January 22, 2006

Must be Palma I thought, until I read the bottom… Tel Aviv!

At long last everyone I know is talking about Israel and at long last it does not involve the intifada or disengagement. The thing on everyone’s mind is the bit of hot stuff advertising from the Think Israel website. For any reader of this outside the UK, I will quickly bring you up to speed.

It all started about a fortnight ago. There I was, an innocent student, minding my own business, just trying to catch the tube. I had just arrived on the platform, when a young guy turn to his ‘mate’ and said “She’s a bit of alright, I wouldn’t mind going there if they all look like that.”

With this I looked up and to my shock I discovered that they were looking at a giant poster of a model, sat down on a moonlit beach, the waves lapping at her thighs and the buildings behind her lit up like any cosmopolitan Mediterranean city. Must be Palma I thought, until I read the bottom… Tel Aviv!

No surely not, not a positive portrayal of Israel reaching the average person. This was too much, I needed to sit down. It was then that I looked down the platform to my left and saw another large poster, another gorgeous model, another group of commuters looking up in awe (OK…slight exaggeration) only this time it was advertising the Dead Sea.

It wasn’t just me who had noticed the campaign either, for it wasn’t just us lucky Londoners who got to marvel at the beauty of the models and the brilliance behind the campaign. The whole nation has been treated to the TV advertisement at prime time slots. I unfortunately don’t have a TV set, but the website itself contains the advert and I must admit I have returned once or twice to sneak a peek.

I’m sure many of you will be wondering why I am mentioning this, and no, its not because I am being paid by the wonderful people at Think Israel, though I think this will have secured me at least some sort of freebie ( free air travel for a decade perhaps!?) The reason is because of the immediate impact that it has had on peoples’ perceptions of Israel.

Now I am not for one second saying that the general public will believe that these adverts sum up Israel, or that by watching the advert they will automatically forget all the bad things that have happened there. What I am saying however is that people are being shown, very simply that Israel is not just Jerusalem, Nazareth and Caesarea. These adverts will reach new audiences, young and liberal – the sort of people that Israel desperately needs to attract.

Israeli tourism will never die, every year there are devoted Jews and Christians coming to Israel to spend their hard-earned holiday shekels. But wouldn’t it be great if these adverts helped increase Israeli tourism among the young. There is no reason why Tel Aviv can’t be the next ‘place to be seen’ or that Eilat can’t rival Sharm El-Sheikh in attracting British tourists.

I understand that many people will not be best pleased to see the Holy Land being advertised to what some would say are a less than ‘holy’ clientele. However I doubt those who would object would even notice if we had an annual influx of clubbers to Tel Aviv. This is of course based on my assumption that if they object to the adverts they won’t be spending their Friday nights out boozing.

This brings me onto another possible concern of the more conservative Israeli, that we will soon be seeing the Costa del Promised Land! Well I hope I can bury this one before it gains much ground. I am a young British student, I am well aware of some of my fellow countrymen’s love of the drink and furthermore I am well aware that many of them tend to act up after a few pints. We have all seen their behavior at World Cup matches, Ibiza Summers and to be honest the average Saturday night.

However I doubt that Israel is suddenly going to attract ‘Booze Britain’. Firstly Israel is further away from Spain (or Britain-by-the-Med as it is becoming) and so these particular tourists are going to take the route of least resistance. This of course doesn’t include being questioned by El Al staff before you have even got into Israel, paying extra (Israel is expensive by Spanish resort standards), flying further, not being able to shout ‘Pour-Favor’ and ‘Grassy-Ass’ at every opportunity and being prepared to take the plunge with a new destination.

Remember these are simple people we are dealing with, many of them will only have ever thought about Israel when singing a token Christmas carol… so instead of people worrying about the sudden influx of heathen, Hellenists, hedonists and general goyim, they should sit back, relax and watch as slowly…people’s image of Israel begins to turn around.

This is one small step, and it should be welcomed. I hope to be seeing more of these adverts in the future, families skiing on Mount Hermon, newlyweds watching the world go by in Haifa and perhaps if we are really lucky… and I mean really, really lucky, Ivri Lider swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea.

(Reprinted with permission of The Jerusalem Post)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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