Despite an abundance of firm indications that Israel is performing exceedingly well, most Israelis accept with no hesitation the fact that the country is isolated in the world. Several psycho-historical reasons are in play here.
First, the historical omnipresence of very powerful anxiety agents in Israeli society. One such prominent agent is the political leadership from both ends of the spectrum. For the left, boycott and isolation is what’s awaiting if Israel will not end the conflict. For the right, boycott is proof-positive of a longstanding belief that the world is out to get us.
Second, the radically ethnocentric news feed provided by Israel’s mainstream media. Global events, such as the Climate Summit, could be barely mentioned but a car accident involving Israelis in Bolivia gets front page coverage. The coverage of the boycott threat is completely blown out of proportion.
Third, is the age-old perception as to the critical centrality of the UN where Israel suffers from a built-in disadvantage. Many Israelis still view the UN as the country’s only source of legitimacy. If the UN is where one measures international standing then, indeed, Israel is isolated. Sadly, as far as Israel is concerned, the UN became merely a public affairs arena. Israel’s diplomacy has disproportionately invested efforts in this arena thus amplifying its isolation beyond the UN itself. Most Israelis are unaware of the UN’s rapid decline. Plagued with unfairness, inefficiency, bureaucracy, and hypocrisy, the UN of today is a failed institution that is increasingly becoming irrelevant.
Fourth, is the traditional lack of understanding of how diplomatic warfare has changed in the age of information. The internet did not invent misinformation campaigns. “Fake News,” the detractor's main tool, is as old as human interaction itself. Ultimately, the so-called BDS’ers, preach to their own choir in a digital world of niche conversations. In fact, the plight of the Palestinians, the chief agitators, has never been more marginalized.
Fifth, is Israel’s deeply-rooted perception as to Europe’s global prominence. Certainly, this was the case in the early days of Zionism. No doubt, Israel is highly unpopular in some classic European countries and Zionism is rejected by much of the intellectual elite. However, Israel’s hyper-sensitivity regarding Europe, reflects an outdated view of geo-politics and a profound diplomatic inadequacy. Consider this: The number of Israel’s diplomatic missions in Europe is three times the number of missions in North America and more than five times the number of missions in China. While Europe cannot be completely discounted, as Israel’s largest trade partner, Israel’s diplomatic priorities do not reflect the dramatic rise of Asia, where they never heard of the so-called BDS.
So, what is the solution? A multi-layered approach is needed: not to view the issue as a crisis but rather as a long-term strategic problem; break the “twinning” with the Palestinians and engage in a broader conversation about Israel’s place in the world; highlight Israel’s relevance by emphasizing its competitive edge, unique advantages, and value proposition; engage in a systematic effort to bring to Israel, in a Birthright-like fashion, hundreds of social media influencers every year; launch a national program to increase the number of foreign study-abroad student from the current 2.5K to 30K per year; establish a national faculty exchange program for doctoral candidates in the humanities and social studies; avoid the disastrous curse of self-fulfilling prophecy (as was done with Argentina’s national team) and realize that the majority of people are not interested in the conflict. Most importantly, we must avoid responding directly to the source of agitation. A golden rule in issue management is never to inform the audience of the very issue one is trying to contain.
Israel does have a major problem, but it is not the so-called BDS. It is the inability of people, especially younger, to relate to the narrow and self-centered messages Israel communicates to the world. If only given a chance, Israel could sell itself. Often, these are the Israelis themselves who do not give their own country a chance.
This article is Part 3 of a series. To read Part 1 — Click Here Now. To read Part 2 — Click Here Now.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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