It was meant to be just one in an inspiring series of photos of Israeli soldiers lighting Hanukkah candles launched into social media. The series of candle-lighting pictures ran on the English-language Twitter account run by the Israeli army spokesman and featured IDF soldiers in different positions lighting a candle each night - like this friendly tuba player.
It’s a legitimate part of the public relations war, putting young human and attractive faces on Israeli soldiers, who are so often demonized. But the IDF spokesman had a major PR fail moment when it came to staging the photograph of the candle-lighting soldier on the seventh night of Hanukkah and writing the copy to accompany it.
The tweet was clearly a bad choice for an international audience both visually and when it came to the accompanying text. The photo didn’t show the soldier’s face - he stands in a dark room, dressed in full combat gear, with a protective shield covering most of his face. His head shrouded with protective covering. He’s holding his drone under one arm close to his body and it faces down, so his image is sort of merged with the weapon - it looks like the tail of the drone is growing out of his head. He looks like a faceless war machine, not a nice young man.
The image doesn’t do anything to make Israeli military look more appealing and human, not with the stories of carnage that drone attacks have inflicted during across the Middle East - not only in Gaza over the summer.
Doesn’t the IDF spokesman watch “Homeland”?
And the text of the tweet only makes things worse. The commentary appears to be inspired by a recent high-profile campaign promoting Friday night blessings, with slogans - “In the afternoon, shopping, in the evening kiddush.” Whoever decided it was appropriate for an international crowd to read “He operates drones during the day, and lights #Hanukkah candles at night” clearly didn’t know their audience very well (and even Israelis found it pretty strange.)
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The tweet grabbed worldwide attention when it was picked up by one of the world’s most popular sites Mashable with the headline “The Israel Defense Forces just sent a really weird Hanukkah tweet” in a post has had nearly 2,000 shares on Facebook so far.
Mashable observed that “Not only is the language dark for a holiday message, but the figure himself is shrouded in darkness, wearing a mask, and holding a drone. Let's just say the tweet doesn't make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”
The comments are, predictably, the usual back-and-forth between Israel’s defenders and Palestinian advocates. And, of course, there were memes that resulted.
In keeping with the pro-Palestinian sides’ ongoing online efforts to equate Israel and Islamic State (Remember #JSIL?) one pro-Palestinian activist offered his take on the photograph on his Facebook page.
The IDF, for it’s part, appeared to make the decision that all publicity must be good publicity,. Instead of getting their back up at Mashable, they decided to take the attention as a compliment and responded to the Mashable post with this: