Note: This post is based on a lecture to be given as part of OxERN’s Hillary Term Seminar Series on Tuesday, February 2nd at 2pm at the Oxford Internet Institute. Click here to learn more about OxERN’s seminar series.
On Nation Branding
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 global events. The tension soon arises between commenting on such events, and being able to integrate them into the national brand. The current wave of terror in Israel, and the Israeli MFA’s response to these terror attacks, offers a fascinating case study.
How Israel Brand Itself Online
Israel’s branding strategy rests on three pillar. The first centres on Israel’s status as a global hub of technological innovation. 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. Finally, Israel’s image includes the promotion of the city of Tel Aviv as a liberal metropolitan and an LGBTQ haven in the region.
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 is achieved by creating an associative link between Palestinian terror and ISIS.
Branding Palestinian Terror as ISIS
On its official social media channels, Israel portrays Palestinian terror as a part of a global wave of Muslim extremism. In other words, Palestinian terror attacks are not a result of Israeli policy but of Israel’s identity as a democratic state. The recent attacks in Paris are identical, according to the MFA, with those in Israel as both are perpetrated by Islamists extremists against western democracies and the values they embody
Most central to Israel’s Branding technique is the association between ISIS and Palestinian terror. Over the past two years, ISIS has come to signify all that is evil, and is extreme, in the world. Its barbaric religious crusade includes the enslavement and rape of women, the destruction of human heritage monuments, the torture and murder of hostages and vicious executions. By comparing Palestinian terror to ISIS, Israel is not only strengthening its own brand as a Western outpost in the Levant but is also attempting to discredit the Palestinian brand.
Below are tweets published on Israeli official channels depicting Palestinians terrorists as ISIS terrorists.
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. Whether this analogy is correct, or even effective, is another matter.
Ilan Manor is a Dphil student at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on the manner in which nation use digital diplomacy to achieve diplomatic goals and resolve crises. He blogs at http://digdipblog.com/