Edy Cohen: A one-man hasbara machine with 409K Arab Twitter followers

"I show people in those countries the true face of Palestinians and, at the same time, teach them about [Israelis]."

The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016.  (photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID/FILE PHOTO)
The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID/FILE PHOTO)
Dr. Edy Cohen, a journalist and researcher on Arab Affairs, is relatively unknown to the Israeli public. But if you look at his Twitter account, you'll find 409,000 followers, almost all of whom are from the Arab world. He is a one-man hasbara (public diplomacy) machine. Blunt, evocative and controversial, but with results that are hard to argue with. 
"Of course I am blunt, because that is what Arabs like," Cohen explained. "That is the style you need. It isn't the Foreign Ministry... I am the opposite, so of course I have made some enemies. And if you listen to the Foreign Ministry's version, they say I am hurting hasbara, but that is untrue: I am making it stronger.
"Arabs had a feeling that we are condescending, so my friends and I developed a dialogue to show there is a lot in common religiously and politically," he said. "Three years ago they were scared to like [my tweets] – and here we have broken that barrier down."
Cohen's personal story is exceptional. Until 30 years ago, he had grown up in Lebanon, where he lived through the bloody civil war, saw the IDF invade Beirut, and experienced the tragic death of his father, Haim, who was kidnapped and murdered by Hezbollah in the mid 80s.
When he made aliyah (immigrated) in 1995, after travelling in France and Mexico, he did not know a word of Hebrew and was not aware of the Oslo Accords. As he was learning Hebrew, he remembers seeing Yasser Arafat on television in ulpan (intensive Hebrew course) and feeling something click.

"I grabbed my head and said 'wow, we ran away from him in Lebanon and he made it to here!
"All of the Lebanese, even the Muslims, said that Arafat is the face of evil. Wherever he goes he brings trouble; no one could stand him," Cohen said. "But here, the Israeli Left thinks that the whole world loves the Palestinians and is interested in them. It is the opposite: the Palestinian issue does not interest anyone, only here they are trying to be holier than the pope."
 
COHEN IS not afraid of controversy. On the eve of International Holocaust Day, he published a book titled The Mufti and the Jews, about Mufti Amin al-Husseini's part in the Holocaust and his war against Jews in Arab states.
"I wrote about Abu Mazen's [PA President Mahmoud Abbas's] doctoral research because I was shocked that there was no translation of it here," Cohen explains. "Abu Mazen accused us of cooperating with Hitler, and his book was sold in all Arab countries. Ask Arabs what the Holocaust was and quite a few will say 'BS' – and that is how he got his doctorate. He based it on a research center in Baghdad and some newspapers. It is a propaganda book."
In his new book, he focuses on al-Husseini, who "influenced the Muslim Brotherhood and didn't want Jews in the area," Cohen said. "He is the one who said for the first time 'Jews are against Islam' and was directly influenced by Nazi propaganda."
When asked why the book was published now, Cohen said that "it is an academic and moral imperative to publish information [about the Mufti]. The guy hurt and damaged us for years, including during the painful time of the Holocaust. What did he do in Germany for four years while the Jewish people were being destroyed? Planned to murder Jews in Arab countries."
Cohen went on to talk about his part in Israeli hasbara and how he thinks it contributed to recent changes in Arab attitudes toward Israel.
"Most of my followers on Twitter are from Gulf States, and if I told you I helped a lot with the Abraham Accords, you wouldn't believe me, right?" Cohen asked.
"The fact is that for two years I have been helping," he said. "I show people in those countries the true face of Palestinians and, at the same time, teach them about us. I prove that Israel has Arab judges in court and Israeli-Arabs have the same rights by law; they didn't believe that there were Muslims in the IDF. As far as they were concerned, [all] Arab-Israelis are Palestinians. 
"For two years now, I have been shoving material at them. The pinnacle was when the [United Arab] Emirates sent aid to Palestinians through Ben-Gurion Airport and Abu Mazen said 'no thanks.' I pointed it out and said 'he doesn't even want your help.'
"I am sure I made a difference – but no one will say 'we made peace because of Edy Cohen.'"