Israel’s real PR problem, according to Saranga, [Israeli consular official based in New York] is that Americans—particularly men aged 18 to 35—either associate the country with war or holy relics, or don’t think of it at all. “We have to find the right hook,” he says. “And what’s relevant to men under 35? Good-looking women.”
Apparently, in Hebrew public relations is called hasbara – which means “explaining” (or propaganda in critics’ eyes). Protecting a public image (and the $2 billion a year tourist business) is so important, that the winner of Israel’s top-rated reality TV show, “The Ambassador” secured a New York-based public relations job “to show his audience the beauty and bounty of Israel”
(Incidentally, this is a different ambassador from the one recalled from El Salvador to Israel in March after he “was found drunk and naked apart from bondage gear” – although that could be a strategy for attracting a different type of tourist.)
Despite labelling the mag as “soft porn”, the Israeli press seems to be in favour of the strategy, although it has also been criticised as propaganda. Other critics of the new strategy believe the country should focus on its religious heritage and target US Christian evangelists.
Another publicity opportunity for Israel is the (probably unfounded) rumour that Leonardo DiCaprio will marry Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli in June – she was the first Israeli model to feature in Sports Illustrated magazine, with the picture also appearing on the cover of Maxim. She has also been involved in promotional activity for Israel.
In publicity terms, the strategy has been a success, judging from the online coverage. However, whether it goes any way to addressing the more substantial public relations issues facing the country is another matter.