Obamamania Online: The Good, the Bad, and the Impossibly Lame

U.S. embassy tries to get Israelis excited via Facebook and Twitter campaigns; White House requests that newly crowned Ethiopian-born Miss Israel will join Obama for dinner.

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As the days of the Obama visit draw closer, not only the employees of the King David Hotel, the thousands of police providing security charged with securing him, and the leaders and sites the U.S. president is scheduled to visit are busily preparing for the big event.

In the age of the Internet, everyone is getting ready for his arrival. At least, that’s the hope of those who have an interest in getting Israelis excited about the visit - excitement and enthusiasm will be key to whether the visit will be viewed as a success. And so they are doing their best to whip up the kind of electricity that has been in the air during previous presidential visits to Israel, most memorably those of President Bill Clinton, and are turning to technology to accomplish it.

The most impressive online cheerleading has been coming from Ambassador Dan Shapiro and the team at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The U.S. ambassador’s impressive mastery of Hebrew and his comfort level with social media has resulted in the fact that the embassy is leading the way in whipping up online Obamania.

Those who are Shapiro’s Twitter followers or who have “Liked” his official Facebook page, are the recipients of regular updates on how preparations are coming along, how excited he is, and some of his nostalgic photographs from Obama’s last trip to Israel, on which Shapiro accompanied him, when he was a presidential candidate.

And they have wisely played their biggest card - actual real-life access to the president. In a creative decision the embassy announced a Facebook competition this week to give away up to 20 invitations to Obama's speech in Jerusalem at the end of the month. The embassy posted the details of the competition on its Facebook page, calling Israelis to "Like" the embassy page and write a comment compelling enough to convince the staff of the embassy that they should attend the big speech planned as the centerpiece of the visit.

Also scoring high points for pre-visit hype are a group of English-speaking Israeli volunteers at the Ministry of Public Diplomacy who appear to have been diligently building a full-service social media outlet which cover the visit on every platform possible: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. The name of the group is The Unbreakable Bond which takes its name from a video used in the Obama 2012 campaign that was full of clips emphasizing the president’s support of Israel and the two countries’ mutual admiration.

The group has already got the Twitter hashtag #ObamainIsrael rolling for pre-visit discussion and links and is promising to live-tweet every minute of the visit.

So far, these impressively dedicated volunteers appear to be outperforming the pros in the Prime Minister’s Office, whom Israelis are presumably paying to run the public presentation of the visit. Their PMO’s lame idea in February of holding a logo contest for the Obama visit where Israelis would choose their favorite logo for the visit fell flat and failed to generate buzz.

The selection of logos weren’t very impressive - they all, including the winner, looked too much like the stationary of pro-Israel organizations with the simplistically merged U.S.-Israel flag. And, let’s face it, the whole idea of a logo contest where people choose between a few images just feels so 20th Century/Mad Men. At the very least, Israelis could have been challenged to create their own logo designs and post them on Facebook. I bet this may have resulted in a more original design.

In order to show off how cutting-edge they are, the PMO has indeed supposedly created an Obama visit app for iPhone and Android which they rolled out with much fanfare in the press. They promise that it will offer real-time updates, video streaming, photographs and behind-the-scenes glimpses at the visit in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

It all sounds very cool, but so far, like many things provided by politicians, all that has been delivered are promises. If you download the app right now, all you get is the regular old Prime Minister’s Office content - no Obama, no hype, no advance schedule, no content, nothing. Not even the vaunted logo of the visit, nothing. So much for pre-visit excitement.

As far as the grassroots go, none of the Facebook groups that sprung up a month ago in an effort trying to convince Obama to get out of Jerusalem to speak in Rabin Square were successful. One can imagine that those responsible for the president’s security during the visit were less than eager to take him to a spot most famous for the assassination of a head of state. Parallel efforts to get him to a West Bank settlement were equally unsuccessful. Still working hard to influence the agenda of the visit is the Pollard lobby, which pops up in comments of all efforts to promote the visit and have their own Facebook group going asking Obama to “Bring Pollard With You.” An interesting idea, but somehow, I don’t think it’s worth saving a seat for him on Air Force One.

And then there is the fun stuff - Hebrew-language groups popping up on Facebook trying to get Obama to drop by their house or their local bar in Jerusalem. “By the time you finish drinking here, there will be peace,” they promise Obama. Most popular are the pictures being shared on Facebook by the active crew of Israeli political satire photoshoppers, who regularly crank out barbed “memes” that poke fun at current events.

So far, they’ve come up with a picture of Netanyahu handing Obama a T-shirt saying “I love the Occupation,” a photo of Obama in full Birthright attire waving an Israeli flag as he marches off the plane. There are racist Beitar Yerushalayim soccer fans chanting “We don’t want Hussein Obama, here!” - in a take on the recent anti-Muslim activity there.

Finally, there is one Photoshop cartoon that has Obama begging Michelle to come along on the trip - because Sara Netanyahu desperately wants to go dress shopping with her.

This satire points out the weak spot in the Israeli public’s interest in the visit. Michelle, sadly is not scheduled to come along on the trip.

If she did suddenly change her mind and decide to hop on the plane, it would instantly generate far more excitement and anticipation than could be achieved by any amount of Internet hype.

But recent developments show that the Obama team is making a concerted effort to fill the glamour – and the female – vacuum. On Wednesday, the newly crowned Ethiopian-born Miss Israel Yityish "Titi" Aynaw told the press she had been invited to the dinner President Shimon Peres will host for Obama at the request of the White House. The meeting between the African-American president and the African-Israeli beauty queen should be something to Tweet about.

Screenshot of the U.S. embassy's Facebook page advertising the giveaway.Credit: Screenshot

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