Israel may no longer be under fire, but it seems like #IsraelUnderFire might be around for a while regardless.
In what has become one of the most successful social media campaigns in Israel’s history, university students have, in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, actively and creatively taken the case for Israel to the Internet with their Facebookpage and Twitter campaign, Israel Under Fire.
Since the start of the recent conflict, IDC students created a “hasbara” operation. “hasbara,” as campaign leader Princella Smith explains, is “a Hebrew term for the positive alternative to negative propaganda — particularly in reference to media and press coverage of Israel. Another term for this is public diplomacy.” The operation located on the IDC campus and headquartered in an information “war room” (a term with which Anglos might feel more familiar).
This “war room” houses what is referred to online as #IsraelUnderFire or the Israel Under Fire campaign. Israel Under Fire started as a Facebook page created by the Israeli government’s Public Diplomacy Ministry with the help of IDC volunteers on Nov. 15, 2012—the day that marked the star of Operation Pillar of Defense. According to a report from Princella Smith, a head of the IDCbranch of the operation, “IDC students have largely taken over the group and garnered more the 20,000 members, with an online conversation rate of more than 27,800 people talking about it daily, as tracked by Facebook.”
It began as Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzeliya’s “hasbara” campaign. The campaign quickly spread to Haifa, Hebrew U, and Bar Ilan.
IDC Herzeliya is a clever choice to spearhead this fact campaign. IDC claims to have students from over 80 countries world wide. These students, naturally, collectively know over 60 languages and use their linguistic skills to spread Israel’s message. The Ministry of Public Diplomacy has utilized this tool. Anything having to do with this campaign that they need translated—regardless of what language—they turn it over to their partners at IDC and will have an accurate translation within a matter of hours.
According to Tami Epelbaum, an IDC graduate school student and a leading graphic designer for the Israel Under Fire team, “the team has established advocacy centers in 62 countries so far.” They have produced and translated fact-checked information available via an online public Dropbox in more than 20 languages, including Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, French, Georgian, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog and Turkish.
Epelbaum emphasized “this multilingual and multicultural group of students are making a huge impact in their home countries when they make the case for Israel mainly because they are speaking in their own language and touting their own views.”
The Dropbox contains any type of knowledge that someone researching the conflict would want: news, facts, infographics, and public statements. It serves two purposes: first and foremost, to help the Ministry of (“hasbara”) Public Diplomacy disseminate factual content, and second to create inforgraphics and statuses that will be engaging for social media users to the extent that they themselves would want to share the graphics.
Epelbaum is personally involved in the graphic department of the campaign. The graphics department attempts to create new content. “We realize,” says Epelbaum, “that we might have the facts but we don’t have an effective way of sharing it with people. So that’s what we focus on– creating graphics that people will want to share of Facebook and Twitter.”
Because of the many languages present in “the war room,” the Israel Under Fire team is able to move content and reach more people all over the world. The ultimate goal is, as Epelbaum summarizes, “to help achieve international education—its our responsibility to get the world wide community involved. We have to use our knowledge to fight bias and emphasize that Israel has the right to defend itself.”
Israel Under Fire is assisting many communities with their campaign. “Israeli consulates world wide ask for our help,” explains Epelbaum. “A lot of times too,” she adds, “leaders of different communities need help compiling information so we direct them to our Dropbox and take it from there.” The communities all seem extremely grateful and are able to utilize the graphics and news pieces in different ways depending on their target audience.
As for the internal effectiveness of this campaign; Smith explained in her article in Israel Hayom, “It is no secret that Hamas and other radical Islamist organizations have become very effective in reaching mass audiences via social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Who better to combat these efforts than a group of young people whose generation has been largely defined by the Internet and social networking?”
This group of young people have undeniably made an impact of the world and the war. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu recognized this. To show his gratitude he joined the Israel Under Fire team at IDC and other university groups via Google Hangout this week, commending their efforts and personally thanking each one of them for the work they’ve done these past few days.
A day prior to Netanyahu’s Google Hangout, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein personally visited IDC’s “hasbara” war room accompanied by IDC President Uriel Reichman. Edelstein too thanked the team and encouraged them to keep up their efforts while Reichman stood by their side welling with pride.
Reichman, immediately after a meeting with President Shimon Peres, returned bearing Peres’ praise for the team.
Though a cease-fire has officially been reached earlier this evening, the fact campaign may still continue as it has become and important tool for Israeli global PR.