Beyond the Red Lines

This week, the @IsraelinIreland twitter from the Israeli Consulate in Ireland, was served a public dressing down by the Israeli Foreign Minister (@IsraelMFA) for savage attacks on Palestinian Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi while she visited Ireland. As well, the Deputy Ambassador at the Israeli Irish Consulate, Nurit Tinari-Modai, had published a lengthy attack on Haneen in the Irish Times. In Haaretz, the Israeli FM ordained:

Over the last few weeks, there have been a few embarrassing moments caused by tweets and Facebook posts made by Israeli diplomats. For example, the Israeli embassy in Dublin used its twitter account to attack MK Hanin Zoabi, during a recent visit to Ireland.

Zoabi gave a few lectures, and granted interviews to Irish media outlets, in which she claimed that Israel is a racist, undemocratic state. Following publication of her comments, the Israeli Embassy in Dublin responded with three tweets, that criticized MK Zoabi, despite the fact that she is an elected official.

“This particular MK consorted on #MaviMarmara with IHH jihadists who sang of killing Jews, who are sworn to destroy #Israel #Zoabi,” read one of the tweets.

A second tweet included a link to a YouTube in which Zoabi spoke about the Mavi Marmara raid alongside armed Turkish activists, “And she’s still in Parliament! MK Haneen #Zoabi with armed #IHH jihadists on #MaviMarmara 2010 youtube.com/watch?v=S0-d9v”

The third called for inquiries into Zoabi’s relatives in various positions of government. “If you hear MK #Zoabi tonight #Dublin: ask her re her 2 uncles, 1 a Supreme Court judge, 1 a dep Min of Health + Nazareth mayor!”

@IsraelinIreland has also displayed racism toward Irish citizens:

Cantankerous and bullying, @IsraelinIsrael strayed over the vaunted red lines into self-delegitimisation of Israel.

Earlier this week, Yoram Murad, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Digitial Diplomacy Department sent a message to Israeli diplomats both in the country and abroad, entitled, “What is the difference between a press briefing and a tweet?” The answer was made clear in first line of the message “As far as you’re concerned, there is no difference,” wrote Murad.

The Haaretz story by Barak Ravid, yet with a shrill tenor which seems to ululate as direct channelling from the Israeli FM itself, broadly exaggerates Israel’s inexperience with social media:

‘Contrary to the United States’ State Department, where Twitter and Facebook use is already highly institutionalized, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s use of social media is still in its infancy.’

In late 2008, David Saranga (@DavidSaranga), then at the Israeli Consulate in New York, conducted the first government to world twitter conference.

Saranga, with a web presence at www.israelfm.org, was described in the Jewish Chronicle in May 2008 as “The man whose campaigns are rebranding Israel.”

In July 2007, Professor John H. Brown of Georgetown University in his article Public Diplomacy Goes ‘Pubic’ of the launch of Saranga’s rebranding strategy in May that year:

But until recently modern-world governments — unlike advertising agencies peddling their goods — were reluctant to sell openly their main product (themselves and the nations they represent) through images of the human flesh exposed at various levels of nudity. Now, however, the body beautiful of their citizens is being openly celebrated by states seeking to foster a more positive image of themselves.

True, twentieth-century totalitarian films and photographs glorified, in their absolutist and absurdist ways, the strength and muscularity of (particularly male) athletes and soldiers, but the intended effect of these images, I would suggest, was not erotic arousal aimed at improving a government’s image overseas, but rather domination and intimidation, some would say of a sado-masochistic nature, directed at obtaining total control of society in the homeland. Orwell’s Oceania did not welcome the erotic.

Israel and the Birth of Pubic Diplomacy

It would not do violence to history to suggest that this new branch of public diplomacy — allow me to call it pubic diplomacy, a term I hope will offend no one — began on Tuesday, May 19, 2007 at 9:00 pm, with a three-hour reception, hosted by Maxim, a men’s magazine, and Gal Gadot, Miss Israel 2004 — together with the Consulate General of Israel in New York — that took place at the Marquee at 289 Tenth Avenue, NYC.

