“Not only do Palestinian queers face these injustices on a daily basis and undergo Israeli oppression like any other Palestinian, but also our name and struggle is often wrongly used and abused to “Pinkwash” Israel’s continuous crimes against the whole Palestinian population. “ -Palestinian Queers for Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions
2005 : Israeli Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office Finance Ministry concludes
three year consultation with American marketing executives and launch “Brand
Israel,” a campaign to “re-brand” the country’s image to appear “relevant and
modern” instead of militaristic and religious. (1)
“Americans find Israel to be totally irrelevant to their lives and they are tuning out…particularly 18-34 year old males, the most significant target.” explained David Sable, CEA and vice president of Wunderman, a division of Young and Rubicam that conducted extensive and costly branding research for Israel at no charge. Starting off with a free trip for architectural writers, and then another for food and wine writers, the goal of these “and numerous other efforts” was to convey an image of Israel “as a productive, vibrant and cutting-edge culture.” (2)
In July 2005, The Brand Israel Group (BIG) presented their findings to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. (3)
2006: Because it was important for Israel’s branding concepts to have internal
consistency and external appeal, the Foreign Ministry held additional focus groups in Europe and Israel. It hired the firm Marketwatch to determine the current perception that Israeli citizens held of their own national brand. (4)
That same year, The Electronic Intifada reported that Saatchi and Saatchi was also working for Israel, free of charge. (5)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, appointed Ido Aharoni to head Israel’s first brand management office and awarded him a 4 million dollar budget, in addition to the already established 3 million in annual spending on Hasbara ( Hebrew for “explanation” or propaganda) and 11 million for the Israeli Tourism Ministry in North America. (6)
Israel began wooing young males by first niche marketing to heterosexual men. David Saranga, of the Consulate General of Israel initiated a project with Maxim Magazine, a photo shoot entitled “Women of the Israeli Defense Forces” which shows model-like Israeli women who had served in the army, in swimsuits. (7)
Follow up study revealed that Maxim’s readers’ perceptions of Israel had improved as a result of the piece. Saranga was pleased but knew he had a lot of work ahead of him. “Rebranding a country can take 20 years or more. It involves more than just generating more positive stories about Israel. The process has to be internalized and integrated, too. Israelis must share in and believe in what we promote.” (8)
2008 : David Saranga told PR Week that the two groups Israel was targeting were “liberals,” and people aged 16 to 30. Gideon Meir of Israel’s Foreign Ministry told Haaretz that he would “rather have a Style section item on Israel than a front page story.” (9)
Aharoni’s office hired TNS, a market research firm, to test new brand concepts for Israel in 13 different countries. They also funded a pilot program called “Israel: Innovation for Life” in Toronto. Aharoni predicted
“The execution of a program that will support the brand identity. This might include initiating press missions to Israel, or missions of community influentials; it could include organizing film festivals, or food and wine festivals featuring Israel-made products.” (10) This resulted in the “Spotlight Tel Aviv” program at the Toronto International Film Festival , boycotted by John Greyson and Naomi Klein among others.
PACBI (Palestine Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) publishes a sample contract that Israeli artists signed with their government when the artist was “invited” to an international event. The contract text reveals, that it is the Israeli government that is inviting itself to international events. The artist is paid with a plane ticket, shipping fees, hotel and expenses by his/her own government. The contract does not assume any funding from the “host” country. In return, the template states “The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the state of Israel via culture and art including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”
“The service provider will not present himself as an agent, emissary and/or representative of the Ministry.” (11)
2009: The 2009 EastWest Global Nation Brand Perception Index lists Israel at 192 out of 200, behind North Korea, Cuba and Yemen and just before Sudan. (12)
The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association announced an October Conference in Tel Aviv with the goal of promoting Israel as a “world gay destination.” (13)
Helem, a Lebanese LGBTQ organization, responded with a call for a Boycott.
