How Israel is using social media to woo the Middle East

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How Israel is using social media to woo the Middle East

Working in close quarters, surrounded by channels of the Middle East, a small team located in Israel’s foreign ministry are focusing their sights around the Arab world.

Their mission: using social media to convince Arabs to adopt the Jewish nation.

The team is spearheading an Arabic-language campaign through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram within a multi-pronged diplomatic effort to win over popular acceptance in the Middle East.

But overturning years of hostility is not an easy feat, despite Israel in recent months using secured landmark Washington-brokered deals with the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

The magnitude of the task was underscored by a recent online backlash after photographs of Egyptian actor and rapper Mohamed Ramadan partying with Israeli celebrities in a Dubai pub surfaced on social media in November, along with a movie showing guests partying since the Jewish tune”Hava Nagila” played.

The Israeli Arabic-language social networking group re-posted the photos from its primary Facebook and Twitter accounts, including among Ramadan hanging an arm around the neck of Israeli pop superstar Omer Adam using the caption”artwork always brings us together.”

Israeli officials acknowledge the challenges of the task in a region where there is widespread support for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation or as refugees across the Middle East.

Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Arabic-language social media unit, stated in an interview which they published the photographs of Ramadan with the Israeli actors to reveal”normalisation” between Israelis and Arabs. He acknowledged that the furore was disappointing but stated there were also favorable responses and that”it takes time, people change their minds over generations”.

“As regional peace expands further, talking to our neighbours in their own language becomes even more significant,” explained Gendelman, adding that Israel intends to expand its outreach in Arabic.

He explained on social websites at the time that he did not ask people taking photos where they came from.

Dr Ala’a Shehabi, a London-based academic writer with dual Bahraini and British nationality, said public sentiment in Arab countries remains pro-Palestinian. Of Israel’s social-media campaign, she added:”It isn’t a success if it hasn’t changed popular opinion.”

Digital diplomacy
Israel wants to gain wider Arab support for the newest deals than it’s with formal peace treaties it signed with Egypt and Jordan, in 1979 and 1994, respectively. Those treaties are upheld by the countries’ leaders but are considered with little excitement by several Egyptians and Jordanians.

An October report from Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs discovered that through August and September over 90 per cent of Arabic social media comment regarding the”normalisation” prices was negative.

“Israel must prepare to commence a protracted campaign on the internet to win minds and hearts in favour of producing stronger connections with Israel,” based on a comprehensive summary of the report shared with Reuters from the ministry. A ministry official said that by January the degree of adverse comment had fallen to 75pc.

That overseas ministry’s 10-member Arabic-language team includes both Jews and Arabs.

With messages such as”Salam, Shalom” — both the Arabic and Hebrew words for peace — the effort heavily features what Gonen refers to as”soft content” such as food, music and sport. The team also articles about Israel’s adversaries such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Launched in 2011, the Arabic-language unit has ramped up activity since late summer when information of the initial accord was made public. The team currently publishes up to 700 roughly social websites articles a month, roughly 15pc to 20pc over before the prices, Gonen said.

During a recent trip to Dubai, team member Lorena Khateeb posted to Twitter a photograph of herself outside with all the Israeli flag draped on her back. “Never imagined that I would increase the Civil War in an Arab nation,” she said in the November 21 post in both Arabic and English. Days later, one Israel’s official accounts called @IsraelintheGulf and she operates — tweeted a similar flag-draped photograph of her.

Khateeb told Reuters that responses to her posts are largely positive but others are negative.

Gauging success
Gonen claims that the purpose is to create”engagement, interactions and dialogue” with Arab audiences. He said his group reaches 100 million individuals monthly through its social networking accounts, which will be double what it had been a year ago.

It’s main Twitter account, which employs the handle @IsraelArabic and also posted the Ramadan photographs, has more than 425,000 followers.

How Israel is using social media to woo the Middle East

Still, the Jewish country still faces widespread opposition to its own balancing efforts across the area, which is home to more than 400 million Arabic speakers.

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Michael Robbins of this Arab Barometer, a non-partisan research network that studies attitudes across the Arab world, stated a post-normalisation poll by his group in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan and Lebanon suggested that the efforts of Israel and its regional allies”have had little if any effect on the perspectives of ordinary citizens”.

He said they lacked info in Gulf countries, which did not let them ask questions that title Israel, but that attitudes in the countries they did conduct surveys had changed little from previous years.

“Overall, these results imply that Israel’s strategy to win hearts and minds is failing. Few Arab citizens irrespective of age or geography have positive views toward Israel,” Robbins said.

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