The state of Israel was engaged in three conflicts during the months of April and May. It most likely won the first, had mixed results in the second and clearly lost the third. Because of this, whatever occurred in the first two may prove to be meaningless and even detrimental in the long run.
The first, and most talked about conflict, was between the Israeli Army and Hamas/Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It began on Sunday night, May 9th, when Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and Tel Aviv. During the ensuing eleven days, Israel for the most part defended itself against over 4,000 rockets while exacting a serious toll on Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure.
The second conflict, which took place inside of Israel, began on April 15th when an Israeli Arab resident of East Jerusalem slapped a Haredi teenager across the face on Jerusalem’s light rail. The Arab posted his attack alongside suspenseful background music on Tik Tok, where it went viral with millions of views and likes from across the Arab world. During the following weeks, the internal attacks escalated dramatically as part of Israel’s Arab population burned tens of Synagogues, attacked hundreds of Jewish homes, destroyed cars and businesses, committed hundreds of rock lynching attacks, and set up roadblocks to trap Jews in Israel’s Galilee region, the Negev, and even sometimes in East Jerusalem. Some Israelis started speaking Arabic, wore traditional Muslim garb, and blasted Arabic music to make it home alive from work. While the situation has calmed down for most, the illusion of peaceful relations with Israeli Arabs has been shattered in Acco, Lod, Jaffa, Haifa and most critically, In Jerusalem itself.
The third point of friction, for which Israel was least prepared and has traditionally been bested, is the war for Israel’s right to exist. Its right to exist on social media, its right not to be boycotted or sanctioned, and its right to not be maligned by constant misinformation. This war is one that has no clear beginning, that escalated before we could assess its enormity and that shows no sign of ending any time soon.
We can choose to ignore the crusade on social media against the State of Israel, but it will only get stronger every time Israel comes up in the news, and we will continue to lose support from the International community. This also allows terrorist groups and nations that surround us to gain more legitimacy as hundreds of millions around the world accept the lies against Israel and learn the history of the region from fifteen second Tik Tok and Instagram videos. This is not a right or left wing issue, this is an issue for the continuing existence of the State of Israel.
Clearly this social media conflict cannot be solved in one day, but Israel, the government, and the people of the Jewish nation must pay much more attention to this issue. I have compiled several short and long-term measures that can be considered, and this list can surely be expanded by others.
As a first step, the current way of appointing any foreign minister or ambassador must be changed from a political nomination to a nomination based on ability and experience in the field. For example, Gabi Ashkenazi is the current foreign minister of the State of Israel. Ashkenazi has dedicated his life to the State of Israel, serving in the Army for forty years before entering politics. During the coalition negotiations which formed Bibi Netanyahu’s and Benny Gantz’s unity government, Ashkenazi was appointed to the position of foreign minister. This position (except for that of the Prime Minster) is supposed to be Israel’s main mode of communication with the International community. Thirty seconds into watching a video of Ashkenazi attempting to express himself in English, the problem becomes self-evident. Additionally, Ashkenazi’s social media pages consist of a list of meetings with foreign dignitaries and representatives, lacking any content or substance having to do with Israel advocacy.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s representative in the UN, and Ambassador to the United States is a political appointee as well. Erdan is a home grown Israeli and career politician and was selected for this prestigious position in order to take him out of contention in the Likud party. His English is better than that of Ashkenazi, but he has no background in advocacy and no experience in world relations. We can go through the list of Israel’s ambassadors and identify many examples where there is a lack of skill, experience, and connection with the place that they are located, thereby limiting their effectiveness in addressing local sentiments and social media matters.
On May 8th Arik Bender, of Maariv news, reported that there were only eight staff members in the Prime Minister’s office for Foreign Relations, without someone formally managing them. Israel’s ability to act on the word media stage was severely limited if it existed at all. This created grave risks for Israel as public opinion mounted against it. Israel must reevaluate how its advocacy efforts are conducted.
Israel’s Police and Army are under constant surveillance of social media and the Int’l Community. Though the Police and Army have clear and understandable rules of engagement with the Arabs to ensure their safety as much as possible, the world is not aware of their efforts. The number of clips of actions by the Police and Army that are taken out of context is overwhelming. The Army and Police must invest far more resources to try to turn the tide in the war being waged against them and the State of Israel and give those that try to defend them a leg to stand on.
To bolster its advocacy efforts, Israel must invest in fact-based content that tells the history of the Jewish people and its 3000+ years connection to the land of Israel. It should also stress the State’s diversity with people that hail from over one hundred and fifty countries, with more than half its population neither white, nor of Anglo descent. This content must be made easily accessible and straightforward, compiled in a variety of languages and be age appropriate.
These are some of my thoughts over the past month as I considered the challenges Israel was facing. The time has come for all of us to wake up and develop clear action plans.
Benjamin Sipzner managed the Anglo division for the Religious Zionist Party in the last election, is an Oleh from New York, and currently a student at Yeshivat Bet El.