ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 234

  • Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy films a TikTok clip, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein / Zman Yisrael)
    Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy films a TikTok clip, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein / Zman Yisrael)
  • Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)
    Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)
  • Eylon Levy is taken aback during a Sky news interview in November 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
    Eylon Levy is taken aback during a Sky news interview in November 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
  • Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy with his TikTok manager Rachel Brooks, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)
    Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy with his TikTok manager Rachel Brooks, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)
Interview'Sometimes you really need to think outside the box'

Israel’s newest, British-born international spokesperson is raising some eyebrows

Between his mic drop moments and fiery rebuttals of skeptical interviewers, Eylon Levy is learning to master TikTok and confronting Hamas supporters on social media

Chief investigative reporter for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel's sister Hebrew website

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)

It was nearly 11 p.m. Israel time in the middle of last month and Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy was on the line with journalist Lewis Goodall. The British radio host had repeatedly brought up a ceasefire in the war with Hamas as if it were a magical solution to all the region’s problems — particularly for the people of Gaza.

As Goodall insisted once again that the people of Gaza simply want a ceasefire, Levy pointed out that roughly 137 hostages were still being held there by Hamas. He noted as well the horrors perpetrated on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed Israel’s border, killing 1,200 people — most of them civilians — amid stunning acts of brutality, and kidnapped roughly 240 more to the Gaza Strip.

When Levy was asked about his tweet calling participants in the anti-Israel protest movement in London “rape apologists,” Levy, 32, decided to shake things up.

“I told him, if anyone is offended by the term ‘rape apologists,’ I issue the following challenge: For every person attending a pro-Palestine march with the sign ‘I condemn Hamas for raping Israeli women and girls’ and tagging me on Twitter, I’ll donate £10 to UNRWA or any other charity of their choice, and I’ll also publicly apologize to them. Now, I told him, the ball is in their court,” Levy says, speaking with The Times of Israel’s sister site, Zman Yisrael, which shadowed the spokesman for a day.

Had hundreds of people shown up with such signs, Levy would have been in serious trouble as the legal adviser at the Prime Minister’s Office would never have approved such an expense.

“I took a calculated risk because it was clear to me that no one would respond to the challenge. Speak against Hamas in these events, and you’re finished,” Levy says. “Unexpectedly, one guy — a young Chabad member from New York — accepted the challenge and stood 50 meters [150 feet] away from the demonstration with the sign. I promptly donated to a Jewish NGO of his choice. Best $18 I’ve ever spent in my life.”

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists march in central London on December 9, 2023 (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

‘Gaza-lighting’ in the global media

When Levy discusses this donation gimmick, for a moment he’s not the national spokesperson but a stand-up comedian in a Greenwich Village nightclub.

“I’m not running a gimmick factory, but sometimes you really need to think outside the box,” he says.

Levy is no outsider to how media works. Before joining the National Public Diplomacy Directorate, Levy worked as a news anchor for the Israel Broadcasting Authority in English and for i24News. For the last two years, he served as international media adviser to President Isaac Herzog.

He was born in London to Israeli parents working in real estate and his interest in public relations grew from success in debate clubs since the age of 14. While studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxford (the same BA degree held by various British prime ministers, including David Cameron, Rishi Sunak, and Liz Truss), he continued to participate in debate championships in Europe and worldwide. He also pursued an MPhil in International Relations from Cambridge.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Chaim Katz)

His thesis focused on researching the immigration of Jews from Arab countries in the 1950s in the context of the formulation of Israel’s foreign policy.

“During that period, Israel absorbed a wave of refugees from Iraq, including my grandparents, while the Palestinians began to create their own narrative. I compared how Israel created the story it told itself about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries versus the Palestinians, including the issue of compensation.”

Shortly after completing his MPhil in August 2014, he immigrated to Israel at the age of 23 to volunteer in Operation Protective Edge.

“I intended to participate in the war, but I arrived in the country at 7:30 p.m. and then discovered that the war had ended at 7 p.m.”

Levy reported to the Bakum [IDF induction center], and served in the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) as the aide-de-camp of the civil department.

His role was to accompany the COGAT colonel to all meetings with the Palestinian Authority and the international community where issues such as how to provide electricity to the people in Gaza were addressed.

“Today, I’m frustrated by my role during that entire period. I was part of the false conception that if we just supplied them with water and food, then they would have something to lose, and they would be deterred,” he says.

Levy is steadfast in saying that the Gaza Strip needs to be rebuilt after the end of the war, in which Hamas must be crushed. Otherwise, he believes Israel and Hamas will continue in the same cycle of violence and death.

“I’m asked in interviews if I don’t think that continuing the attack on Hamas will breed a new, more extreme generation. And I say, ‘The opposite is true.’ If Hamas commits such crimes against humanity and feels that the world is tying Israel’s hands – then that is more likely to contribute to the radicalization of future generations.”

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)

Levy has been called a liar so many times in interviews with the international media for his reports of a Hamas command post beneath Gaza’s Shifa Hospital that he says he’d even started to doubt himself.

“It’s Gaza-lighting! That’s what I call it,” he says. “I didn’t coin the term, but I adopted it. Then, a week ago, I was interviewed by the BBC, and we showed them the stuff we found beneath Shifa. They tell me, ‘Mr. Levy, please explain to us what we’re seeing here.’ And then they are forced to admit that Hamas did indeed build and keep terror infrastructure beneath the hospital.”

“I’m just flabbergasted by how many interviews I have to respond to ‘Hamas denies this, Hamas denies that,'” says Levy. “This is a terror organization that beheads people, burns grandmothers, kidnaps children, and then denies doing any of these crimes. It’s like saying ‘ISIS denies it.'”

