Israel Still Does Not Get How Online Activism Works

The Jerusalem Post reports on a new online diplomacy campaign.

Israeli creators and influencers on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter will take part in an online diplomacy campaign organized by the Foreign Ministry, Israeli media reported on Friday.

The young influencers, who have a combined 30 million followers, will be put through a hasbara “training” over the next week, where they will be taught how to respond to the dehumanization and delegitimization efforts against Israel on social media.

In addition, the online stars will be taught the correct terminology they should use when responding to anti-Zionist and antisemitic comments received online.

The campaign, as well as the training the influencers will receive, is organized by deputy foreign minister Idan Roll.

“I am happy that Israeli content creators have joined our efforts to improve Israel’s image across the world,” Roll tweeted on Friday. “They will become Israel’s social media ambassadors.”

“Using their natural talent for storytelling, along with training by the Foreign Ministry, they will become an integral part of our war against the delegitimization of Israel on social media,” the deputy foreign minister added.

Or Elkayam, an Israeli influencer with over six million followers, was influenced to become part of Israel’s diplomacy campaign during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, he told Ynet.

“During the operation, I was under constant attacks on my social media accounts after making a video defending Israel on TikTok, which received over half a million views,” Elkayam said.

“Some might think TikTok is irrelevant but the truth is that profound, engrossing conversations are being held on the platform with people from all across the globe,” he added.

Elkayam will be joined in the campaign by influencers such as Alex KorotaevOrin Julie and Stephane Legar

I think this is another example of the Israeli government just not “getting it” when it comes to online diplomacy.

My first problem with this is the entire concept. Online activists have everything to teach the government about effective and not effective talking points – not the other way around. Israeli government officials and spokespeople should be the ones on the course, given by the social media activists! Those who develop followings online get a sense of what talking points resonate and are more effective than others. The social media influencers (oh how I hate that word!) mentioned here have large followings, so I assume they are doing something right to begin with.

If you would argue these particular influencers are less adept at “hasbara”, then get online activists who deal with it on a daily basis to help train them. And certainly not as a “government initiative.”

Related to this is that facts are important but emotions rule. That is where the other side have been way more effective than us – they tug at the heart strings, albeit with false narratives. Having likeable people spreading their messages their way is more effective than following government-led talking points.

Another thing to bear in mind is credibility. People develop large followings when they have something interesting and authentically themselves to say and show. For example, in the case of Orin Julie mentioned above, it seems to hinge a lot on being scantily clad while surrounded by guns. Stephane Legar is an Israeli singer. The minute they are perceived as Israeli government “stooges”, they may lose credibility, at least among those who are sitting on the fence about the conflict. One can always preach to the choir – that is less interesting and, more critically, less useful.

A further point: these “influencers” all seem to be Israeli. Are their followers mostly Israeli? Are there English speaking and even overseas “influencers” contemplated for the “training”? If the answer to the first question is yes and/or the answer to the second question is no, then the government is missing the mark by an even wider margin!

Also, say even if this was an effective campaign, why is the Israeli government announcing it? Wouldn’t it be better to just go ahead and do it quietly? The minute they announced their involvement, the campaign was rendered ineffectual.

I have been saying the following for a while now: if the Israeli government wants to help in an effective way, they will provide some funding and resources for those of us doing this work.* Don’t teach us anything! They already helped set up a network among online activists, to discuss issues and help spread the word, which has been invaluable.

In a sense, the rise of social media can be attributed in no small part to a cynicism towards mainstream media and government narratives. As this report shows, the Israeli government still doesn’t get it.

*Yep, despite what some of the haters claim, I do not receive a dime from the Israeli government. And I have no shame in saying I would like to!

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media