Social media apps Twitter and Facebook [Illustrative].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hour by hour and day by day, the world’s only Jewish country is being slandered.
Whether by misleading graphic posts on Facebook, via lies told in a stream of tweets or through vicious propaganda videos on YouTube, there is a drip-drip of defamation aimed at the State of Israel.
In this campaign of misinformation, no lie is too big, no accusation too inflammatory. Far too frequently, baseless charges and twisted accounts of history intertwine to paint a picture that is the polar opposite of what is true. In the reputational war being waged against Israel, all too often the heat is generated on the online frontline.
Israel’s supporters can and must utilize social media to redress the balance. We need to expose the lies and, at the same time, reach out to people about the real Israel – democratic, diverse and sizzling with creative energy, showing the world the truth about the ancient nation-state of the Jewish people that was reborn and became the modern, dynamic, start-up nation.
Back in 2009, following the first air strikes on Gaza, which were in response to a huge escalation in Hamas rocket fire onto Israel, Stand- WithUs set up the first Israel advocacy Social Media Situation Room, in partnership with the IDC Herzliya.
At that time, in an interview with Reuters, I called Operation Cast Lead the “first social media war.” Indeed, it was the first campaign in which online activists acting on behalf of Israel energetically fought back against the steady stream of misinformation flowing from Hamas and its global supporters. Likewise, in the 2012 Pillar of Defense conflict, multiple social media rooms emerged, manned by devoted activists. It was then that the hashtag #IsraelUnder- Fire was coined and this has been utilized ever since to underline the perils that Israel faces from Hamas rockets.
Most recently during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, we saw a large spike in social media response by Israel’s supporters. In the David vs. Goliath of the Middle East, Israel still is the David, surrounded by numerous terrorist organizations which include Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and strong nations calling for Israel’s destruction, such as Iran. This David/Goliath dichotomy plays out online too. It’s hard to assign winners and losers to social media battles, but the fact that Time magazine cited #IsraelUnderFire as well as #GazaUnderAttack as some of the most-utilized hashtags of 2014 should be seen as positive, especially given that on the web as in real life, Israel is numerically the David facing a Goliath.
Via the Internet, organizations and even individuals can have a greater impact than that of a country, and Israel’s enemies have long known this. In a perceptive article in The Washington Post shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke asked of Osama bin-Laden, “How could a mass murderer who publicly praised the terrorists of Sept. 11 be winning the hearts and minds of anyone? How can a man in a cave outcommunicate the world’s leading communications society?” The terrorist adversaries of Israel and of Western society know that as well as being a fertile recruiting ground for extremists, the Internet and social media are the central battleground for their PR.
That’s the challenge – now we must counter it. This month, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office chose Stand- WithUs, based on our experience and expertise, to deliver a program – “Social Media Ambassadors” – aimed at training Israeli students, as well as some of their peers abroad, to use the Internet to better share the reality of Israel. The Prime Minister’s Office has rightly identified that the reality of Israel is best portrayed through the eyes of citizens and those who visit Israel, as was particularly borne out during last summer’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza.
StandWithUs has pioneered social media outreach for many years and achieved much success doing so.
Our Twitter following reaches over a million people. Our YouTube videos have been viewed well over two million times. Our peak weekly Facebook posts reach is 30 million and we operate on multiple platforms in over a dozen languages. While leading this new program, StandWithUs will continue to fashion its own messaging and material as it has done for the 13 years since its inception. More importantly, program participants will use the training to tell Israel’s story from their own points of view.
Who is our audience? The vast swathes of the world who are susceptible to anti-Israel propaganda; those who simply do not know enough about Israel to challenge the lies peddled to them by extremist groups. It is high time to call out the slander, to fill that knowledge vacuum with a true depiction of who Israelis are and what Israel is.
Most importantly, as cliché as it may sound, the truth is on our side.
Churchill reminded us that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” There it is, indeed. Our challenge is to show it.
This new program aims to empower people to utilize social media to take a stand, to act as a force multiplier and to engage more and more people to fight back against the misinformation; showing people the real Israel. It is time for the Hashtag Maccabees to stand up for Israel and help more people educate themselves and others.The writer is the Israel director for StandWithUs.