As you know, every year we do research to understand what people around the world – with a focus on young people – think and feel about Israel. We do this because it’s the only way to really know how to engage them well. If we’re not basing our strategy on research, then basically we’re just theorizing what’s really going on out there, and as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (writing as Sherlock Holmes) is quoted:
At Vibe Israel, like Sherlock Holmes, we’re data driven, and that’s why since 2018, we have conducted annual perception studies about Israel amongst millennials and now Gen Z too, worldwide, and we are seeing a trend: most young people around the world are not as invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as we think, know very little if anything about the situation, and don’t really think much about Israel at all. If they do, it’s not all bad, in fact, it’s much better than we expect!
We’ll go into that in a second, but the most important conclusion from this research needs to be said, and repeated: diluting the negative or even meeting it head on – in other words, Israel Advocacy, Hasbara, or whatever you want to call it – just isn’t enough in 2022. We must, as a community, promote Israel’s positives and attractive offerings just as much, if not more than try to win a debate about Israel. Why? Because when Israel puts its best foot forward – most young people are drawn in and inspired! Look at the love people have for Gal Gadot (who openly declares her Israeliness, having served in the IDF, and everything in between), the global popularity of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade among the LGBTQ community, the decade-long success of the book “Start Up Nation”, the fact that there are more Israeli unicorn companies than those coming out of all of Europe, the hugely successful Israeli TV formats and Emmy nominations, the city of Tel Aviv starring in global rankings, we could go on and on. If you build it, they will come!
So, a bit more about the survey this year: it focused on the potential change in perception of Israel in the U.S., ages 25-44, following the three significant events of the past year – Operation “Guardian of the Walls”, Israel’s handling of the COVID pandemic and the record breaking year of Israel’s high-tech industry.
The survey was conducted between August and September 2021, around three months following Operation Guardian of the Walls and during the fourth wave of the COVID pandemic. A total of 2,194 people in the US participated, 1,112 businesspeople and 1,082 from the general public. There was a separate questionnaire for each group. The following is a brief summary of the major findings of the survey and perspectives.
Operation “Guardian of the Walls” Impact
The data shows that Operation Guardian of the Walls had neither a major long-term impact on the opinion of the general population nor on that of the business community in the US.
These results run counter to the general consensus in Israel and amongst the Diaspora Jewish community, which thought that Operation Guardian of the Walls represented a dramatic public relations crisis for Israel. That assumption is now redefining how organizations are working towards improving Israel’s image, and we at Vibe think that’s dangerous and will be counter-productive.
As detailed below, an overwhelming majority of the general public surveyed in the US (81%) said that they would do business with an Israeli company or purchase a product Made-in-Israel. This is a clear indication of the lack of success of the BDS movement to encourage people to boycott, divest or sanction Israel, at least as far as buying Israeli products or investing in Israel are concerned.
When the businesspeople surveyed were asked if their willingness to do business with Israel has changed in the past year, 34% of respondents stated that their opinion has changed for the better, and 5% stated that the reason for the positive change was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Conversely, 7.6% answered that their opinion had changed for the worse but only 3% answered that the reason for this negative change was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
General Image of Israel
When asked to rank their general perception of Israel, on a 1- 5 scale (1 being extremely negative and 5 being extremely positive) the general population group gave Israel a rating of 3.23, which is much higher than expected considering the attempts for years by the anti-Israel movement. Just to put it into perspective – a rating of 3.5 is considered very good, and anything higher is excellent. So being fairly close to 3.5 when we’re all so sure the BDS are winning, is a clear indicator that millennials in the U.S. are not swayed by it to the extent that people within the community think they are.
The perception of the businesspeople group of Israel as a place to invest was even better, passing the 3.5 ranking, and reaching 3.64. This indicates the strength of Israel’s economic brand in this regard.
When comparing the responses of the general public and the businesspeople, what we’re seeing is that Israel’s economic offering is serving as a “perception Iron Dome”.
When asked, When you hear the word “Israel”, what is the first image or idea that comes to mind?, the most popular answer among the general public group was RELIGION & RELIGIOUS SITES (38.3%), followed by TROUBLE, VIOLENCE & WARFARE (16.33%).
