The battle over Israel’s brand narrative
The Start-Up Nation
The Comeback Nation
The Occupation Nation
The Start-Up Nation positions Israel as being about technology and innovation that makes the world a better place; a tiny place with huge brainpower, a nation that has more Nobel Prizes than all of its neighbours combined; about a liberal democracy, the only democracy in the Middle East, where gays are not beheaded, where Arabs are represented in parliament and the courts; a multicultural melting pot, with bright people who have a bright future.
The Comeback Nation is about our ties to this land – historical, Biblical, legal and moral – roots to our ancient homeland. We are an ancient nation that was exiled from its home into the cruel Diaspora, where we suffered untold evil and humiliation for 2,000 years, culminating in the Holocaust. We were defenceless, we had no army, we relied on others to protect us, a reliance that failed time and time again. But we kept our traditions, and eventually returned to our homeland, and the Jews’ return from exile is one of the most enthralling human dramas of all time. We keep on uncovering evidence of our past here and we celebrate each discovery. Now we are fighting for our biblical/ historical rights to parts of this land. Under this narrative, Israelis are not “settlers” nor “occupiers” as “one cannot be an occupier in one’s own land.” If anyone is illegally occupying the land, it is the Palestinians.
The Occupation Nation paints Israel as an usurper state taking what does not belong to it, an Apartheid state that is denying basic rights to the “original inhabitants” of the area – the Palestinians [I put original in quotes only to contrast it with the Comeback Nation narrative]. It negates the first two narratives: Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East, it is, in fact, not a democracy at all because it doesn’t allow the Palestinians living under its rule the same rights as it allows Jews; and it negates the Comeback Nation narrative by denying the Jews’ have any rights to any part of the Holy Land. It is from this narrative that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign springs. There are some shades to this narrative: not everyone who ascribes to the Occupation Nation narrative believes Israel shouldn’t exist within the 1967 borders.
These three narratives are all vying for the coveted title of “the truth” – the one that actually frames “what Israel is.” And there are serious professionals working tirelessly to promote each narrative, mostly working against each other – like the three-headed Cerberus they try bite each others’ heads off while all connected to the same neck.
But the truth is more complex
The truth is that Israel is all three.
I also find it interesting that Naftali Bennett, the new leader of the Habayit Hayehudi settlement party, is an embodiment of all three narratives: a technology start-up guy who now represents a sector that lives in what they believe is their ancient homeland; he wants to perpetuate the occupation – i.e. deny the Palestinians the right to a state of their own. All three narratives in one. Quite remarkable, and perhaps a first in Israeli politics.
The truth is that anyone who sells you just one of the narratives is selling you an incomplete picture.
The complete picture is that:
We are creating a future with startups that are as alien to the region as the region’s inhabitants see us.
We are a start up nation with deep, legitimate rights and roots in this ancient land and we are not letting go of many of our ancestral places.
We are an occupation nation because the people who lived here while we were in exile can’t live in freedom from our rule.
The problem is that we can’t keep on being all three.
We even managed to convince the leader of the free world to adopt our Comeback Nation narrative, and move him away from his previous notion that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. But in his speech in Jerusalem last week, Barack Obama painted an accurate picture of Israel as a complex country with three competing narratives: Start-Up Nation, Comeback Nation, and Occupation Nation.
If we persist in being the Occupation Nation we could lose the narrative of Start -Up Nation as Israel focuses more and more of its finances, resources, morality and international standing on denying the Palestinians a state. Who will we sell our start-ups to if the Occupation Nation narrative gets stronger and we are boycotted more and more? We can win the third intifada and the fourth and the fifth until the only thing left to win is a permanent branding of Occupation Nation. If we persist in the Occupation Nation we will also lose our legitimate rights as the Comeback Nation, because we will never get the world to accept this narrative in its entirety. The key is to hold on to realistic aspects of the Comeback Nation, strengthen the Start-Up Nation, and ditch the Occupation Nation.