At the heart of Operation Protective Edge is a top-down marketing plan, implemented by Israeli ‘Chief Executive’ Benjamin Netanyahu, which seeks to disguise Israeli crimes, whilst profiting financially from the bankruptcy of Gaza.
Building the tribe
Successful marketing campaigns succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences. To do this, they need a narrative and a slogan that people believe in; but Israel’s real narrative - to crush Palestine’s newly-formed unity government - would be impossible to promote after both the US and the EU expressed a willingness to engage with the new government. Only ten days after the unity government was formed, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in Hebron and Israel suddenly found its slogan - #BringBackOurBoys.
With a marketable narrative in place, Israel began building a tribal following of citizens and world leaders sympathetic to its cause. To cultivate the tribe, Netanyahu led us to believe for 18 days that the missing teens were still alive, even though he knew of their death three hours after their disappearance. Israel then marketed the ensuing ‘rescue mission’ by blitzing social media with the #BringBackOurBoys hashtag which went viral due to celebrity support from Sara Netanyahu, Bar Rafaeli, and ‘Wonder Woman’ Gal Gadot. By the time Netanyahu announced on Twitter that the bodies of the missing boys had been found, Israel’s militarised population were already in a frenzy in full support of their CEO.
Showcasing the Iron Dome
As the bombardment of Gaza began, Israel told the world that the bombing was necessary to deter the firing of rockets into Israel by Islamic terrorists. Why did Israel choose this message? Because it would divert media attention towards its Iron Dome defence system which Israel developed principally for foreign export due to the system being too costly for internal use (hence Obama’s $225M loan towards the system). As noted by journalist Samer Jaber, Israel’s marketing message is clear - ‘the Dome is an effective and highly desirable product, made in Israel and employed on the front line against Islamic terror’. Repeated coverage of the Dome’s success by CNN, BBC, and Sky News, further reinforces Israel’s message.
Testing and marketing weapons during conflict is crucial to Israel, as it is a colonial state whose economic and political system is highly influenced by powerful arms manufacturers who are interested in euros and dollars. These corporations, such as RAFAEL which manufactures the Iron Dome, generated $7.5 billion in arms sales last year, making Israel the 6th largest arms exporter - ahead of China. Following Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, Israel experienced its biggest surge in the arms trade; time will tell whether the latest conflict will produce similar results - I suspect it will.
A key feature of the conflict has been the proficiency of Israel’s journalists and spokesmen to cover up any wrongdoing. This is because they are effectively robots of Israel’s military-run propaganda machine which pre-approves all news stories regarding military activities. Israeli journalism has even censored itself, turning propagandist on its own accord. In every interview, article, or tweet, Israel’s journalists and spokesmen will predictably quote half-truths straight from Israel’s ‘PR handbook’; their favourites being ‘Hamas is to blame for civilian deaths’ and ‘Israel is the most righteous military in the world’.
Israel’s control and influence of its media is no different to the control that McDonald’s exercise over their front-line employees. McDonald’s recognise that the actions of those employees closest to the public have the most control over public perception, and one errant minimum-wage cog in the machine could cripple the entire brand. Israel’s instinct has been to tightly control those journalists and spokesmen at the forefront of Israel’s propaganda machine.
Yet, the straitjacket Israel has thrown over its media is a self-defeating precaution, because by eliminating humanity, compassion, and trust from their interactions with the public, Israel’s brand and the messages they convey, appear too plastic and dare I say - too corporate.
Rise of the citizen journalist
Israel’s strategy of coating its ‘marketing’ messages with a pro-Israel gloss is no longer viable in a 21st century conflict increasingly viewed through social media. Israel’s ‘manufactured’ messages have been exposed by journalists in Gaza who have embraced the organic, public, and viral nature of social media to enlighten the world with the truth. What Israel has found is that its biggest threat may not come from Hamas, but from the citizen journalist who through a tweet, a picture, or a video, can instantly unweave Israel’s web of lies.
To grasp the differences in strategy, just compare the tweets of IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner, and Palestinian journalist Linah Alsaafin. Following the first Israeli attack after the 72 hour ceasefire expired, Peter Lerner tweeted that Israel attacked ‘terrorist infrastructure’ following ‘repeated terrorist aggression’. A short while later, Linah Alsaafin tweeted that in fact, the Israeli attack was an air strike on a mosque which killed 10 year old Ibrahim Dawawsa, which was later confirmed by international media.
In the corporate world, no matter how compelling your marketing may be, it can never mask a poor product. The same is true in war; in a conflict observed through social media, deceptive marketing and propaganda can’t hide images of Israeli bombs killing innocent women and children. It should be no surprise then that the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack has been used in more than 4 million Twitter posts, compared to the nearly 200,000 for #IsraelUnderFire.