When the Israel Defense Forces Spokesman's Office and the Foreign Ministry were fiddling while the deck of the Marmara burned, metaphorically speaking, at dawn on Monday, it was the public that stepped into the breach. Israeli surfers brandished their keyboards and went to war, fighting to save Israel's image on facebook, twitter and other Internet-based social networks.
Starting in Hebrew, for what that's worth in the battle of the blurb, they protested Israel's bad image following the raid of the aid ships that took a deadly turn. But it didn't take long for the local community of Web surfers to realize the pointlessness of communicating in a language that only friendly readers would understand anyway, and they began sending tweets and facebook posts in English.
Twitter is a popular instant messaging system. Members can send messages of up to 140 characters each to anyone signed up to follow them.
With about 63,500 followers, Oudi Antebi, an expatriate living in Seattle, may be the most popular Israeli Tweeter. Formerly a high-ranking executive at Microsoft's headquarters in Seattle, for the past year and a half he has headed a startup called OffiSync, which is developing technology for online document collaboration through Google Apps. Antebi (a "die-hard Metallica fan" ) tweets in English to a mainly American and European following.
"Interesting: Israel offered the ships to transfer the humanitarian goods to Gaza but #flotilla declined the offer. Why?," Antebi tweeted. A little later he sent another tweet: "The Israeli official statement - regardless of your opinion and side it is worth reading," he wrote.
His tweets triggered a great number of responses around the world. Twitter is a great way to reach thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people when the original recipients use "reTweet," and forward the message to their own followers.
"The moment I grasped how bad Israel's image was, I enlisted," Antebi says. "I collated pieces of information from the Internet and distributed them by tweets, which I phrased objectively, in order to rouse interest at the other end. My purpose was for as many people as possible to access the links, and they did. I got a lot of responses from people who evidently realize I was Israeli, and who said I was right, and there was food for thought here."
Noa Tishby vs. Queen Noor
Another Israeli who stood out for her social-networking activism, hoping to change Israel's bad image, was Noa Tishby, an actress and producer working in Los Angeles. She too communicated mainly in English. Many of her 2,300 followers on Twitter are Americans in the television and movie industry. "Everyone RT - IDF Navy soldiers attacked on board the flotilla. WAKE UP WORLD, they are not playing by the same rules!!!," she tweeted, providing a link to an IDF video clip. In Twitterese, RT means "reTweet."
In other tweets, Tishby wrote: "TurkishTV 5-30-10 Organizers of the #flotilla announce their intention to use violence against Israeli forces" and '"Peace activists" Use extreme Violence Against Israeli Navy Soldiers Attempting to Board Ship Flotilla.'
It was a public-relations ambush, wrote Tishby.
When Queen Noor of Jordan tweeted to her 8,500 followers, "Time for Israelis to choose betwn life in a rogue pariah state defying international &humanitarian law or to commit to a future of peace," Tishby tweeted a rebuttal: "@QueenNoor We are trying! We are really trying! Please tell me what we should do about this [link] we need to do something!" The link was to a video clip showing an attack on Israeli soldiers.
Queen Rania, Noor's daughter-in-law, also posted pro-Palestinian tweets. She has 1.3 million followers and tends to stick to environmental issues (she has some choice words on the BP fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico ), education in the Third World and the like. Yesterday she tweeted, "Shocked by killing of civilians in int'l waters. Humbled by courage & sacrifice of those on board in name of justice."
Later Rania tweeted, "Every ship that tries to break the blockade is a Ship of Hope for the people of Gaza." She then released a series of tweets giving her view of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. With 1.3 million followers, some of whom forward to their own followers, her messages must have reached millions of people. "Fact1:HEALTH-95% of Gaza's water fails WHO [World Health Organization] standards leaving thousands of newborns at risk of poisoning. PLZ RT!" she wrote - please retweet. "Fact3: POVERTY - 80% of people in Gaza live below the poverty line; 95% of private businesses have closed. PLZ RT!"
Writer and media consultant Gadi Shimshon, who has 1,200 followers, responded, noting that the "peace activist" looked to be mighty handy with a knife. He appended a link to a video clip.
He also wrote, "FACT: the soldiers were armed mainly with paint guns (! ) and had guns for use as a last resort."
"We are losing the public relations war," says Tishby. She for one feels it her duty as an Israeli to try to do something about that.
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