An inquiry into Israel’s PR policy in the global arena.
Ido Aharoni, founder of Brand Israel, photographed by Laura Cavanaugh—Getty Images via Time Magazine
Israel – a country of modernity in the oppressive hell of the Middle East, an atrocious murderer of countless Arabs, a freedom-loving “European” country, or an illegitimate occupier of rightfully sovereign land?
This past week’s brutal fightback by Palestinian Islamist Hamas carried Israel back to the top of the global agenda, and it sure seems that it will stay there for the coming weeks. Israel has always paid significant attention to how it was perceived on international grounds; whether it be a forum such as the United Nations General Assembly or academia, the country always carefully shaped its policy to solidify its position as the legitimate owner of the holy ground it occupies. Today, Israel’s right to be where Palestine once fully controlled is recognised by most global powers; hence, the country is putting more effort into convincing the citizens these global powers govern.
Israel has been actively attempting to acquire the global public’s acceptance with revisionist academics, participation in events such as the Eurovision that prove to the people they embrace Western values, and many other PR campaigns for years. What drew my attention to the case, however, was one day, I was scrolling through my TikTok recommendations, and I saw a woman dancing in military attire. It was not a dress-up for clicks but, in fact, a soldier from the Israeli army casually repeating one of the popular dances of TikTok at the time. This only became interesting after I saw a second person doing the same thing. Another woman, in military attire of the Israeli army, dancing during what was likely border protection duty. What could the motivation behind these videos be? To understand that, we must look into Israel’s marketing policies and gain a more holistic understanding of how these policies work hand in hand.
Let’s build a bit more on the TikTok videos. The State of Israel and Israel Defense Forces both have TikTok presences that used to promote cultural events, take part in recent trends, and stay relevant to the online community overall. What this article focuses on, however, is the IDF’s TikTok presence, including the aforementioned dance videos of mostly female soldiers. While the IDF itself posts videos with a “humorous” attitude, the videos posted from the individual accounts of numerous soldiers are more curious. What could these possibly achieve?
Israel has always been straightforward with what it does. The knowledge of how the state treats the Palestinians of the occupied land has always been easily accessible, though not in the scope of this article. What is in the scope is how these comical videos help conceal Israel’s darker side in the eyes of the youth. Gen Z has the world at the tip of its fingers, but many of us do not know how to filter the intense influx of knowledge presented to us so conveniently on our screens. TikTok definitely has not helped, with so many people calling themselves experts and a new set of information loading onto our brains every 15 seconds. With virtually no filtering mechanism and constant exposure to new media wearing willpower down, it becomes easier to make certain concepts seem appealing, desirable, cool, or fun. This is where the videos come in. Certain stimulants activate shortcuts in your brain, referred to as “heuristics” by the psychology community. A type of these heuristics is called the halo effect. The halo effect explains how our initial perception of a person makes us attribute unrelated characteristics to them. The effect is commonly seen in marketing by the use of attractive people in advertisements. If a person is good-looking, your brain automatically assigns the virtue of honesty to them. The TikTok videos work the same way; if the soldier is attractive, he or she must be kind-hearted, and kind-hearted people cannot commit atrocities. Pushing women to the front lines of this campaign also ensures that the Israeli army is perceived as feminist, modern, and, by some accounts, “cool.” With these videos, it becomes appealing to be in the IDF for Israel’s survival. The IDF also posts videos catering to the most popular trends, but these past few days, it has been posting to differentiate itself from Hamas’s brutality and justifying the actions it will take in the coming days by painting Arabs as barbarians, which brings us to a more extensive branding campaign Israel started in 2005.
What I discussed in the previous paragraph could unofficially be considered part of Brand Israel, Israel’s comprehensive rebranding campaign to establish itself as a Western nation. To solidify its position in the Western sphere, Israel juxtaposed itself with the neighbouring Islamic, homophobic, and oppressive countries. Critics claimed the campaign was a scheme to divert attention amidst increasing awareness of Israel’s human rights violations. Adverts were placed on television to paint Tel Aviv as a gay hub, a policy criticised by certain activists as pinkwashing to desensitise the public to the brutality against the fundamentalist, barbaric Palestinians. A similar campaign to the TikTok videos had female Israeli soldiers in minimal clothing featured in a U.S. men’s health magazine in 2007. In 2008, Brand Israel promoted Israel’s medical advancements in Toronto. In an unsuccessful attempt, Israel invited 26 Academy Award nominees to visit the country to reach their fanbases. All the actors refused. A similar effort was made to bring eleven NFL players to Israel, a trip from which six pulled out. While active in multiple fields, Brand Israel mainly seeks celebrity endorsement and sex appeal to utilise the halo effect to take the audience’s mind off the ongoing war.
Clearly, what I elaborated on above is only part of the story. Israel has been pouring millions of dollars to make a name for itself as a Western country, modern, progressive, powerful, unique… It can be all those things, but concealing the world’s largest open-air prison with celebrity endorsements does not seem feasible. While there is so much to say about how the neighbouring countries became what Israel paints them to be, that is a subject for a different article potentially involving the CIA. More research should certainly be done on how Israel utilises psychomarketing; I humbly offer our readers an introduction. Finally, I cannot end this article without asking you to look beyond the flashy infographics you see on Instagram, the catchy videos with dramatic music you see on TikTok, and the “expert” remarks you see on Twitter. You have the world at your fingertips; find the facts and reach your own conclusions. You do not have to pick a side.