This has been the case since we started our research, no matter where in the world we conducted it. Whilst in the past, there was an assumption that the immediate association was “CONFLICT”, in fact we have shown that in today’s world, for the general public, ISRAEL = RELIGION first, and then issues relating to the conflict and personal safety.
As there is currently a mega-trend of millennials and Gen Z moving away from organized religion (not just Jews), the trend away from CONFLICT is good, but towards RELIGION is not necessarily a plus, as Religion alone doesn’t serve as a major attraction for the next generation. This is important to remember the next time the community wishes to call Israel “The Holy Land”, or refer to it only as the “Jewish Homeland”. Both of these terms are true, but if we want Israel to be appealing to young people, we can’t rely just on them to form the basis of what Israel has to offer young people around the world.
When businesspeople were asked, from a business perspective, when you hear the name “Israel”, what image, word or concept first comes to your mind?, 12.94% replied INNOVATION AND R&D, 11.92% noted TROUBLE, VIOLENCE & WARFARE and 10.33% responded RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS SITES.
In previous years, the top response from businesspeople, like the general population, was RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS SITES, and we believe this shift to INNOVATION is directly correlated to the success of Israeli high-tech companies, its innovation-based economy and the promotion of this success by the Israeli government, the high-tech eco-system in Israel, and efforts by the Jewish diaspora.
Israel’s Economic Image
We already mentioned above that the general perception of Israel was better among businesspeople than it was among the general population. (3.69 vs. 3.34 to the question: What is your general perception about made-in-Israel products?). And we also noted that 81% of the general population said they would do business with Israel or buy products/services from an Israeli company or brand.
But we wanted to go deeper. To the 81% who answered YES to the question posed, we asked why did they say YES, and we also asked the 19% who said no, why they said NO. Turns out that the main reason for being agreeable to doing business with Israeli companies is the perceived quality of Israeli services and products. That’s GREAT! It means that Israeli products or services are perceived to have high quality, that’s exactly the answer you hope will appear first.
Only 6.8% of the general population noted that their lack of support for Israel is the reason why they would refrain from doing business with Israeli companies – a staggeringly low percentage considering that the research was conducted only 3-4 months after Operation Guardian of the Walls.
We completed the survey with an important question, which relates to awareness of Israel in general. When we say awareness, we mean – do they even come across Israel at all when they’re scrolling through their smartphones, watching the TV or going to conferences and events?
When the general population group was asked, Have you heard any positive or good things about Israel in the last two years?, 43% replied that they hadn’t heard anything positive, which is a loud message that Israel is not doing enough to promote itself to young people in the U.S. Of those that did mention positive news, 16.61% of this news related to Israel’s innovation and economy, which is a good start but not enough.
Another bit of not so good news is that only 10% of the general public surveyed was able to name an Israeli high-tech company or brand (or even a non-high-tech company or brand), in spite of the fact that this past year was the most successful year on record for Israeli high tech.
The numbers were significantly better amongst the businesspeople, perhaps not surprisingly: just over a third (34%) were able to name an Israeli brand or company. The Israeli companies mentioned most were Fiverr (7.3%), Teva (6.5%) Wix (4.9%), Waze (4.1%), Ahava (3.2%) and Soda Stream (2.5%). This is good, but notice that we’re still talking about single digit percentages. Israel can and should do better in this regard.
We were particularly bothered by the fact that when the businesspeople surveyed were presented with the names of different companies in the world and were asked to name their country of origin, about half of the respondents incorrectly thought certain Israeli companies were founded in the US or UK.
Let’s be clear what this means: If Israeli companies only have name value among the Israelis themselves and the Jewish Diaspora, then Israel will continue not to enjoy the positive halo of the tremendous success of Israel’s tech community.
In other words – Israeli companies: say you’re Israeli! Shout it from the rooftops, add it to your “About” pages on your corporate websites, say it when you’re presenting in global conferences. How else will the world know that all of these amazing innovations that are changing and improving the world, are, in fact, Israeli?
Click here to review the survey results in more detail.