Music industry figure in Israel, Jeremy Hulsh of Oleh! Records, is encouraging the Israeli government to invest in up-and-coming musicians as soft sell ambassadors for state propaganda. From Oleh! Records’ business plan, the company has a broad interest in utilising culture as hasbara:
contributing to the overall Government’s desired long term outcome for the areas of Culture, Economic Development, Regional Cooperation, Public Diplomacy (branding), and Diaspora Relations – ‘A right to culture’ the right to create a culture and the right to consume culture’ as laid out particularly by the Ministry of Culture and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Defining Israeli industry “characterized by groundbreaking entrepreneurship, Israel yields pioneering technologies, profitable business opportunities and high investment returns” – as claimed by the Ministry of Trade & Labor. Likewise- the explicit national agenda to “make it possible for every Israeli to participate in improving Israel’s image in the world, and thereby contribute to its political and economic strength as well as its international standing.” – as promoted by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy.
While Israeli music industry and culture professionals have long been aware that independent musicians and Israeli music sector-at large make significant contributions not only to local culture and the economy, Israeli music culture significantly improves relations with the Diaspora community and foreign populations as a measure of soft power.
Oleh! presently obtains funding from “philanthropic support outside the State of Israel including Australia and United States based foundations” and envisages that “Israeli Music will benefit from a synchronized brand identity which must be coordinated and marketed by a non governmental Israeli body with an apolitical association“.
In 2005, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry stated: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”
Concrete examples of Israel’s cultural hard sell hasbara include the sites Size Doesn’t Matter and the Creative Community for Peace, where quotations are collected opportunistically of artists who have flaunted the cultural boycott called by Palestinians.
This new story in The Jewish Week highlights potential for Israel’s cultural music-washing exports:
Overcoming Israel’s unflattering image in the international media — especially in Europe — is another challenge. Malcolm Haynes, a music programmer for the U.K’s Glastonbury Festival, said he came to Israel to learn about the music scene and a little bit about the politics.
While Israel remains an obscure music scene, booking Israeli acts runs the risk of triggering boycotts, he said. Despite that, Haynes said he had been impressed by the musicians at the conference, and expected some might get invitations to play at Glastonberry. “I’m about building bridges.”
Despite the potential for boycott, Oleh Record’s Hulsh says that Israel’s government should invest more in helping fledgling artists reach concerts abroad as a way to boosting Israel’s image in an organic way rather than with heavy-handed propaganda.
“Each of them is an authentic cultural ambassador,” he said. “When they get on stage and tell their story, they change a narrative.”
All Israelis performing abroad who obtain Israeli government funding to do so are required to sign a contract which converts them into a marketing emissary for apartheid:
“The service provider undertakes to act faithfully, responsibly and tirelessly to provide the Ministry with the highest professional services. The service provider is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”
No promotion of the state, no funding. Who can trust the stage ‘narrative’ of artists beholden to an apartheid government for favours?
Music cannot cross apartheid walls and it is an obscenity to pretend otherwise when oppressed Palestinians have requested global solidarity for boycott, divestment and sanctions in order to obtain their just rights.
Say no to musicwashing Israel’s continuing oppression of Indigenous Palestinian people and refuse to entertain musical hasbara agents who are complicit with apartheid. Palestinians do not have a massive, well-funded state apparatus to broadcast their plight, and they deserve support from conscientious people around the world. Boycott!
The latest target of the Tourism Ministry is the foodie world, specifically food bloggers, who are brought on paid trips to Israel where their senses are dulled by stolen hummus and they go home and gush appropriately about what they have seen. Indeed, “David Lebovitz, an American writer and pastry chef living in Paris whose food-centric personal website receives nearly 2 million unique visitors per month, wrote seven posts about the trip, all of which presented Israel (and its cuisine ) in a positive light.” How’jya like them apples BDSers?
In 2009, then spokesperson of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Arye Mekel said the initiative to “re-brand” Israel involved sending “well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits … [to] show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”
Likewise, current deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has said: “Branding Israel is a way to bring who we are, without the prisms of political agendas, to the masses.”
Protesting the Batsheva Brand Israel dance export in Edinburgh, Scotland.
“We understood that it wasn’t enough to say we have creative energy – we actually had to be that way,” says Friedman. “This is the essence of Israelihood – everyone does what they want to do. It’s not refined, but dynamic and varied.”
Natanzon says that the Foreign Ministry considered adopting the values from the “Start-Up Nation” book, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, when branding Israel.
“But we didn’t want to do that,” he says. “It would only reference one sector of the population, and exclude the others. We wanted to take it to the next level, to showcase the variety and creativity there is throughout the whole country.”
Out: Jewish heritage
It’s impossible not to notice that the new branding excludes central characteristics associated with Israel, such as Jewish culture and heritage and the country’s holy sites – all of which appear in countless official adverts.
“The branding looks at something broader,” Natanzon explains. “The aim was to create a new range of conversations for the country’s brand. The historical components are already part and parcel of its image.”