Haifa U offering students new elective in ‘hasbara’
“Ambassadors Online” will explore coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attempt to rectify alleged bias.
A man looks at a newspaper in Tehran Photo: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters
A new course elective at the University of Haifa aims to equip students with
online hasbara tools to fight the increasing delegitimization of
Entitled “Ambassadors Online,” the spring semester class – the
first of its kind – will explore international news coverage of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and attempt to rectify alleged media
Though it does not offer university credit, the course will teach
students about the main issues behind Israel’s delegitimization.
will hear from Foreign Ministry officials and learn to use social networking
sites to defend government policies on an ad hoc basis.
program is the brainchild of Prof. Eli Avraham, who teaches communications at
the University of Haifa and who felt the need to respond to what he said was an
epidemic of anti-Israel media activity.
“There’s a lot of bias in the
European and American media. We’re trying to ask why and how it’s biased and
what we can do about it,” he said.
The syllabus for “Ambassadors Online”
will concentrate on identifying what constitutes hostile or non-objective
Afterward, students will be encouraged to contact foreign
media outlets to present an Israeli perspective and reframe the public
“We’re going to take every allegation against Israel and give
[the students] advice as to what they can do,” Avraham said, from contacting
editors to alerting Facebook friends of possible bias.
The students will
participate in writing Wikipedia entries, publicizing hasbara (public diplomacy)
talking points and confronting anti-Israel activists in online chat rooms. The
class will also host workshops on news articles to outline bias and propose
Course organizer David Gurevich, a PhD student at
the university, described online forums as a target of pro-Israel strategy. He
mentioned in particular one Wikipedia article on Israel’s security
The official title on the Web page is “Israeli West Bank Barrier.”
The website adopted the “objective” terminology after a long and heated
discussion between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists, according to
Without the participation of pro-Israel voices, public opinion
can drastically sway in the other direction.
If we can contribute our
side to the discussion, that’s very important,” Gurevich said.
going to first of all give the students knowledge and tools to present the
Israeli side online,” from uploading positive YouTube clips to speaking with
interested third-party participants.
“Ambassadors Online” will invite
speakers from the Foreign Ministry and the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
Ministry to discuss ways students can utilize online platforms to convey a
pro-Israel message. Course lecturers include former Atlanta consul-general Reda
Mansour; Miri Eisen, a former press adviser to the prime minister; and Neil
Lazarus, an external adviser to the Foreign Ministry.
“The lectures of
senior diplomats, scholars and media analysts will give us a theoretical
background on issues from media coverage on Israel, through history of Israel,
to main points today in the peace process,” Gurevich said.
meanwhile, dismissed concerns of partisanship.
“It’s not a political
course,” he said. “People will say that whenever you want to do something for
Israel or present the narrative, it’s obviously political.”
added, “it’s not Im Tirtzu” – referring to the right-leaning NGO. “We’re
reclaiming the Zionist narrative.”
Gurevich agreed, saying that the class
was academically based.
“We are not a political program,” he
“What we are doing is public diplomacy and having a dialogue with
people abroad who misjudge Israel. We’re answering claims of defamation and
delegitimization, people who do not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a
democratic Jewish state.”
His decision to create the course was inspired
by a Foreign Ministry lecture.
“During the summer, I heard an official
from the Foreign Ministry talk about how they started an official Twitter
[account] for the state,” he recalls. “Suddenly, they had interaction with the
public abroad. I said to myself, if officials can do it, then we students can
definitely be unofficial ambassadors for Israel.”