Why Israel is signing up to Facebook
Thousands of Palestinians wave flags at a rally in Ramallah calling for reconciliation between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank
The Israeli Foreign Ministry is planning to use Facebook for a major PR campaign that it hopes will touch millions of internet users around the world and bypass the often hostile mainstream media.
In a visit last week to Facebook headquarters during a tour of the United States West Coast, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon met some of the company's senior executives to search for ways in which Israel could upgrade its presence on the world's most popular social network, with over 600 million subscribers.
"We have been exploring different ways of using new media and social networks for some time now," said a ministry official this week, "and we reached the conclusion that one of the best ways was to transform Israel's page on Facebook into an official face of the state, so that when anyone types in Israel on Facebook, that is what they will see."
The ministry acknowledges that the decision to focus more attention on Facebook was influenced, among other factors, by the central role that the site played in the recent revolutions in Arab states, especially Tunisia and Egypt.
Meanwhile, this week, the website's CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, found himself the subject of a billion-dollar lawsuit. The action was brought by Jewish American right-wing activist Larry Klayman, who claims that Facebook is guilty of criminal negligence for not quickly removing a page titled "Third Palestinian Intifada" and that it had been an accomplice to incitement against Jews.
The page, in Arabic, called on Palestinians to join demonstrations on May 15, Nakba Day, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It was finally removed last week after remonstrations by the Israeli government and Jewish American organisations - but was almost immediately replaced by similar pages in different names. A Facebook spokesperson said the lawsuit was "without merit."