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Saturday, December 27, 2014

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Media campaign puts Israel in a new light

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Israel: Small Country Big Paradise is one of many videos released by Size Doesn’t Matter. [YouTube screenshot]

Let’s come right out and admit it: this isn’t your bubbie’s Israel public relations campaign, nor does it resemble a traditional Israel Bonds sales pitch on the High Holidays.

Not when it features a video of a 20-something young women staring at her prone, bare-chested boyfriend and commenting about how small it is down there.

Or when a video promoting Tel Aviv features a buff young man lathering himself in the shower who is then joined by a friend and then, another.

What would your sisterhood-joining grandmother have to say about that?

Clearly, the media campaign, dubbed Size Doesn’t Matter (SDM), isn’t aimed at her or anyone of her generation, or the one that came next, for that matter.

Instead, its target is a much younger demographic, one that doesn’t flinch at a provocative and edgy media campaign that might shock someone from an older generation.

Its proponents are calling it a great success, while its critics question the use of sex to re-brand Israel.

“Thousands visit the website on a monthly basis, and SDM’s online videos have gone viral and achieved several million hits,” said Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

One of CIJA’s predecessor agencies, the University Outreach Committee, launched SDM to highlight Israel’s culture, diversity and tech accomplishments.

The Size Doesn’t Matter campaign is centred on a website, but includes “on-the-ground events, promotional items” attendance at Pride parades and more.

The goal of the campaign, said Fogel, is to connect “Israel to Canadians, particularly those under 35, who are not – and never will be – interested in a complex, foreign conflict.

“While SDM is broad in scope, it includes particular niche audiences, such as the South Asian community and the LGBT community. SDM has a presence at Pride parades in seven cities across Canada, giving out thousands of free products and info that show Israel as a beacon of human rights and freedoms.”

In recent weeks, the website (www.sizedoesntmatter.com) has featured the shower video, below which were links to a news report for an Israeli youth hockey team playing in Los Angeles, as well as a link to information about the protection of animals in Israel, a video of a hot Israeli DJ in Montreal as well as a feature on an Israeli jewelry maker who is opening a store in the United States.

Some critics have been taking aim at the use of sex to promote Israel.

“You don’t want people coming to Israel for sex, and that’s almost what it’s suggesting. It’s the ultimate trivialization of the Zionist dream and bordering on the extremely offensive,” Rabbi Philip Scheim of the Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue was quoted as saying in the National Post.

Contacted by The CJN, he appeared to back away from that position – at least a bit. “I don’t really care about the implicit sexuality in the ad,” he said.

But the shower scene could have reflected any place, not necessarily Tel Aviv, he said. After his initial reaction to the ad, he’s reconsidered his position.

“I see that it’s trying to create a subliminal connection between travel to Israel and young people attracted to it,” he said. “But we have to be cautious about the message… Certain things may sell, but they not be what we want to sell.”

“We may laud the goal – how to get people to Israel – but we should be cautious how we do it,” he said.

Writing in the Jewish Tribune, a B’nai Brith publication, Rabbi Benjamin Hecht argued the campaign flies in the face of Zionist ideals.

Referring to the shower video – with its tagline “there’s room for everyone” – he questions selling Tel Aviv as a rival to Amsterdam.

“That makes a Jewish state?” he asked.

“It seems to want to sell Israel, to bring people to respect the Jewish state. That is then the real question: is this the way we – and I speak across the spectrum – want even secular Israel to be portrayed? Visit Tel Aviv for sun and hedonism! Is this the way we want the world to see us, to see the Jewish state?”

Fogel said using the phrase “size doesn’t matter” – itself a sexual allusion – was meant to focus “on Israel’s small size, something about which most Canadians are unaware. [It] is important in showing the country’s disproportionate contributions. We were looking for a catchy name and approach that would attract the target audience, those under 35, which is exactly what it has done.”

As for alienating others in the Jewish community, Fogel said, “As a community, we all share the goal of building support for Israel and telling Israel’s story in a compelling way to our non-Jewish neighbours. This campaign reaches out to a target demographic that conventional advocacy just doesn’t speak to.

“We would be remiss to pass upon the opportunity to connect the younger generation to Israel out of concern for controversy.

“SDM attracts a wide audience because it’s initially edgy, but the edginess is always followed by substantive, effective information that strengthens Israel’s image. Our statistical data clearly demonstrate a high click rate and engagement on the substantive elements of the SDM website.”

Fogel said the campaign has been so successful, that “we have been asked to present SDM at pro-Israel advocacy forums in the United States, Europe and Israel. The response has been phenomenal. There’s much interest among Diaspora organizations to undertake beyond-the-conflict programming of this nature. We are proud that SDM has pioneered this approach and to have offered an effective model for our international partners.”

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