The Prime Minister's Office will pay the right-wing Israel-advocacy group StandWithUs just over 1 million shekels ($254,000) to help it push the government's political line this year via social media, the Israeli media website The Seventh Eye reported on Tuesday.
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In recent years, the U.S.-based StandWithUs has performed this service for free when Israel faced intense criticism abroad, such as during the summer war with Gaza. In late November, the PMO decided to put up just over 1 million shekels in matching funds with StandWithUs for a year-long program to disseminate hasbara, or official Israeli spin, in times of routine as well as crisis.
The "Social Media Ambassadors" program is an expansion of a project run by the PMO's National Information Directorate in recent years, most intensely during the fighting with Gaza, when "war rooms" were set up on Israeli campuses. The PMO paid students to promote Israel's cause on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. This year, StandWithUs and the information directorate will train Israeli, American and British students to carry out this task on a range of sensitive topics, none of which were identified.
Yarden Vatikay, director of the National Information Directorate, said in a statement, “We saw during Operation Protective Edge the energy and dedication of young people who took to social media to share their experiences of living under Hamas rocket fire. This program aims to empower people with skills so they can convey their first-hand experiences about Israel to a wide audience on social media.”
Michael Dickson, head of StandWithUs' Israeli office said, "This is an exciting opportunity for young people to volunteer and learn for themselves about the best way to communicate Israel's message. Too often, those who know the truth about Israel's actions, especially in times of conflict, are drowned out by voices spreading misinformation on the Internet. This program could remedy that."
StandWithUs is well known for its campaigns against the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and J Street. On its website, the organization lists as "partners and sponsors" such right-wing American Jewish organizations as the Zionist Organization of America, CAMERA, Honest Reporting, The David Project and Betar, as well as the ecumenical right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center. It also lists many mainstream groups like the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress along with Israeli government ministries and universities.