Israel’s envoy to US faces harsh criticism in Twitter Q&A

Israel’s envoy to US faces harsh criticism in Twitter Q&A

Ron Dermer uses social media tool for public diplomacy, responds to charges of genocide, war crimes

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer engages in an intense Twitter Q&A on Thursday July 17, 2014. (courtesy: Israeli Embassy)
Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer engages in an intense Twitter Q&A on Thursday July 17, 2014. (courtesy: Israeli Embassy)

WASHINGTON — As a brief humanitarian ceasefire came to an end in Israel on Thursday, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer took to the Twitterverse to engage in a open question-and-answer session that boosted the hashtag #AskDermer to a number one trending rank in the US Thursday morning. Dermer faced a barrage of questions critical to Israel, but aides emphasized that the diplomat, who has been in office for under a year, views social media as critical to Israel’s public relations effort.

Dermer’s first questioner, who identified as Tauseef Hassan, asked the ambassador “how can Israel drop a bomb exactly on a house knowing who is inside but it can’t tell 4people playing soccer on a beach are kids?”

Dermer responded that “we’re doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way. Multiple warnings calls, texts, leaflets to evacuate. Unfortunately Hamas is using human shields to protect their rockets, placing missiles next to mosques, hospitals & schools. Even with all the measures Israel takes innocents are sometimes unintentionally harmed. We investigate every incident.”

The Associated Press’s veteran diplomatic writer Matt Lee noted during the talk that “a quick check of the #AskDermer twitter chat questions this morning seems to indicate a certain level of hostility toward #Israel,” but Dermer described the participants as a “small vocal minority.”

Dermer reiterated that Israel had “broad strong support 4 Israel’s right to defend itself throughout America & internationally,” a statement reinforced by data from a recent Pew Research poll that found that 51% of Americans were sympathetic to Israel in the current conflict.

Embassy officials said that Dermer took to Twitter in an effort “to reach as many audiences as possible.” According to the embassy, the #AskDermer hashtag was posted in over 16,500 tweets, making the topic the top trending item in the US and the third trending item worldwide.

“The Israeli case is just and stands on a steady foundation. I am willing to participate in challenging forums in order to defend Israel and defend the truth,” Dermer explained Thursday.

Dermer faced questions that included “Why does Israel dramatically intensify its bombing campaign in the hours before a ‘ceasefire’? Is it like getting your licks in?” – which he denied – “Does Israel have the right to defend itself by bombing hospitals?” and “Would you say that a Palestinian life is worth as much as an Israeli’s? Or is an Israeli Jew’s simply worth more?”

To the last, Dermer argued that “Israel cares more about Pal civilians in Gaza than Hamas. We try to get them out of harm’s way. They put them in harm’s way.”

He also responded to claims of genocide, noting the scale of genocides perpetrated in the past hundred years and contrasting them to the estimated 15,000 people killed in almost 70 years of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Twice in the course of the discussion, he referred readers through a live link to the version of Hamas’s charter available on the website of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One participant pushed Dermer on Israel’s warnings regarding Iran’s nuclear program, asking “why should we believe you, or PM Netanyahu, about Iran when we’ve heard for 20+ years that they’re 6 months from having nukes?”

Dermer denied that Israel has been making the claims for two decades, but argued that “had no pressure been put on Iran, they would have had nuclear weapons a long time ago.”

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