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Touching Down in Israel

Binyamin Rose

Celebrity Tourists Part of Branding Mission

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

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IN THE LIMELIGHT Israeli government officials are hoping to turn public opinion on its heels by recruiting celebrity tourists (Photo: AP, Flash90)

In addition to hauling in five catches in a winning Super Bowl performance, New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett caught his share of flak after informing team owner Robert Kraft that he would not join him or his teammates at the traditional White House victory celebration.

Bennett has been a strident anti-Trumper on social media, so his decision is not surprising. But Bennett has another reason for his nonattendance, one that Kraft, known for his pro-Israel views, would applaud.

He has a scheduling conflict. Next week, while President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be huddling in Washington to devise a new Middle East playbook, Bennett will be flying in the opposite direction, joining ten other NFL stars on a seven-day tour of Israel as guests of the Israeli government.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin says the goal of such trips is to convert celebrities into goodwill ambassadors. “The visit of this delegation, in such proximity to the Super Bowl, will enhance the exposure of the Israel tourism product to tens of millions of the players’ followers on social media,” Levin said.

The campaign is part of Israel’s broader strategy to fight international delegitimization efforts and BDS campaigns by hosting influencers and opinion-makers of international stature in different fields, including sports. “I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, instead of the false incitement campaign being waged against Israel around the world,” said Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs and public diplomacy.

How effective is this type of strategy? The answer is very, according to Ron Schleifer and Jessica Snapper, authors of the 2015 book Advocating Propaganda. During interviews with 13 experts including members of the mass media, government, and clergymen, the authors learned that even limited exposures can have a big effect in producing a positive impression of Israel.

For example, journalists taken on tours of Israel’s wine country in the Golan Heights, the Negev, and yes, even the Shomron, were more likely to write an article about the great wines of Israel than the same tired ones about IDF checkpoints. Taking opinion-makers to Haifa and Herzliya to tour the factories where processors are manufactured for computing and cellular devices helps them switch their focus from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Israel as the start-up nation.

“Several researchers have pointed out a clear and affirmative link between a country’s positive image and branding with their ability to attract direct foreign investments,” writes Nizan Feldman in a research report on the impact of BDS on Israel released shortly before press time by the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. A positive image also serves to boost the confidence and morale of Israeli business leaders who feel inundated by the BDS movement. “There are already statements by Israeli companies who admit that fears of a boycott have caused them to hide their Israeli identity and their achievements in many areas,” notes Feldman.

All things being equal, Martellus Bennett could find next week in Israel being more productive than showing off his Super Bowl ring to the president. And as far as Trump is concerned, the last thing he needs to tackle is yet another critic.

Tourists are more likely to sing Israel’s praises after visiting one of its natural wonders like the Dead Sea

President Trump faces a boycott movement of his own after a frenetic second week in office, in which he put Iran on notice for firing a medium-range ballistic missile, charged both Germany and Japan with currency manipulation, argued with Australia’s prime minister about Syrian refugees, and jawboned with the Federal Reserve Bank over its grip on monetary policy.

Judging from the media, you would have thought the sky had fallen, but planet Earth is still rotating on its axis, even while world leaders, and many US politicians and pundits, are experiencing vertigo trying to fathom the new administration.

“There is plenty of fuel for the president’s critics in these actions,” contends Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School, in a Washington Post op-ed. Nichols warned, however, that a continual state of anti-Trump panic serves no purpose and will eventually numb voters and their institutions to real threats when they inevitably arise.

“Trump is, without doubt, the most unusual chief executive in American history,” says Nichols. “But the legitimate concerns of the president’s critics are not well served by attacking the normal functions of the executive branch merely because those powers are being exercised by someone they oppose.”

The headline atop Nichol’s article said it all: “Chill, America. Not every Trump outrage is outrageous.”

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