Ido Aharoni Speaks on Public Perception of Israel

Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York, spoke on Thursday, March 21 about his efforts to improve Israel’s overall positioning and to redefine Israel as an attractive brand. In order to gain entry to the lecture, Colgate University students had to present their student IDs to security guards.

According to Aharoni, September 11 catalyzed the initiative to investigate the public perception of Israel. Aharoni found that Americans overwhelmingly support Israeli policies.

However, when Aharoni used the Brand Asset Valuator, a database that monitors consumers’ perceptions of brands, he found Americans did not endorse Israel when they considered it as a brand.

“Human beings can live perfectly well with a total disconnect between the rational and the emotional,” Aharoni said. “Americans can rationally agree with Israeli policies but can emotionally dislike Israel’s personality.”

In order to determine how the public feels toward Israel, Aharoni and his colleagues conducted a study using 30 focus groups of non-Jewish Americans who had never been to Israel.

First, participants were asked to brainstorm countries.

Not one participant listed Israel, proving that Israel is not a “top of mind” country, according to Aharoni.

Researchers then asked participants to imagine that each country was throwing a house party. When imagining Israel’s house party, participants had difficulty describing the interior and were unable to describe it using colors. What Aharoni found most disturbing was that not one participant included a description of an Israeli woman. Instead, participants envisioned armed men outside the house denying them entry.

“Israel’s house was described as the most stern, strict, dangerous, unwelcoming, unhappy house you can imagine,” Aharoni said.

From this study, Aharoni gained insight into the faults of previous efforts to improve Israel’s public image. Aharoni recognized that the emotional tie between Israel and the American people is more important than Americans’ political support of Israel.

“It’s not about winning debates in today’s world. It’s about building relationships,” Aharoni said.

Aharoni explained that for the past 65 years Israel had emphasized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, Israel should raise its issues only after a relationship has been established, which will make the partner more sympathetic and willing to help.

The most pressing task for Israel is to define itself in a way that is attractive to the world, according to Aharoni.

“This is the most important rule in marketing: If you do not take the proactive approach and define yourself, rest assured your competition will do it for you,” Aharoni said. “Israel allowed itself to be seen only as its problems. And Israel is much more than its problems.”

According to Aharoni, Israel is now focused on defining itself as a center of innovation and creativity.

“There is a huge gap between perception and reality. And our job is to close that gap by defining ourselves,” Aharoni said. 

Aharoni employs micromarketing techniques to engage specific audiences in conversations about what interests them. Aharoni listed six categories of interest and demonstrated that Israel has something to offer within each category. The categories are lifestyle and leisure; technology, science and medicine; culture and the arts; ethnic and religious diversity; the environment and international aid.

The micromarketing approach and disinclination to focus only on crisis management is working, according to Aharoni.

“2012, 2011 and 2010 were record years in the tourist industry despite the fact that we are in a region that is falling apart,” Aharoni said.

Aharoni now looks to target constituencies who have no stake in Israel because that is where there is room to grow.

“When people don’t care, that’s when the trouble begins. Brands want loyalty. They want you to care about them … It’s all about the quality of the emotional tie,” Aharoni said.

Aharoni stressed that his ultimate goal is to change the way the brand of Israel is presented to the world and to ensure that those who care about Israel broaden the conversation.

In reference to why he wishes to attract more people to Israel, Aharoni cited the benefits of tourism, which is the country’s largest industry, business, foreign investment and exposure of a country’s culture.

“I think Israel is becoming an inspiration again … People see Israel as a land of opportunity,” Ahourani said.

Contact Julia Queller at

[email protected].