A life of adrenaline and caffeine

Levy takes another sip of coffee. It’s early afternoon, and he’s on his third cup.

“I live on adrenaline and caffeine,” he says. “It replaces the gym, which I just can’t get to since the war started.”

As his interview with a Colombian station begins, Levy, fully energized, assumes a Sphinx-like expression and delivers an impressive barrage of well-reasoned, well-crafted arguments. There’s no hesitation. He doesn’t play the victim, doesn’t argue, doesn’t philosophize.

Levy wears a face of restrained anger when talking about children, a penetrating look when discussing soldiers, and a neutral expression when mentioning the prime minister – the same prime minister against whom Levy demonstrated with shirts that read “Democracy or Rebellion” just over two months ago. Nonetheless, no one can detect a even hint of criticism in him.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy with his TikTok manager Rachel Brooks, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)

The interview concludes, and Levy smiles, saying, “Muchísimas Gracias por hablar conmigo, gracias,” to the Colombian interviewer. One of his superiors in Israel wonders, “Where did he suddenly pull out this Spanish from?” and one of the volunteers whispers with admiration, “He also speaks French.”

The National Public Diplomacy Directorate is abuzz with dozens of volunteers from various agencies, such as the Government Press Office, Government Advertising Agency, IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Israel Prison Service, National Security Council, the Israel Police, the Foreign Ministry and several other bodies.

Eylon Levy is taken aback during a Sky news interview in November 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Since the eyebrow incident, many of his moves have gone viral, whether it’s a funny parody of the typical Israeli accent in an American podcast or a video where he fake-apologizes to those he accused of being Hamas supporters, claiming they in fact were merely “indifferent” to the organization’s atrocities.

During a break between interviews, Levy is briefed by his TikTok manager, Rachel Brooks, who accompanies him everywhere, on how to shoot a personal response video. The goal is to expand the network of influencers, especially on TikTok, where Israel often loses ground to Hamas supporters. In that space, Levy’s raised eyebrows have even been turned into a trance music video.

Levy says he understood he was making an impact when he reached 145,000 followers on Twitter, and on Instagram, he went from a private account to one with 76,000 followers. But virality comes with a price tag. Recently, Levy’s accounts have been under a sustained attack by bots (likely from Indonesia), and his Instagram account was suspended for about 12 hours, apparently due to reports organized by such bots.

He appears a bit overwhelmed that he now helms a social media team, with a TikTok manager — who has her own assistant — and a chief of staff and a booker.

“All this madness happened in the most terrible and crazy circumstances imaginable. So sometimes it’s uncomfortable for me – they’re making fun of my eyebrows, and soldiers are dying, and we’re at war, and they’re still identifying bodies from the October 7 massacre,” he says.

The house where the remains of 12-year-old Liel Hetzroni were found in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, southern Israel, November 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

An early diplomatic disaster

A few days after the war broke out, amid the global concern over a potential multi-front regional conflict and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah delivering an extended speech, Levy stood out for the first time.

In stand-up terms, his response to Nasrallah’s speech — “It looks like Israel assassinated Nasrallah’s speechwriter” — was funny. In diplomatic terms, it was a disaster.

In a live press conference, Levy said: “We listened to Hassan Nasrallah’s long and rambling speech. I admit it was so boring that I don’t know whether his speechwriter was killed in recent IDF strikes on Hezbollah up in the north.

“I would note that despite the large crowds, Mr. Nasrallah himself was not on stage. He was hiding in a bunker like a coward, and if I were giving an hour-long speech defending the pedophile rapists of Hamas I would be afraid to show my face in public as well.”

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group watch chief Hassan Nasrallah deliver a televised address on a large screen at a venue in Beirut on November 11, 2023 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

To this, he added in a tweet: “Nasrallah’s speech is so boring…”

Despite the British accent and excellent English, Levy – who was much less known at that stage – was immediately labeled as a product of the unfocused, overly confident Israeli public diplomacy machine. Against the backdrop of the monumental failures on October 7, Levy was seen as someone representing the complacent, self-satisfied Israeli government, still trapped in the belief that the enemy’s threats should not be taken seriously because they are too cowardly to act on them.

Within the National Public Diplomacy Directorate, Levy’s response was considered a media disaster, with some suggesting his removal as the spokesperson for international media. Fortunately, Mark Regev, formerly the international spokesperson for the prime minister, and Moshik Aviv, the head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate, believed that he should be given a second chance — and some direction.

“Yes, I thought I was funny,” Levy explains. “But as a government spokesperson and not just another guy on Twitter, my role is not to make people laugh. I responded with a dark, ‘deadpan’ British humor. But I wasn’t appointed to my job to do stand-up for the Israeli audience, and my humor didn’t work in this case. Once in about 200 interviews, I slip. It happens.”

Meanwhile, his family doesn’t stop bombarding him on WhatsApp. His brother sends him fresh news from an English website that came seconds after he said something at a press conference, and his mother writes excitedly on WhatsApp: “I’m bursting with pride; it’s crazy. I’m getting messages about you from people we haven’t heard from in years. Our bank manager called to say what a great job you’re doing.”

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein)

All of this is a far cry from the calm life he could have led in London.

“Sometimes, in difficult moments, I ask myself, ‘What do you need this adventure for?’ There, you can live a quiet life, without hassles. But then I remember that I have an important role in the story we are creating here, and it gives me a very serious Zionist drive. It reminds me why we have a country, why we need to fight for it, and why we cannot afford to raise our hands and give up.”

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