Monday, October 10, 2011

After the Holidays...Acherie Ha'Chagim

It's silly season in Israel: well, in some ways, it's ALWAYS silly season here, but particularly from around mid-August to mid-October, NOTHING gets done. Except a lot of eating, some Fasting, a lot more eating, traveling "chutz l'aretz", more eating, but business (?), work (?) - faggedabowdid!
Of course August is when everybody leaves Israel to take their precious offspring to Euro Disney, Turkey wonderland (oh, not any more, sorry...), trekking in Africa, on a burger binge in the US - just so the little ones will have enough stuff to brag about when they get back to school on September 1 - or is that September 2 or 3 or 4? - depending on the length of the annual teachers' strike - WHAT!?? No strike this year??? What is happening? And this year, was the "Summer of Love" in Israel, well, mainly Tel Aviv, with happy campers occupying the White City's most elegant boulevard in their highly successful (so far...) social protest. More strength to them, but I fear that post summer ennui may set in unless they really gird themselves for the winter to come.
But what has all this to do with MarCom or communication, or PR or Social Media? Quite a bit, actually. First of all, it was social media, Facebook and Twitter mainly, that got the crowds out for the protests in Israel's main cities. Just as SM (Social Media, not the other kind) got the populace out in our neighboring Arab countries to protest against their regimes. Except that there, people were being killed by their own armies and police forces. Even in Wall Street - the latest "Social Protest" to shake the conservative world - the police used pepper spray to "subdue" protesters. While in Israel,  the police diverted traffic, guided protesters to their destinations, kept a watchful eye for any troublemakers, but generally endowed a benign presence to the proceedings. Hardly an incident, no noteworthy arrests, no agro whatsoever - just music (lots of music, many Israeli singers and groups donated their talents to keeping the crowds entertained and enthused), electrifying speeches  and actually some action from the Government. Will Trajtenberg do any good? That remains to be seen. The Cabinet has just approved the recommendations, now we will see if there is anything to bite on there.
Let's examine for a moment the role of Facebook and Twitter in this social upheaval. Quite frankly, I think too much is being made of the "mystique" of social media. Let's face it, if newspapers had just been invented they would have been seen as the medium of success for the protests. The magic of Facebook and Twitter (and others), is their speed and reach. Just as newspapers emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries as the way to reach a vaster number of people with thoughts, ideas, policies, propaganda etc than the town crier of a century earlier; just as radio, film and Television broadened the reach of - and accessibility to - the "vox populi" for most of the 20th Century, so the Internet, and social media provide us with a faster, more impactful, more immediate and farther-reaching tool than we have ever had. Almost at the speed of thought, as it were - no sooner have you thought the thought, than it is broadcast around the world (sometimes too quickly, with not enough real "thought" behind it...). But Facebook and Twitter (and others e. g. SMS) are just tools - tools to be used properly, and carefully and judiciously (or even with malice if you are that way inclined). I'm not trying to minimize the importance and excitement of these tools, not in the least. They are fantastic ways of communicating until the next BIG THING comes along), but they are NOT magic. They are tools. Learn how to use them, learn how to work with them, learn how to maximize them. Remember that it is the thoughts and policies, and ideas BEHIND them that matter - not the medium itself, despite what my guru Marshall McLuhan said about the "Medium" being the "Massage" (yes., that's correct "Massage"), it's not completely true. Although, on second thoughts, maybe it is: if you get an SMS or a FB or Twitter feed, know from whence it comes, and check it out, before acting on it o taking it too literally...yes, maybe the medium IS the Massage or message, as you will. 
While talking about "Messages" - we witnessed the UN circus spectacle again: Palestinians demanding their rights, Israel putting its case, quite eloquently in usual Bibi fashion; Israel mustering all the diplomatic clout and support it can - the US, the Quartet, other friendly countries - and then we go and BLOW IT BIG TIME by announcing that we are building another 1,000 homes in Gilo. It's like saying to all or friends and allies - well, thank for your help, but here's mud in your eye (and I don't mean it as a toast over a G&T!). I'm not debating whether Israel has the right to build in Gilo, whether Gilo is a settlement or part of Jerusalem, or any other standpoint right or left you care to muster. I'm talking straightforward PR - knowing when and what to say to whom and how. You may have the perfect right to cross the highway, but you don’t do it when there's a Mack truck bearing down on you!
Fact: The Palestinians use the settlements as their most potent argument against Israel.
Fact: They will exploit ANY hint of settlement activity to strengthen their case.
Fact: We just did a marvelous PR job for the Palestinian cause.
You can like that or not, it's the truth. We could have managed it far better - we could have kept it low key for a few more weeks, we could have built up the image of Gilo as part of Jerusalem, BEFORE announcing the building program; put Gilo's case before the world, show it as a suburb of Jerusalem, shown it as being nowhere near the West Bank...and then quietly introduced the idea of more building., But NO! We have to "show the world", brag and boast and strut and embarrass our friends.
It's time Israel's government learned a bit more about PR than just making impassioned, emotional speeches at the UN. A little subtlety and good sense wouldn't go amiss.

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