“For some time now, Israeli officials and organizations such as the Aguda, who are cooperating closely with IGLTA, have been promoting LGBT tourism to Israel through false representations of visiting Tel Aviv as not taking sides, or as being on the “LGBT” side, as if LGBT lives were the only ones that mattered. It is implied that it’s okay to visit Israel as long as you “believe in peace,” as if what is taking place in Palestine/Israel is merely a conflict between equals, rather than an oppressive power relationship. Consistent with globalization’s tendency to distance the “final product” from the moral implications of the manufacturing process, LGBT tourists are encouraged to forget about politics and just have fun in a so-called gay-friendly city…
Even more importantly, Tel-Aviv’s flashy coffee shops and shopping malls, in contrast with the nearby deprived Palestinian villages and towns, serve as evidence that the Israeli society, just as the Israeli state itself, has built walls, blockades and systems of racist segregations to hide from the Palestinians it oppresses. The intersection of physical and societal separations and barriers have justly earned the term apartheid, referring to an historically parallel racist regime in South Africa against the indigenous Black population of that country. Leisure tourism to apartheid Israel supports this regime. It is not neutral, and it certainly is not a step toward real peace, which can only be based on justice.” (14)
That same year, the Zionist organization Stand With Us told The Jerusalem Post,
that they were undertaking a campaign “to improve Israel’s image through the gay
community in Israel.” (15)
The Foreign Ministry told Ynet that they would be sponsoring a Gay Olympics
delegation “to help show to the world Israel’s liberal and diverse face.” (16)
2010 The January Conference of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, The Lauder School of Government Diplomacy and Strategy and the Institute for Policy and Strategy brought together representatives of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Haifa University, The Prime Minister’s Office, Reut Institute, and private communications companies to discuss : WINNING THE BATTLE OF THE NARRATIVE, reaffirming the need for re-branding.
Conference findings include:
-That many criticisms of will stop when policy towards Palestinians is changed.
-Israel correlates with the terms “daring and independent” but not “fun and creative.
-50% of people in western countries are disengaged and do not have an opinion on Israel, and can therefore be won over by marketing.
-“Narratives of victimhood and survival adapted by Israel over the years are no
longer relevant for its diplomatic efforts and dialogue with the West. Nowadays
Israel’s opponents capitalize on using the same narratives to achieve and mobilize support.”
-“People respond well when addressed in a familiar language that uses well-known terms and are susceptible to simple, repetitive, consistent messages.”
-“In order to succeed online, one has to detach one’s self from strictly official messages and to develop an online personality.” (18)
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs allocated 100 million Shekel (over $26,260,000) to branding.
“The Globe found that the activity will focus on the internet, especially on social networks. This is following research performed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which it found that surfers will show sympathy and identity with content that interests them, regardless of the identity of the political affiliation of the publisher.”
340 million shekels (about 88 million dollars) were being spent on an International marketing campaign to brand Tel Aviv as an international gay vacation destination. The campaign would be run in Germany and England through ads on gay community websites and magazines, and on designated Facebook and Twitter pages. Designed to promote Tel Aviv as “the New Capital.”
“Etti Gargir, director of the VisitTLV organization, said that the Tourism Ministry
and Tel Aviv Municipality invested NIS 170 million (about $44 million) each in
“The increased discount flight capacity from England and Germany increases
the capability of Tel Aviv to compete with other cities in Europe. “
Tel Aviv Municipality submitted an official application to host the International Gay Pride Parade in 2012.
The Tourism Ministry reported that it supports targeted marketing campaigns likely to increase tourism to Israel.”
By 2010, “Pinkwashing” was already in general use by Queer anti-Occupation activists. In April, Brand Israel launched Israeli Pride Month in San Francisco. Not a grassroots expression by Israeli queers living in San Francisco, but an event instigated, funded and administered by the Israeli government. QUIT – an actual queer organization- used “Pinkwashing” in their campaign to counter the cynical use by the Israeli government, through its “Brand Israel” re-marketing project to use the presence of LGBT society in Israel as “proof” of its commitment to human rights.
2011 : For the first time, The Israeli stand at the International Tourism Fair in Berlin,
encourages gay tourists to visit Tel Aviv. According to Tel Aviv Council Member Yaniv Weizman, $94 million of Israeli government money was invested in 2010 in promoting gay tourism to Tel Aviv. The money came from the Tel Aviv Municipality and Tourism Ministry.
