How Israel kept truth flowing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer and Carly Maisel, November 22, 2012
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Journalists on a hilltop overlooking Gaza this week (Photo: AP)

Journalists on a hilltop overlooking Gaza this week (Photo: AP)

In each of the recent conflicts Israel has experienced — the two Lebanon wars, the Gaza War and in incidents such as boarding of the Mavi Marmara, media bias has deeply frustrated the Jewish state’s supporters.

The problem was the fact that Israel tried its best to keep information to a minimum. As missiles flew, the Israeli government and the army tried to say as little as possible in public, holding carefully planned press conferences at scheduled times. In between these appearances, they remained silent.

Intentions were noble, but this was a public relations disaster. They left the playing field wide open for anti-Israel activists to step into the void, and vilify the Jewish state non-stop without governmental restraint. The world media, hungry for information, needing to fill its newspaper pages and newscasts, was all too receptive.

All that supporters of Israel abroad could do back then was sit back helplessly and worry, yelling at the television set. Even when the ability to mobilise support online was born, pro-Palestinian groups, lacking a media apparatus like Israel’s, were quick to embrace social media platforms, using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread their messages, while Israelis lagged behind.

But times have changed. The tweet that announced to the world the launch of Operation Pillar of Defence was followed by confirmation of the assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari. Never before had an operation on this scale been announced on social media. Never before had social media so effectively informed the way major news outlets covered a conflict.

There is an army of local, national and international volunteers putting across Israel’s argument, each armed with a smart phone and each posting and tweeting Israel’s side of the story.

Foreign university students at Herziliya’s Interdisciplinary Centre even translated advocacy materials into 23 languages. The result has been hundreds of thousands of followers around the world on pro-Israel Facebook and Twitter pages and a far more successful circulation of Israel’s message around the world.

The results have been manifold. Tweets and Facebook postings play a significant role in breaking news, providing personal accounts and giving unprecedented access to places and perspectives previously unavailable to mainstream media.

For example, this week, social media brought to the world’s attention horrific images of Hamas gunmen publicly executing six suspected Palestinian “collaborators”; not an unusual occurrence for the terrorist organisation currently running the Gaza strip, but one often hidden from view. Once filmed and tweeted, it was a feature on the majority of the major media channels.

Furthermore, slip-ups that would have gone unnoticed, such as photos of victims from Syria or even scenes of missile attacks in Israel being misrepresented as coming from Gaza have been quickly pointed out to reporters.
As a result, the international coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict, while still somewhat slanted, has been far more balanced than in the past.

Allison Kaplan Sommer is an Israel-based writer; Carly Maisel is Head of Communications at Bicom

Last updated: 4:45pm, November 22 2012