The Prime Minister’s Office is to provide American pro-Israel group StandWithUs over NIS 1 million ($250,000) to help spread government-backed advocacy messages. The funds will finance a joint project between the PMO’s National Information Directorate and StandWithUs’ Israeli branch, aimed at “strengthening Israeli advocacy on social media networks,” a PMO representative told Israeli media watchdog website The Seventh Eye.
** Update, April 6, 2016: The project described in this article did not go ahead. See note at foot of piece.
In November, a PMO tender committee authorized the allocation of over NIS 1 million towards the project, to be matched by the organization’s benefactors. The cooperation between the sides will continue throughout 2015, with the option of extending the agreement a further two years.
The “Social Media Ambassadors” venture will include student operated “interactive media rooms” that will advocate for Israel on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The project will expand similar activities the group has undertaken in recent years, including during the summertime military conflict with Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, operating “advocacy war rooms” in academic institutions throughout the country.
Israeli, American and British students participating in the project will be trained by government officials and StandWithUs staff.
The program is expected to begin sometime next year, pending final approval.
A statement released by StandWithUs on Wednesday called the project “an exciting collaboration” designed “to educate young people about how to use social media for education and public diplomacy.”
It said the partnership involves “a year-long educational program in multiple countries, beginning with the United Kingdom, the United States, and Israel. Its goal is to empower young people to utilize social media to educate others about Israel.”
The idea for this partnership, the statement added, “emerged in response to the public’s increasing reliance on social media for information. For example, the critical role of social media in public diplomacy was evident during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Unfortunately, anti-Israel groups posted a torrent of misinformation on social media about Israel and the actions of the IDF.”
“The ‘Social Media Ambassadors’ program, a volunteer program aimed at university students, will train participants to use multiple platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more, to educate the public at large,” StandWithUs said. “The Ambassadors will develop their own projects to learn first-hand how public opinion is affected by social media and online debate. Participants will receive hands-on training and hear from leading experts in the field.”
StandWithUs Israel Director Michael Dickson said the program does not aim to tell participants what to say, but rather to teach them how to say it. “This is an exciting opportunity for young people to volunteer and learn for themselves about the best way to communicate to the world about the reality of Israel. The purpose of the program is not to tell participants how to communicate Israel’s story on social media. Too often, those who know the truth about what is really going on in Israel are drowned out by voices spreading misinformation on the internet. This program aims to remedy that problem. Our mission is to educate young people, especially in Israel, about how they can make their voices heard.”
The protocols of the PMO tender committee indicate the government expects to be highly influential in determining the messages the students will spread, The Seventh Eye report said. “The National Information Directorate’s degree of involvement in the initiative will be high, namely in determining the strategy and message that will be spread,” the protocols reportedly stated. A committee led by government representatives will be established to steer the project. PMO officials will also be involved in the selection of the participants, the report said.
StandWithUs, however, said it would “continue to fashion its own messaging and material as it has done for the last 13 years since its inception. More importantly, program participants will use the training to tell Israel’s story from their own point of view.”
StandWithUs, based in Los Angeles, maintains 16 offices across the US, Canada, the UK and Israel. The organization describes itself as “dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism.”
The group’s efforts are focused mainly on US college campuses, where it often challenges the liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group J Street, as well as the growing BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) anti-Israel movement.
** Note: The project described in this article did not go ahead. According to StandWithUs, “it was intended to run for one year, 2015, pending final approval by both StandWithUs and the National Information Directorate, which was not fulfilled.”