I want to sit at the feet of the BDS movement. These people, whom I fear and hate, are my marketing mentors. They’re winning. We’re losing. Look what they’ve just accomplished with the Super Bowl, Scarlett Johansson and SodaStream. Absolutely brilliant.
They grab headlines. They gather supporters. They pull on heart strings. They capture the next generation on campuses and in the online universe. They know how to build a movement. They know how to organize. They know how to finance their efforts. They’re strategic, creative and plan extraordinary international events, such as the Freedom Flotilla. They know how to pull off a worldwide boycott. They shape world opinion. They stay with the plan and build.They know how to turn a protracted, complex and nuanced conflict into a simple, black-and-white choice for global consumption. They appear capable of doing everything that we cannot seem to do.
They’ve done their homework. They know our lingo. Did you catch Omar Barghouti’s statement in The New York Times Opinion piece, “The Israel brand today is more toxic than ever”? They know everything we are up to, including the efforts of Brand Israel.
As an adjunct professor at USC/Annenberg teaching nonprofit marketing, I want to get my PhD from these folks. As a marketer of the Jewish world, I want to understand how they accomplish what they do so well.
BDS cannot be dismissed. As cause marketers, they need to be respected.
Marketing is always a war. There are opponents, competition and territory to be taken. As a marketer of nearly 40 years, I can recognize when I am sitting across the table from a formidable marketing foe. I can tell when there is a central planning group and a sizable budget. If that were about marketing and not about my Zionist belief system and commitments, I’d defect and join the BDS team.
As a liberal, I used to believe that only if Israel created a just peace with a two-state solution, all this would end. Even though I still support efforts to make this happen, I don’t believe it will stop the de-legitimization. We’re in this propaganda war for the long haul.
What the hell is the matter with us? We are giving these folks carte blanche to win this battle? Why?
Allow me to list 10 reasons and the challenges. (I am certain there are many more.):
1. Brand Israel has attempted to re-image Israel based upon its accomplishments. Technololgy. The Start-Up Nation. Wine. Women. Gays. Medical research. Its strategy has been to side-step the conflict. But the conflict appears on the front pages and in the news multiple times a week. It is what people care about. The conflict makes them fear for the safety of the world and their own lives. That left the door wide open for BDS to seize upon the conflict and spin it their own way.
2. BDS is organized. They’re collaborating and working together. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to do what they do.
3. We don’t work together. Every Jewish leader and organization believes it knows better than the next leader and organization. We’re on a battlefield with everyone working in cross purposes and directions. On top of it, we dismiss each others’ efforts as the wrong ones.
4. We have no central leadership that everyone has bought into. There is no general leading this battle.
5. We don’t fund this well. The Israeli government doesn’t fund it well. The worldwide Jewish community doesn’t fund it well.
6. We keep believing that the solution is to bring in a bunch of Jewish ad agency people. Ad agency people know how to sell hamburgers, cars and computers. They don’t know how to win an international propaganda battle of epic human proportions.
7. None of us has the magic solution. There isn’t one. We’re going to have to actually work together, nicely, to figure this out.
8. We don’t know how to work together nicely. Not when there are so many self-appointed kings and queens of the Jews, who believe they have the absolute answer.
9. We’re going to need to recognize there will be failures on the road to success and it doesn’t mean you pull the plug.
10. I can’t figure out Number 10. But I have no doubt all of you will, up to 120.
BDS is just revving their engines. What we are seeing is probably nothing in comparison to the plans they have on the table. I hope in a few years, I’ll be able to teach a graduate seminar on what they did — and how they ultimately failed. But unless we Jews turn ourselves into expert, risk-taking, well-funded collaborative marketers, I’ll probably be teaching about our defeat at the hands of BDS.
Gary Wexler is the co-founder of SeizeTheConversation.com. He is adjunct professor of both nonprofit marketing as well as advertising, in the Masters in Communication Management Program at USC/Annenberg.