On Nation Branding:
While the practice of digital diplomacy brings with it many benefits to foreign ministries, its practice also poses many challenges. From the need to coordinate messages on a global scale, to the training of diplomats and ambassadors in the use of social media platforms, the practice of digital diplomacy requires a growing commitment of time and resources. An important challenges facing MFAs is the ability to integrate daily events, as well as crises, into the national image being portrayed online.
Since migrating online, foreign ministries and world governments have utilized social media platforms in order to brand their nations. While nation branding remains a controversial term, with some scholars arguing that one cannot brand the nation state as if it were a can of Coca Cola, nation branding campaigns are now an integral part of the practice of digital diplomacy in many MFAs. The Finnish MFA, for instance, has launched the “This is Finland Campaign” that included social media accounts and designated websites. The British Foreign Office has been part of the “Britain is Great” campaign which includes a designated twitter channel that now boasts more than 240 thousand followers.
Perhaps the greatest difference between MFAs and corporations is MFAs’ requirement to comment on events taking place around the globe. The Coca Cola Company did not have to remark on Turkey’s decision to shot down a Russian jet while Nestle was not required to issue a press release following the Emirates decision to employ mercenaries in Yemen. The same cannot be said of MFAs. In an age marked by a 24/7 news cycle and near real time diplomacy, foreign ministries are required to immediately comment on both global and local events. The tension soon arises between commenting on such events, and being able to integrate them into the national brand. Failure to do so, would prevent MFAs from project a coherent and consistent national narrative and image thus failing to achieve their goals.
The current wave of terror in Israel, and the Israeli MFA’s response to these terror attacks, offers a fascinating case study.
For Israel, nations branding represents an important national effort. While nation branding is often as an economic tool, as it may increase private investments, FDIs and tourism, it may also be seen as a tool for increasing a nation’s status in the diplomatic arena. Nations associated with the violation of human rights and armed conflicts may find it harder to promote their foreign policy as opposed to nations that appear dedicated to the promotion of democracy, freedom of speech and multi-culturalism. Given its association with the former, Israel has long since viewed nation branding as a financial and diplomatic imperative.
Israel’s branding strategy rests on three pillar. The first centres on Israel’s status as a global hub of technological innovation. Israeli software companies are labouring on the development of green technologies and hybrid cars, artificial limbs for disabled individuals and hearing aids for the deaf. As such, these companies are the ultimate antithesis to the image of Israeli military imperialism. It is for this reason that Israel brands itself as the High Tech nation.
Secondly, Israel promotes itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. In a region populated by despots, dictators and oppressive regimes, Israel’s brands itself as a bastion of liberal values. It boasts a free press, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to demonstrate and the freedom to worship. Finally, Israel’s image includes the promotion of the city of Tel Aviv. Unlike Jerusalem, which is associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tel Aviv is viewed by many as a Gay city, an open and liberal metropolitan that offers fine restaurants, beautiful beaches, museums and a blossoming gay community. Indeed, Israel’s Tourism Ministry has for some years invested millions of dollars in promoting LGBT tourism to Tel Aviv.
While Israel’s is a well-crafted image, it is also one that is often consumed by conflict and terror. The past two months have seen a surge in Palestinian terror aimed at Israeli ciztines be they Israelis living in illegal settlements or residents of the culturally vibrant Tel Aviv. In order to integrate these events into the national image, the Israeli MFA has been branding both Israel and Palestine.
Branding Israel & Palestinian Terror:
From a branding perspective, the current wave of Palestinian terror could not be related, or understood through the prism of, the High Tech nation or the Tel Aviv nation. Thus, the Israeli MFA has created an associative link between Palestinian terror and Israel’s standing as the only democracy in the Middle East. This strategy rests on six arguments and one meta-argument. The meta-argument, or grand narrative, states that Palestinian terrorism is identical to ISIS’s terrorism. The six main arguments are listed below:
- Israel is only democracy in Middle East
- It is a bastion of liberal democracy
- Just as ISIS targets European countries, Islamists Palestinian terror targets Israel
- The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are both dedicated to harming Israel, there is no difference between them
- Palestinian terrorists attack Israel not because of its policies and military occupation but because of its liberal democratic nature
- Israel is at the forefront of a global war of “light” vs. “darkness”
It is through these arguments that Israel is also able to comment on, or frame, events shaping the world. The recent attacks in Paris are identical, according to the MFA, with those in Israel as both are perpetrated by Islamists terrorist against western democracies and the values they embody. Such is also the case with the bombing of a Russian jet over the Sinai Desert by ISIS. Europe, according to this logic, is now awakening to the reality Israel faces on a daily basis.
Below are a series of tweets that relate to the Israeli MFAs main arguments.
There is no difference between Hamas and the PA (Palestinian Authority)
Palestinian terrorists attack Israel not because of its policies and military occupation but because of its liberal democratic nature- terror is terror is terror
Just as ISIS targets European countries, Islamists Palestinian terror attacks Israel
Israel is a bastion of liberal democracy: While Palestinian terrorists murder Israelis, Israel continues to deliver humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip
The analogy, or associative link, proposed by Israel is that Palestinian terrorism equals ISIS terrorism. This equation enables the MFA to comment on local and global events while consistently portraying a coherent national narrative and image. Israel’s selfie also enables it to distinguish itself morally from the Palestinians thus possibly de-legitimizing the Palestinians in the eyes of the world. Whether Israel’s analogy is correct, or is even plausible, is a subject that warrants a blog post of its own.
To continue the discussion on digital diplomacy, social media and nation branding, join us in Israel’s first digital diplomacy conference, 30-31/3/2016 at Tel Aviv University. More here.