The purpose of the event was to “celebrate the Maxim Magazine July 2007 feature, ‘women of the Israeli Defense Forces.'” The invitation was adorned by a color photograph of the luscious, dark-haired Ms. Gadot herself (a former army fitness instructor) in a bikini and high heels, lying on her back on the ledge of a terrace overlooking Tel Aviv, with the Mediterranean, dimly lit by sunlight, over the horizon. This eye-catching photo was published by the New York Post; and Ms. Gadot, who, according to Wikipedia, is in a relationship with Hebrew rapper Mike Blitz, subsequently appeared on major American television channels, gently and sympathetically interviewed by U.S. newscasters.

Israeli diplomats, representatives of a country that has witnessed extensive debate on how to improve its public diplomacy (the word is now used repeatedly in the Israeli press) in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, justified the photo spread of young Israeli women warriors in Maxim’s (“a beer and babes” magazine with 2.5 million readers appealing to young males) amidst accusations back in the Holy Land (but not, significantly, among the American mainstream media) that the pics of the scantily-clad military ladies were pornographic, treated women as objects, and promoted sex tourism. Arye Mekel, Consul-General of Israel in New York, quoted in the Israel News Agency (June 24), retorted that:

the pictures aren’t anything you wouldn’t see at a pool or a beach. Israel is always mentioned in the context of wars and violence. We want to show there is a normal life. Among the beautiful things [sic] we have are our women. We came there from 120 countries. Anytime you have a mix from any continents, you get very beautiful people. We don’t see having beautiful women as a problem.

Joel Leyden of the Israel News Agency (June 24) quotes David Saranga, Israel’s Consul For Media And Public Affairs at its New York Consulate, as saying that “[w]e found that Israel’s image among men aged 18-38 is lacking … so we thought we’d approach them with an image they’d find appealing.” Leydeen adds that, according to Saranga, “the beautiful models in Israel were a ‘Trojan horse’ to present Israel as a modern country with nice beaches and pretty women. ‘Many Americans don’t even know we have beaches,’ he said.”

Aljazeera.com, quoted by Prof. Brown, commented:

One interesting fact is that all the outrage in Israel is focused on the idea of using women as sex objects to promote tourism. But what’s more shocking is that sex here is not just being used to “improve” Israel’s image, but also to promote Zionism and gloss over the bitter realities of Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

Brand Israel, however, was envisaged and compiled back in 2005.

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, in 2005 The Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry concluded three years of consultation with American marketing executives and launched “Brand Israel,” a campaign to “re-brand” the country’s image to appear “relevant and modern” instead of militaristic and religious.

Israeli government social media integration was progressive. The GIYUS Megaphone software became operational during Israel’s war on South Lebanon in 2006, operating through RSS and enabling instant action alerts to be transmitted to users. GIYUS was discontinued in 2011.

In March 2009, Saranga was debriefed by the Diva Marketing Blog after his ground-breaking December 2008 twitter conference:

David Saranga: We have been involved in online work for some time, through our blogs (isRraelli and IsraelPolitik) and our presence on MySpace and Facebook. After reading about Twitter, we felt that the tool held a lot of potential for communicating with people online.

Firstly, we can “focus” on one person, but many people can tune in as well. This way, even when we are answering one person, other people are still taking part.

Secondly, Twitter is a site where people are increasingly going to talk, so we wanted to join the conversation where it was happening.

Toby/Diva Marketing: How did you achieve buy-in from the consulate and other stake holders?

David Saranga: The diplomatic staff here has really come to understand the value of web-based content and of social media. We told them how important a presence on Twitter could be, and they were hooked.

Also in May 2008, the Jewish Chronicle recorded:

Saranga believes the real results of his campaign will not be seen for years. “Rebranding a country can take 20 years or more. It involves more than just generating more positive stories about Israel. The process has to be internalised and integrated, too. Israelis must share in and believe in what we promote, and all consulates must ultimately communicate one unified message.”

To this end, international focus groups co-ordinated by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, are now being undertaken in 13 countries. Three potential messages, brainstormed by an elite group of international branding experts, Israeli diplomats and PR agencies, are being tested to determine one global message for Israel. The results of the research will focus hasbara efforts in countries considered of greatest strategic importance, and where negative views of Israel are most severe, in particular in Europe. Research is being undertaken on how it can be applied in the UK.

