Hollywood and Israel’s Cultural Diplomacy Venture

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct_DZqypU5I&w=560&h=315]


Joseph Nye wrote an article in 2008, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” discussing power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want.” This is a short definition of power, but one that can be used in the international communications realm easily. In discussing soft power and cultural diplomacy, they go hand in hand. Most of America’s soft power relates to exporting cultural products throughout the world. However, some countries have used Hollywood as a tool to help build cultural diplomacy with the rest of the world.

In a recent news article, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collaborated with Hollywood producers to create a film series highlighting the tourist industry in Israel.

“It’s not only a vehicle to increase tourism, it’s also to dispel various calumnies about the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Nye would definitely consider this type of vehicle a soft power approach to dispel the previous stereotypes of Israel. The proposed interest in their culture and the added influx of tourism can be a huge benefit for the country. Nye might have seen this as a way of shaping soft power.

“Once broadcast, Greenberg’s [the director’s] program is expected to draw at least 200,000 more tourists to Israel, according to Tourism Ministry estimates, giving its economy a boost and possibly setting yet another record,” the article explained.

Nye brings up another interesting term that I wanted to discuss. He thinks of hard power as diplomacy through threats and coercion., like Israel has been portrayed in the media with Palestine. However, Nye states that there can be a “smart power” that works to combine soft and hard powers in order to inform and influence. The upcoming movie might be able to influence other countries culturally, politically and diplomatically.

If the movie is viewed by different countries elite populations, then this could indeed affect viewpoints on foreign policy toward Israel. However, the unintended side-effect of this production could be that non-Western governments will view this as another Israeli partnership with the U.S. and could further perpetuate myths of coercion and incite further violence against the U.S. or Israel. Both sides of the coin have serious repercussions, but the overall viewpoint of Netanyahu is that it will help pull back the curtain on the history and culture of his country. Either way, it does bring the idea of using the media as a medium for strong discourse about perceived foreign stereotypes and possibly leading to a change in attitudes of foreign diplomacy toward Israel.


10 thoughts on “Hollywood and Israel’s Cultural Diplomacy Venture”

  1. Hollywood should be explored as a powerful medium for governments to pursue PD. Films created in the U.S. usually show in thousands of venues in almost every country and do not come with the trappings of traditional forms of communication. Newspapers, think tanks, journal publications, and news channels all come with a political or nationality based bias that the people they target take into account. This causes many people to avoid a Fox News or Al Jezeera etc… because of what they consider a lack of credibility or nefarious intentions. While it is known to exaggerate the American film industry is a lot more attractive to a greater number of people especially those who are less politically involved and less likely to get their foreign policy news from other sources. (Though I have experienced recently a student at Hopkins from Qatar tell me all the war movies made in the U.S. are biased.) The people watching Hollywood films produced to promote Israel are not the same ones reading UN, EU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch or other reports which may be more critical. As the authors we have read have discussed engaging with more people and more diverse groups of people while using new technology and social media are essential components to cultivating a successful modern PD strategy and using movies or youtube videos is definitely part of this.

  2. Mark thank you for this wonderful post. It brings to light so many facets of “soft power.” I believe this attempt by Netanyahu is creative piece of work that gets it right. After watching the video I wanted to visit Israel to explore the beauty of the country. Netanyahu is clearly telling the world, through the video, that this is the Israel he wants you to know. He is tries to pull attention away from the conflict that currently consumes the majority of the coverage over the nation and towards the cultural gems the country possesses.

    As a tool of public diplomacy it definitely affects me as a viewer; I am drawn in by the beauty of the country, enticed by the rich culture displayed on screen and even more so influenced by my my realization that I don’t know much about Israel, outside of the Israel/Palestine conflict. The video accomplishes the goal. I see Israel beyond its current turmoil and as a multifaceted city with so much to offer.
    The video probably hits the mark for Western viewers, pulling us in and getting us to view Israel in a different light. However, I agree, for non-western viewers it may come across as nothing more than propaganda by the West. It also threatens to been perceived as an insensitive piece of work that detracts from the real problems of the people that live there by trying to broadcast a message that all is “fine and dandy” in the “Holy Land.” It will be interesting to see if this works or is seen as a publicity comparable to the works of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  3. Mark,
    This was very a very interesting post to read! Israel obviously has a lot of image-related troubles and up until recently public diplomacy was not part of the casual lexicon in the corridors of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Netaniyahu’s latest visit to the US indeed sparked a new trend, which will hopefully be embraced and enhanced by other politicians and foreign policy practitioners in Israel.
    I would like to add a dimension to this discussion by relating to the concept of middle powers and public diplomacy. Gilboa (2009) refers to Middle Powers as “having limited resources, yet they aspire to influence central events and processes in contemporary international relations”. I would argue that Israel’s attempts at public diplomacy are directly connected to its aspiration to become middle power, at least regionally.
    From what I’ve heard, this new movie focuses much on Tel-Aviv’s liberal nightlife and the significant progress made by the city regarding the LGBT community and what Netaniyahu likes the most- portraying Israel as “The Start- Up Nation”.
    Recently, more than ever, Israel has started employing PD tools to attract attention to its very successful tech sector. This includes numerous exchange programs with institutions worldwide, advocacy tour of companies such as Google and Intel who have established R&D centers in the country, international tech exhibitions and much more.
    Since Israel is in a very vulnerable position because of its stance in the Middle East region, I think it seeks ways to become a middle power by influencing the global technology and innovation related processes. Its focus on attracting attention and investing in technological innovation is indeed an attempt to become an example of good global citizenship and acquire power within the technology and inovation niche.

  4. Hello, All.
    Mark’s post and others’ replies provide constructive insights on the concepts of soft power, cultural diplomacy, mediated diplomacy, and smart power, especially for “middle powers.” The Israeli government reflects her people — great entrepreneurs with close ties to Hollywood and a wonderfully diverse culture to share and bring in much needed foreign currency. I’ll look forward to watching “The Royal Tour” segment on Israel and poking around for some reviews from around the world. It’s great that Greenberg did an episode on Jordan…I’ll hope for a time when he can do one on the West Bank 🙂

    -Debbie Trent

  5. Well, there is no dough that hollywood and israels cultural diplomacy venture is now in front of everyone in this world. we may not found it as inspiring but many has.

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