Social media and the tale of Britain’s communal organizations

Facebook and Twitter can be very powerful tools when it comes to getting your message across and standing up for Israel

People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People are silhouetted as they pose with mobile devices in front of a screen projected with a Facebook logo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In terms of the propaganda war between Israel and Palestine, the number of “likes” on your Facebook page is important, as it gives an idea of how many people have viewed your page. The number of likes is significant because if you go to a Facebook page looking for information about Israel, a large number of likes could influence whether you accept or believe the information displayed on the page. Therefore if your organization has a large number of likes you may be a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand if the number of likes on your page is minimal you are at an disadvantage, especially if you are a large organization which supports Israel.
With over 75 percent of the Internet population in America on Facebook, social media is becoming more and more influential in shaping opinions throughout the world, and especially about Israel. Social media also takes up a lot of one’s time, as some of us are constantly checking Facebook and Twitter for the latest news.
With this in mind I looked at the number of likes at the Facebook pages of a few leading British pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian organizations. The results raise a number of questions regarding whether the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) is fit for the purpose of standing up for Israel.
In order to maintain its position the BOD as the leading representative body for Anglo Jewry has, like everyone else, a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. The role of the board, which was established in 1760, is to protect Jewish life in Great Britain, a function which it fulfills exceptionally well when it comes to dealing with government.
Over the past 200 years Jews have integrated but not assimilated into British society while the board’s mantra has been, “Don’t make a fuss otherwise you will cause anti-Semitism.” This allowed Anglo Jewry’s grandees to control and direct, virtually unchallenged, the response of the community to various crises. The advent of the Internet age gave Israel activists the freedom to act on their own without recourse to the leadership. I know from personal experience in my dealings with the leadership over the past 10 years that they still believed that they could control and dictate what activists could do.
Last summer’s fighting in Gaza highlighted how powerful a propaganda tool social media had become and how ineffective the board was in terms of leading the community’s response. By not building a presence on Twitter and Facebook over the previous two to three years they were unable to counter the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric that exploded on social media and postings such as “Gaza: Stop the arms, Stop the killing” by Amnesty International UK, which had 32,000 likes and 13,500 re-tweets.
My survey of Facebook likes showed that the Sussex Friends Of Israel was the leading pro-Israel organization, with 14,500 likes, followed by the Campaign Against Antisemitism with 7,100. The BOD, which has for some reason has two Facebook pages, only mustered 279 likes on one page and 877 on the other. The Jewish Leadership Council only has 422 likes.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) was the most important pro-Palestinian organization with 397,000 likes, followed by the Friends of Al Aqsa with 351,000, the Stop the War campaign with 112,000 and War on Want with 29,000.
As there is such a large disparity in the numbers of likes between the PSC and the BOD, could it be true that so few people like the BOD? Do more people in Britain like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) than there are Jews in Britain? When I looked at Amnesty International UK, I found that they have only 235,728 likes. This poses the question: are the PSC’s figures genuine or not? Is it realistic to say that they have more supporters and reach than Amnesty International UK? If these figures are correct and the PSC has more support than Amnesty International, then we are in serious trouble – who is responsible for dealing with this? Who should? Are the people who like the PSC mainly Muslims, or the general public? I am no lover of Amnesty International but what does this say about British society today? According to the PSC’s annual review, “The number of people linking PSC on Facebook rose from 60,000 before summer with 18.6 million people being reached in one week alone.” Was the increase in the number of likes solely the result of the Gaza war? If you wanted information last year about Israel and the war you would not have found it on the BOD website and would have had to go elsewhere – the PSC? What do these figures tell us about the BOD and its attitude to social media? Until I told them recently, they didn’t know they had two Facebook pages. Sadly neither page will tell you anything about Anglo Jewry’s relationship with Israel. Is this a reflection of them being out of touch with the community? The Jewish community certainly thought so that last summer and the board did very little to support either them or Israel.
Pro-Israel grassroots groups such as the Sussex Friends Of Israel and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, both of whom stepped up to the plate last summer when the leaders of Anglo Jewry dithered, have a significant presence on Facebook and Twitter and are able to react to events with direct action. Why do the Sussex Friends of Israel have more likes than the rest of the community organizations combined? The board certainly doesn’t appeal to the 18-35s, many of whom have no idea of what it stands for. Without a significant presence on social media, they risk being dwarfed by the Friends of Israel groups and others which have a large following on Twitter and Facebook.
When it comes to Twitter, Anglo Jewry seems to have got their act together a lot better; the PSC has 20,000 followers and the BOD 6,000, the JLC 4,000 and the Sussex Friends of Israel 8,300.
How is it that the BOD can have 6,000 followers on Twitter and just over a 1,000 likes on Facebook? It doesn’t make sense. Maybe many of the 6,000 are Israel’s enemies who believe that the board will let slip secrets about Israel (no chance of that happening because they only rarely tweet about Israel).
Facebook and Twitter can be very powerful tools when it comes to getting your message across and standing up for Israel. Could the BOD’s poor performance have something to do with the fact that their primary role is to defend the rights of the Anglo Jewry, with Israel coming in a distant second? A cursory look at the board’s tweets, their website and Facebook pages confirms that they concentrate on British life and politics as if there were no connection between Anglo Jewry and Israel. Activists post daily about Israel, the board doesn’t.
What is needed is a BOD that is fit for purpose when it comes to standing up for Israel.
They need to acknowledge that Britain and Israel are inextricably entwined. A robust social media policy is required which will build a large social media presence and react immediately to events, and not one that focuses only on promoting the work of the board. When the new president of the BOD takes office later this month their priority has to be to ensure the board more actively supports Israel on social media, otherwise they will become more irrelevant than they are at present.
The author is director of the Academic Friends of Israel