian Jews News, Gissin boasted that his new marketing idea, known as Brand Israel, would help reshape public perceptions of the Jewish state and culminate in a major presence at the 2009 festival.
The presence turned out to be the focus on Tel Aviv as part of the festival's new City to City program, which included an appearance by the city's mayor and VIP receptions in addition to the screening of 10 Israeli films.
"The way to fix negative images of Israel is to present Israel in a positive light elsewhere," Gissin told the paper.
But the effort appears to have backfired as a string of celebrities, including Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen and Harry Belafonte, signed on to the so-called Toronto Declaration claiming that the Tel Aviv spotlight is merely an attempt by the Israeli government to divert attention from its treatment of the Palestinians.
So rather than talking about Israel's rich cinematic culture, the buzz this week in Toronto has centered on the one thing Israeli officials had sought to avoid: the conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel has long sought to divert the focus from its conflict with the Palestinians out of concern that in the eyes of many, the country is a Middle East backwater engaged in an interminable tribal conflict.
The 2007 "Girls of the IDF" photo shoot for Maxim magazine and the recent transformation of a spit of land in Manhattan's Central Park into a replica of the Tel Aviv beach were of a piece with the Foreign Ministry's efforts to broaden public perceptions of Israel and, in effect, tell the Western world, "Hey, we're just like you."
Last year, the Israeli government dedicated $10.6 million to the effort, according to Joel Lion, Israel's current consul for media affairs in New York, who in an earlier post in Germany arranged for the prime minister of Saxony to cook falafel and couscous with an Israeli chef.
Increasingly, cultural events featuring Israeli artists have been the focus of protests in North America. But the debacle in Toronto appears to have drawn a much higher level of attention, raising questions about the rebranding strategy.
The trouble began when filmmaker John Greyson pulled his short film from the festival. That spurred a group of filmmakers and activists -- among them Fonda, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and the historian Howard Zinn -- to sign a declaration titled "No Celebration of Occupation."
"We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF," the statement said. "However, especially in the wake of this year's brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and U.N. General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime."
Within days, the Jewish federations in Toronto and Los Angeles had organized a group of Hollywood stars to sign a statement protesting the Toronto Declaration. The statement -- its signatories include Jerry Seinfeld, Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen -- ran as a full-page advertisement in the Tuesday edition of the Toronto Star.
"Anyone who has actually seen recent Israeli cinema, movies that are political and personal, comic and tragic, often critical, knows they are in no way a propaganda arm for any government policy," the statement said. "Blacklisting them only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect. Those who refuse to see these films for themselves or prevent them from being seen by others are violating a cherished right shared by Canada and all democratic countries."
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center argued in an opinion piece for the Toronto Star that those backing the declaration criticizing the focus on Tel Aviv had signed on to something that was "intentionally or unintentionally nothing more than a recipe for Israel's destruction."
Fonda took it personally, responding with a statement in which she described her support for various Israeli causes and stressed that the declaration did not call for a boycott of Israeli films. Several Atlanta Jewish leaders, including rabbis and a former federation president, issued their own statement defending her.
However, Fonda then issued a second statement standing by her opposition to the official focus on Tel Aviv, but saying that the declaration was one-sided and poorly worded.
In interviews Tuesday, those involved in Brand Israel disputed the notion that the festival controversy rendered their strategy inoperable. Several compared the effort to New York City's campaign to rebrand itself the Big Apple in the 1970s after years in which the city was seen as a hotbed of crime and ineffective government.
"You're always going to have people imbued with politics and seeing things through that lens," said Barak Orenstein, a brand manager in Toronto who gave the keynote address at a Brand Israel conference last year. "But there's definitely a need to share Israel's contributions with the world. And I think the country has to be proactive about the wonderful things that it's sharing."
Lion was even more dismissive, saying that the protesters were a small group and "nothing new." He noted, as did several others, that the festival stood by its decision to highlight the Israeli films and festival-goers would still have a chance to see them.
"People see that films from Israel are coming to an international film festival," Lion said. "They see that the films are there. So it's also a part of the branding effort, even if there's controversy. Controversy only helps."

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