The Tel Aviv Tourist Association filed a formal request with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association to host World Pride in 2012. (21)
In July, The Anti-Defamation League hosted StandWithUS’s Yossi Herzog speaking on gay rights in Israel and gay presence in the Israeli Defense Force. (22)
In August, the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews “reported that :
The Foreign Ministry is promoting Gay Israel as part of its campaigns to break apart negative stereotypes many liberal Americans and Europeans have of Israel. The initiative flies in the face of the swelling protests set against Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade set for November 10. But even as its organizers are receiving anonymous threats of holy war against them, gay activist Michael Hamel is traveling in Europe and North America working on publicizing Gay Israel. A portion of his work, he told the Jerusalem Post by phone as he sat drinking coffee in a California airport, has the support of the Foreign Ministry. “We are working very closely with them,” said Hamel, who heads the AGUDAH, Israel’s LGBT organization…
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Foreign Ministry official told the Jerusalem Post this week that efforts to let European and American liberals know about the gay community in Israel were an important part of its work to highlight this country’s support of human rights and to underscore its diversity in a population that tends to judge Israel harshly, solely on its treatment of Palestinians. Still, it is a topic that is so touchy he did not want his name used. But David Saranga, who works in the New York consulate, was more open about the need to promote Gay Israel as part of showing liberal America that Israel is more than the place where Jesus once walked. The gay culture is an entryway to the liberal culture, he said, because in New York it is that culture that is creating “a buzz.” Israel needs to show this community that it is relevant to them by promoting gay tourism, gay artists and films. Showing young, liberal Americans that Israel also has a gay culture goes a long (way) towards informing them that Israel is a place that respects human rights, as well, said Saranga. (23)
Tel Aviv selected as “Best Gay City” in a competition organized by American Airlines.
1. “Israel Aims To Improve Its Public Image”, by Nathaniel Popper. Jewish Daily Forward. October 14, 2005.
2. “Marketing a New Image”, by Gary Rosenblatt. Jewish Week. January 20, 2005
3. Unpublished Documents from the William Davidson Institute of the University of Michigan. Case 1-428-823, April 8, 2009, Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communications. “Branding Israel B. “
5. “Israel’s Image Problem,” by Rima Mirriman. Electronic Intifada. December 6, 2006.
6. Unpublished Documents from the William Davidson Institute of the University of Michigan. Case 1-428-823, April 8, 2009, Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communications. “Branding Israel B. “
7. “Chosen Ones: Israeli Defense Forces.” Maxim Magazine. July 9, 2007
8. Unpublished Documents from the William Davidson Institute of the University of Michigan. Case 428-725, April 8, 2009, Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communications. “Branding Israel A.”
9. “Israel Looking for an Extreme Makeover” by Bill Berkowitz. IPS/Inter Press Service. January 12, 2008.
10. “Israel Eyes Toronto for Marketing Test Site” by David Brinn. The Jerusalem Post. March 17, 2008.
11. Barghouti, Omar, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Haymarket Press, 2011.
12. Eastwest Communications, East West Global Index 200. Nation Brand Perception Index, 2008.
13. Youtube, “Tel Aviv World Gay Destination” HD.
14. “Call For Action: Tell IGLTA That Apartheid Israel is Not for LGBT Leisure Tourism”. Helem. September 8, 2009.
15. “Gay Pride Being Used to Promote Israel Abroad,” by Mel Bezalel. StandWithUs/The J Post. June 8, 2009
16. “Foreign Ministry to Sponsor Gay Olympics Delegation,” by Itamar Eichner. Ynet. May 5, 2009
17. “Winning The Battle of the Narrative,” Working Papers of the 10th Annual Herzlia Conference. February 31-January 3, 2010.
18. (translation of Israeli Globe article) “We’ll Take Over The World? Ministry of Foreign Affairs Allocates 100 Million Shekels for State Branding,” by Tali Shapiro. Pulsemedia. August 17, 2010.
19. “Campaign Branding Tel Aviv Gay Destination Underway” by Danny Sadeh. Ynet. July 21, 2010.
20. “Israel Promotes Gay Tourism In Berlin.” Ynet. March 9, 2011
21. “Yossi Herzog: Serving Openly Gay in the IDF,” Jewish American Heritage Month. August 6, 2011
22. “Foreign Ministry Promoting Israel,” by Tovah Lazaroff. World Congress of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Jews.
Sarah Schulman’s most recent book is The Gentrification of the Mind:Witness to a Lost Imagination.