Netanyahu facebook 224.
(photo credit: Facebook)
When Maya, a 30-year-old real-estate agent from Haifa, decided to create a new profile on Facebook.com last week, she didn't register as herself, but as Likud Party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
In less than a week, Maya's "Bibi" made 138 new friends on the California-based social networking site.
"I built this profile [of Netanyahu] and in 10 minutes I started getting e-mails from people asking to add me to their list of friends," according to Maya, a Likud member who said she did not work for the party and preferred not to give her last name. "People really think he has a profile on Facebook and they approach me as Bibi Netanyahu. It's amazing. People love him."
Several prominent Israeli politicians have profiles on Facebook, but like Maya's Netanyahu, most of these listings are fakes. The profiles, which list a range of personal information such as relationship status, hometown, political views, favorite interests and photo albums, are meant as parodies.
Under Netanyahu's religious views, Maya writes: "Ze'ev Jabotinsky rules," and she has added applications to the profile that allow Netanyahu to receive virtual "naughty gifts" and alcoholic drinks.
The Facebook profile of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which boasts 231 friends, is registered to a 21-year-old New Yorker. Under work information, the head of government is listed as marijuana dealer for the fictitious "Grassroots Enterprise" company. In the company's description, the faux Olmert writes: "You know, we sell Grass..."
Olmert's profiler, an Israeli-American living in Manhattan who prefers to remain anonymous, said there was no political motivations behind the spoof listing.
"It's just a joke, nothing more. I'm not one of Olmert's agents," he said. "I wanted originally to open an account for [President] Shimon Peres, he's a funny old man, but someone already did."
The author of Peres's profile posted a Jewish star on the head of state's page under the heading "I am Jewish," and below that a rainbow pride flag, a symbol of the homosexual community, with the banner "I am Gay."
On Facebook, anyone with a valid e-mail address can sign up for an account and create a profile, using their own name or an alias. Created in February 2004, Facebook now has more than 45 million active users.
It's become a bona fide cultural sensation. And it's captured the attention of American politicians.
While the Facebook profiles of most Israeli government officials are phony, the candidates for the 2008 United States presidential election have turned to the popular networking site to increase their Web presence and to reach potential voters on-line.
A search for Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton or Republican candidate Sen. John McCain leads to authentic profiles that list pictures of the candidates, updates from the campaign trail and links to their official Web sites.
All eight Democratic candidates and eight out of nine Republicans hopefuls are registered with Facebook. The campaign of Republican hopeful Rudolph Giuliani was forced to perform damage control in August when media reports surfaced that Giuliani's 17-year-old daughter Caroline had expressed support for Democratic candidate Sen. Barak Obama as a member of the Facebook group "Barak Obama (One Million Strong for Barak)."
She also listed herself as a "liberal" on her profile's political views section.
Ari Harow, an adviser to Netanyahu who confirmed that his Facebook profile was a fake, said it was only a matter of time before the Facebook rage reached Israel's public and political consciousness.
[Facebook] is an important and useful tool, something that's being used extensively in the presidential elections in the US," Harow said. "If you go through the list of 120 Knesset members, less than 10 percent have their own Web sites, which in the US [Congress] is unthinkable."
"I think in general, the Internet, for whatever reason, is lagging a few years behind in the political arena, but it will surely catch on here," he said.
Several Facebook groups supporting or opposing the policies of Israeli politicians have begun to crop up. Groups such as "Tzipi is the new Condi!" "Bring Back Barak" and "Out with Olmert and Kadima ACHSHAV" typify the emergence of Israeli politics on the site.
"Facebook is a great platform to keep up your connections with others in the world," said Yoni Itzhak, a former political adviser to Labor MK Colette Avital, who created a Facebook group in May to publicize Avital's bid for the presidency.
"We always talk about the global village, but Facebook is something else. It's not the global village, it's the global connection. That's what it does for us," Itzhak said.
Harow said Netanyahu was aware of his Facebook imitator, but not bothered by the profile.
"Any and all dialogue is good," Harrow said. "[Netanyahu] is definitely a big believer in the use of the Internet."
Netanyahu's reaction will be good news for Maya. She said she considered Netanyahu's response before publishing her fake profile of him on-line. "I thought about sending him a link to my profile just to see his reaction," she said. "I'm still thinking about it."