Next year will provide a superb opportunity to present all of Israel’s best to an uninformed world. Knesset member Ruhama Avraham is a close confidant of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Some months ago, she was appointed to lead a cross-panel of citizens, whose remit is to create a program of festivities, promoting Israel’s 60th birthday party on May 8th, 2008.
And there is much to cheer about. Despite the continuous internal and external military threats, Israel is no longer considered as the emerging desert nation of 1948. The population has grown from 800,000 to over seven million. The Knesset is elected by proportional representation, with over 10% of its members coming from minority segments of the country. Technology from Israel’s high tech companies and labs are to be found in almost every modern tool and facility – from mobile phones to hospitals – all over the world.
Partying there will be; Ms Avraham has indicated that the whole country will be involved over the spring and summer; fireworks, local picnics, parades, special educational kits for schools, and more. And as on Independence Days in the past, the 2008 celebrations will see President Shimon Peres inviting the leaders of all of Israel’s main religions to his residence. Those attending will include Armenians from the Old City of Jerusalem, Druze from the north, and Bedouin of the Negev sands.
Some have cynically added that it all adds up to lots of opportunities for politicians to speak and be photographed. In truth, it is far more.
Israelis deserve this self-awarded festive slap on the back. Last year, Hizbullah in Lebanon forced a hideous war on us, as rockets landed indiscriminately in northern Israel. Since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in the middle of June 2007, an average of 15 rockets have fallen in Israeli territory every week. And still the democracy of Jerusalem is pluralistic and intact.
What appears to be missing from the arrangements is the international element. The birthday festivities represent a truly auspicious occasion to channel the eyes of the world on all that is great about Israel – a thriving democracy, eight Nobel laureates, successful aid programs for tsunami victims, some of the best high tech in the world, and all in a land of which over 50% is covered in sand. Yet, approaches to the major international media outlets appear limited at this stage.
Professional activities have brought me into contact with representatives of a major American multinational. It is itching to cover the 2008 events in depth, a project requiring resources and planning. The first tentative approaches to several public offices have often (but not always) received dull responses; “We are waiting for confirmation of our budgets. Come back in early 2008.”
Unfortunately, that is just too late. By then, the programming schedules for May 2008 will have already been inked in. Explaining this to the officials, the representatives were met with that well-versed Israeli muscle-toning exercise, the up-down shake of the shoulders. To translate: it is not that people do not want to help, but the internal planning mechanism and snail-like budgetary process renders them near-helpless. Israel may simply forgo this golden opportunity.
What a sad contrast to the approach and capability of other countries.
This past August I had the good fortune to be vacationing in Cyprus. For 10 hot days, the only TV available to me was CNN and the BBC. Both stations ran month-long features on the nations of India and Pakistan and their progress since receiving independence from England. For 10 days, all the satellite system in my rented apartment could pick up was a constant stream of positive images oozing out of Asia?s emerging economies.
My family could not help but soak up the messages. Similarly, it does not take much to imagine the impact on business people and journalists flicking news stations in their hotel rooms, being continuously directed to the same theme. In the space of a few weeks, the two countries had been positively branded on an impressive scale.
For Israel, sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. A different 60th anniversary is coming up in November this year, the UN vote accepting Israel’s right to become a state. Programming details already reveal that some leading media outlets will be presenting some less-than-welcoming retrospectives to commemorate that event.
The Holy Land thrives on and needs positive media images. The Israeli government [with ISRAEL21c's help] recently enjoyed a coup, putting splendidly athletic local females in the pages of an international publication. While some understandably saw this as somewhat lowering the country’s image, the investment definitely generated a lot of new and positive response. Even Sky News took up the story.
May, 2008 offers the Olmert government a perfect opportunity to take the example of other countries and present the wonderful achievements of Israeli society to a global audience. Ms Avraham’s brief can be secured with dramatic success; but that demands both a local as well as an international agenda.