Israel’s Foreign Ministry bragged last week that its Arabic-language Facebook page had garnered one million “likes.” But a closer look reveals that the conduct on the page is less about soft diplomacy than it is about scoring points with Facebook trolls.
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The page’s target audience is not clear, but most of the likes are from users in Arab states such as Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. An unscientific survey suggests that the vast majority are mirror image of the followers of the Israeli right-wing activist and rapper Yoav Eliasi, who calls himself Hatzel (the shadow in Hebrew) “The Shadow.” They visit the page not to learn about Israeli innovation but to scribble virtual graffiti on the state’s representative page. But there are also members of minority groups living in Arab and Muslim countries, such as Kurds, who are vocal on the page in their support and even admiration for Israel.
A media statement says the Facebook page, which is operated by the ministry’s digital diplomacy unit, contains “a fascinating discussion between the ministry and the followers of the page on a variety of topics that the Arab media doesn’t reveal.” And in fact, most of the posts deal with the positive aspects of Israel: reports about achievements such as blue-and-white technological innovations and the integration of the Arab community into Israeli society. There are also reports about the status of women in Israel.
In other words, just as the prime minister likes to brag about the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the status of women in Israel serves to publicize Western and progressive Israel. It’s hard not to notice the implied condescension toward Arab society and its treatment of women.
Never mind condescension, apparently the Foreign Ministry really did invest considerable resources and recruited social media people who can “hold a conversation” in fluent literary Arabic, but all they do with this knowledge is to talk to a million Arab surfers in fluent army jargon. A large percentage of the posts deal with the Israel Defense Forces, and of course with its wonderful technological innovations. And on this point they seem to have forgotten their audience: not enthusiastic young Israelis preparing for their military but people who in many cases are on the other side of the army’s gun barrels, even if they have no more empathy for the Palestinians that they do for the Golani Brigade.
The same condescension is evident not only on issues publicized by the Foreign Ministry, but also in the attitude to the page’s visitors. When a Syrian reader wrote that Hitler was right when he left a small number of Jews so people would know why he killed the rest, the reply of the official page of the Israeli Foreign Ministry was on exactly the same level: “Adolf Hitler also said that he wouldn’t waste time on internal Arab affairs, because the day will come when they murder one another,” wrote one of the page managers.
When one Facebook user attacked the occupation and wrote, “If you hadn’t occupied and abused the Palestinian people, perhaps you would be the chosen people, as you claim,” the same diplomatic spirit was again maintained in the ministry’s response. “Hahaha, you’re mistaken, Muslims have murdered over 11 million Muslims since 1948,” replied the page manager.
Another reader accused Israel of using women and money to rule the world. The Israeli Foreign Ministry replied: “The record holders for users of porn sites are Arab countries, if you know what I mean.” Yes. I understand. I understand perfectly. The Foreign Ministry “knows how to talk to those Arabs in their own language,” with the same colonialism that hasn’t changed at all since the days of Rudyard Kipling and the “white man’s burden.”