Calling all e-warriors for Israel

If you believe Israel should exist and happen to be thin-skinned, don’t read the comments below a recent BBC Facebook post updating readers on its coverage of the Obama visit to Israel. The volume and viciousness is inconceivable. But this deluge of hatred isn’t unique to the BBC post. There are dozens of Facebook pages with clever names like “F*ck Israel.” Less offensively named pages demanding to “Free Palestine” are poorly disguised outlets for the masses to compete in their loathing of the ghastly Zionists.

For a long time, it’s been obvious that Israel has a PR problem. How do we get off the back foot and instead forge a positive message?

Right now we have an incredible opportunity to take a step in the right direction.

Sometimes, behind all the talk of politics and policy, it’s hard to understand who Israelis really are. Realizing this, Israel’s Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs is supporting a volunteer-run campaign to help engage the public in dialogue around the topic of Obama’s visit.

The campaign, titled “The Unbreakable Bond – #ObamaInIsrael,” outlines Israeli innovations and the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel. In addition, our goal is to provide the public with the experience of following President Obama during his three-day visit to Israel.

Hodaya's Facebook message to her American peers at The Unbreakable Bond
Hodaya’s Facebook message to her American peers at The Unbreakable Bond

During the visit, our volunteers decided to add an emphasis to efforts of engaging and connecting the Israeli public to the American public — a growing practice called “citizen diplomacy.” The volunteers are encouraging Israelis to send their messages with their American peers, and then dispersing it through The Unbreakable Bond Facebook page.

For the duration of President Obama’s visit, a dedicated team of volunteers with expertise in social media, blogging, graphic design and video editing are working together out of the national press center hosted in the Menahem Begin Heritage Centre. This group of motivated young individuals is working hard to bring out a fresh new message.

We are running a Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest page and the blog.

President Obama has referred to the bond between the United States and Israel as “unbreakable.” A mere 14 minutes after Israel declared its independence, US President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize Israel’s independence. When your friends are few and far between, it is only right to appreciate a relationship like Israel and America’s even more and to take the time to celebrate that friendship whenever possible. Right now, we have the opportunity to celebrate the special bond between the United States and Israel, as President Obama makes his first visit to Israel as president.

The high profile nature of Obama’s visit provides Israel with the opportunity to lead the discussion on Israel and not just react to reports and claims that portray Israel as something it is not. With hundreds of journalists coming to report on Israel and Obama’s visit, it is important that Israel supporters must also engage in this dialogue and not leave the reporting only to the journalists. The current events of today – a nuclear Iran, the civil war in Syria and peace with the Palestinians are of importance to everyone around the world, not just Israelis and Americans. In addition to talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama will also visit several sites that show the history of Israel and the Jewish people, and a peek into the future to where our tiny country is headed. Obama will visit Yad Vashem – Israel’s holocaust museum as well as the dead sea scrolls, which are the oldest known copies of biblical text. Looking to the future, Obama will attend an exhibit on Israeli innovations and visit the Iron Dome.

During Operation Pillar of Defense in November, I was not called to the army to perform reserve military service. Instead, I was one of hundreds who picked up another gauntlet and volunteered at the Ministry of Public Diplomacy to share the truth about the operation on Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I was able to see just how far reaching and how fast 140 characters can travel. Whether you are American, Israeli, both or neither, we ask that you join the conversation and engage others in a dialogue about this historic presidential visit. Share with the world what makes Israel special, because this time they are listening.

This is our opportunity to shape the discourse. This is our chance to show what Israel’s really about. This is our time to let the world see what Israel has to offer.

We might not be able to stop the endless comments inciting genocide and encouraging Israel to be destroyed, but certainly can give the average Facebook user an inside look at Israelis and President Obama’s visit.

You and me. A crack team of keyboard warriors.

About the Author
Yoni Mann is a past Israel campus activist, entrepreneur, and the former Aliyah Campus Initiatives Coordinator for the Jewish Agency for Israel in North America. Making Aliyah in 2011, he served in the foreign relations unit in the IDF and is currently a member of the Young Leadership of the Israeli Jewish Congress.