In 2009, the Israeli Government officially expanded its hasbara operations in the blogosphere, enlisting volunteers:

The Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an “army of bloggers,” to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in “anti-Zionist blogs” in English, French, Spanish and German.

Saranga has attended several Reut events and his social media strategy dovetails neatly with the Reut Institute plan to establish network hubs throughout the globe, to be linked up and coordinated ultimately from and for Israel with the aim of fighting ‘delegitimization’ perceived as damage from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and based on the premise ‘It takes a network to fight a network’.

From Reut’s over-optimistically-titled 2011: The Year We Punched Back on the Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy:

Cultivating a network requires Israel and its allies to share a ‘common consciousness,’which can take the form of a shared goal, cause, or threat, and to mobilize around this shared understanding. Indeed, the GOI and Israeli and Jewish world organizations coalesced in identifying this assault on Israel as a top priority issue, tangibly manifested in structural changes and budget increases:

Hubs have been developed most fully now in Los Angeles, Orange County, London, the San Francisco Bay Area, South Africa and most recently, Toronto (a report is due from Reut on the Toronto hub soon). Reut also is targeting of late Spanish speaking communities. A tripartite syncretised identity and networking model for integration and mobilisation of Israeli expats in the Jewish diaspora with one of the aims strengthening and directing support back toward Israel is underway. The Israel Action Network(IAN) has been formed to facilitate and network hubs in North America.

Strengthening our network’s ‘hubs’ and ‘catalysts’ require systematically creating ‘meeting points.’Such meetings enhance the capabilities of pro-Israel activists in various global hubs by providing opportunities for them to exchange information, coordinate efforts, and generate a sense ofurgency about the need to fight Israel’s delegitimization. In addition, ‘meeting points’ enhance the connectivity of the network, facilitating its integration, helping shape a common language and shared guidelines, and enabling the creation of a flat and flexible structure.

Early this year, the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) became a full-time partner in “the Israeli government’s efforts to spread its propaganda online and on college campuses around the world”.

NUIS has launched a program to pay Israeli university students $2,000 to spread pro-Israel propaganda online for 5 hours per week from the “comfort of home.”

The union is also partnering with Israel’s Jewish Agency to send Israeli students as missionaries to spread propaganda in other countries, for which they will also receive a stipend.

This active recruitment of Israeli students is part of Israel’s orchestrated effort to suppress the Palestinian solidarity movement under the guise of combating “delegitimization” of Israel and anti-Semitism.

The involvement of the official Israeli student union as well as Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and Sapir College in these state propaganda programs will likely bolster Palestinian calls for the international boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The flaws and vulnerabilities of the overall labyrinthine structure are manifold, and I shall not deal with them here, except to note that people move toward and commit to justice as a useful common goal – justice for all benefits us all. A lack of justice for all conversely harms us all. When an artificial structure within ‘red lines’ is developed to subvert justice for all, it generally has a limited expiry date and collapses in a mathematically catastrophical way under the weight of its own contradictions. In view of 7 years development from 2005 to a sophisticated, networked array today, Israel’s multi-pronged social media strategy cannot be described as ‘in its infancy’.

Through singling itself out through daily human rights abuses, war crimes, ultra-racism, violence and brutal oppression, Israel continues to delegitimise itself and poison its brand.

The greatest enemy of injustice is a mirror.

Related Links

Half-naked soldiers: Israel’s latest propaganda campaign
Tell us, how many Arabs are too many? “How many human souls of an ethnicity inconvenient to your ideology are intolerable for you? Please put a number on it, I demand you do, so that we can better define the extent of your racism.”
Lies and Hysteria in the Campaign Against BDS – BDS is biting
Plastic, oestrogen, or the land kicking back?
THE PLACE OF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY IN THE ASYMMETRIC MEDIA CONFLICT: THE “HASBARA EXAMPLE” IN THE HEZBOLLAH –ISRAEL MEDIA WAR

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