A man is silhouetted against a video screen with a Twitter and a Facebook logo.
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
Due to popular demand, Israel on Sunday launched a Facebook page geared for the citizens of... Iraq.
That’s right. Iraq, that Arab state still formally at war with Israel, and over whom Iran has tremendous sway.
According to Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Arabic branch in the Foreign Ministry’s digital diplomacy division, the decision to create a special Facebook page for Iraqis – called “Israel in the Iraqi Dialect” – was made after numerous requests by some of the ministry’s Arabic Facebook page followers asked for information more geared toward the Iraqi audience.
The ministry’s Arabic page has some 1.5 million followers, and Gonen said many of the positive responses over the last few months have come from Iraq, amid requests for more content and information.
Which led to the decision to launch the new page.
Gonen said the ministry does not currently have any plans to open specialized pages geared toward other Arab countries, though the decision to do so will depend on the responses that this page generates. He said that the most positive responses on the Arabic language page have come from countries such as Morocco, Iraq, and even from some of the Persian Gulf countries, amid less positive countries from Israel’s immediate neighbors.
“We are seeing an openness and an understanding that Israel is an established fact,” he said.
Gonen theorized that the less positive responses coming from Israel’s neighbors has to do with the fact that some of these countries have been at war with Israel for years, and that this has generated negative attitudes that are more deeply rooted than in countries that do not immediately border the Jewish state, and which have harbored large Jewish populations in the past.
The ministry’s Arabic Facebook page was launched in 2011 in an effort to go over the heads of the traditional media and reach audiences in the Arab world and present them with a picture of Israel they are not usually exposed to. The posts on this page generally focus on the non-political, and deal with “softer” subjects – such as arts, culture, sports, technology and religion. This is part of the ministry’s digital diplomacy outreach.
According to Gonen, the Arabic-language page has the most followers of any of the ministry’s pages in various languages. For instance, it far outpaces the English page, which has some 530,000 followers; the Spanish page, with 433,000 followers; and the Farsi page, with some 184,000 followers.
The ministry characterizes the new Iraqi page as a kind of “digital embassy” that will focus on content related to the Iraqi audience, be it stories about the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel, or “points of similarity between Israeli and Iraqi cultures.”
Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem said the page is intended to provide a response to “the growing interest that the Arab world is showing in Israel. Social networks allow us to reach this audience – our neighbors – and present the true face of Israel, in a way that was not possible before.”
Rotem said the decision to create a page geared toward Iraq was made in light of the rich history of Jews in Iraq, and the interest Iraqis have shown toward Israel in recent years.
“We believe that the digital embassy will promote fruitful and positive dialogue and lead to a deeper acquaintance between Israelis and Iraqis from all walks of Iraqi society – Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds and other population groups,” he said.
Linda Menuhin, who was born in Iraq and serves as an adviser to the ministry’s digital diplomacy division, said one reason for what she termed “growing sympathy toward Israel” among some in Iraq is a “growing sense of nostalgia” for the Jewish community that contributed so heavily to the development of modern Iraq.
“There is no doubt that we are witnessing an earthquake in Iraqi public opinion compared to when I lived in Iraq during the Ba’ath period, during which the Jews suffered from hostile treatment and harassment,” she said.
The ministry, which wrote on its page that the history of Jews in Mesopotamia extends back some 2,500 years, explained that the purpose of the page is to “create a fruitful communication and dialogue between the Israeli and Iraqi peoples and to deepen feelings of friendliness, rapprochement and understanding in order to serve both peoples and to show the true face of Israel.”