I went to the Nefesh b’Nefesh First International Jewish Blogger’s Convention earlier this evening.
When I first told my wife I was going to a blogger’s convention, she asked "isn’t that an oxymoron? What do they do, sit there typing at each?" And Nefesh b’Nefesh did thoughtfully have a "laptop recharging station" for the bloggers — although no one actually used it that I could see. Most of the bloggers present seemed to be more interested in socializing and eating the free food than in writing a blog entry from the convention floor. So maybe bloggers aren’t as geeky as we are sometimes reputed to be.
There were a few hundred bloggers in attendance. The big draw was Benjamin Netanyahu — former prime minister, leader of the opposition, fellow blogger (click here for his blog) and aching to once again be prime minister. One of the bloggers suggested that Netanyahu invited himself, and NbN couldn’t turn him down. He gave a relatively political speech. The substantial majority of the bloggers there were right wing and seemed very approving. When one blogger asked "we hear all about Arab rights, how about Jewish rights?" Bibi’s response took off and went on — I don’t think the question was a plant, but you probably couldn’t have planted a better question for him if you tried. He went on about how you have to understand history, it was the Muslims who kicked the Jews out, not the Romans, etc., etc., and our big problem is the Arabs turn a result into a cause (they start a war, get dispossessed, which is a result, but then claim the dispossession is the cause of their unhappiness…not the result of their starting a war). All in all, I didn’t hear anything that would convince me to vote for him, even though his English is much better than any of the other candidates.
After Netanyahu I had some of the free food and met a few of the eclectic collection of bloggers, for example, Radical Moderate, whose political philosophy I share (see my d’var Torah on "passionate moderates") and Cannabis Chassidis, certainly one of the most unusual blogs I’ve come across. I had no idea there were chasids for cannabis. No wonder they’re such heavy smokers! I mentioned the room was full of right wing bloggers — yet who do I stumble into but the moderate and the pothead. Not that I’m complaining.
I also thought it was kind of funny that among all these bloggers — who represent the new form of free flowing, do it yourself journalism — there were a bunch of people around with big "Press" badges. Hey, aren’t we all press? But a lady who works for the JTA in LA said the press badges were for people who care about things like asking questions, presenting a balanced view, etc., etc. Journalists in other words. Seems almost quaintly old fashioned. I’m nostalgic for real journalism. Every newspaper and tv station is into blogs, talkbacks, and pandering to the lowest common denominator. Entertainment and advertising revenue, not news and a public service.
Also present was Zafy Apfelbaum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of Brand Management. Yes, the Ministry has someone in charge of the "Israel" brand. She made an unfavorable comparison between the "Ireland" brand and the "Israel" brand and said it makes her feel optimistic — we’ve got lots of potential to grow! It seems a bit weird to worry about marketing Israel as a brand, but why not? We compete for tourism and investment dollars. I was pleased to hear her recognize what has been wrong with Israel’s approach to selling the brand. All along Israelis have felt "misunderstood." The whole point of "hasbara," explaining Israel to the world, is that if we explain what’s going on and tell people the truth they will like us.
Guess what? As a brand, it’s more important to be "attractive" than it is to be "right."
Now if only we could stop those pesky missiles from Gaza and shed the image of harsh occupier of the West Bank, we would probably look a lot more "attractive." !