Israel goes on the virtual offensive

The Israeli government is deploying new tactics to deepen ties with American youth and evangelicals.

Topics: Fashion, YouTube, Middle East,

Israel goes on the virtual offensive

For the moment at least, the state of Israel has 553 friends. One of them is Leonardo DiCaprio.

The 20-something Israeli official who is showing me Israel’s new MySpace page, however, says she isn’t sure if the link to the Hollywood heartthrob really leads to him. We’re sitting in the offices of the Israeli Consulate in New York, where Israel’s official MySpace page was launched in January under the direction of officials from the Foreign Ministry. The 20-something official mentions that the Philippines also now has its own MySpace page, adding excitedly, “They’re one of our friends, too. Isn’t that nice?”

According to its profile, Israel is a single female, 58 years old, a Taurus, who lives in Jerusalem. (When asked if Israel’s close ties with the United States meant that she should perhaps be listed as “in a relationship,” the young official demurred.) The MySpace page automatically greets visitors with a sleekly produced hip-hop song called “Peace in the Middle,” with lyrics in both English and Hebrew that include “Stop this holy war” and “What are we dying for?” It shows pictures of Israel’s beaches, glitzy hotels and the Tel Aviv skyline. In the section labeled “Who I’d Like to Meet,” it presents a slideshow of attractive young people who look lifted straight out of a fashion magazine. Israel, it seems, is mostly interested in meeting models.

The MySpace page is part of a wider effort, including Internet television and other online initiatives, led by an Israeli diplomat named David Saranga. Under Saranga’s direction, Israel hopes to reach out to young Americans by adding some hip and stylish gloss to Israel’s image and building a greater sense of connection in the process. Citing research on Israel’s image in the United States, Saranga told me recently: “We saw that we had a problem with the age group of 18 to 35, and the reason is that this group doesn’t see Israel as relevant. So we have to talk to them in their language, in platforms that they are using, and the new media is one of the ways to do so.”

In addition to the MySpace page, the state of Israel also now has its own blog — the first country-as-a-whole to have one, according to Saranga. The blog is called “isRealli” so as to incorporate the word “real.” It also sports the slightly odd subtitle, “The New Blog of Israel.” (“You can tell that the person who named it thinks they speak English better than they actually do,” one of the young officials in the consulate commented to me.)

Updated several times a day by anonymous government employees, some of the blog’s recent posts have been titled “Hummus Up to My Eyeballs,” “‘Mamma Mia’ in Israel,” and “Who Says We Can’t Dance?” Although these entries valiantly attempt to fit in with the informal and irreverent tone common to the blogosphere, they carry an unmistakable whiff of government talking points. The blog entry used to introduce the state of Israel’s MySpace page, for example, began, “We all know that Israel sometimes has a tough time making friends,” before urging readers to “join our friends list” and “check out our favorites.” A post from Thursday titled “Maximum Israel” notes that the widely read American men’s magazine Maxim has a forthcoming spread on the beauty of Israeli women — a feature the Israeli consulate pushed for as “part of our latest efforts to show a little more of Israel’s sexier side.” (The post further notes that Maxim’s editors were reluctant at first, but after they were sent pictures of 12 Israeli models, “it was smooth sailing from that moment on.”)

You Might Also Like

Israel is reaching out with other online initiatives. Both its blog and MySpace page link to videos on YouTube — many of them posted by a mysterious user named “Hollyyyyyyy” — which aim to make Israel look attractive in the eyes of young Americans and disarm the conflict-centric image so prevalent in the Western media. The videos highlight Israel’s achievements in technology, medicine, business and entertainment. They also show a lot of people wearing bikinis. There is nobody wearing a military uniform in the videos, even though military service is compulsory for all Israelis after they turn 18.

Another video, posted by a user called “Koshergirl2007,” is called “Gay Scene in Israel” and shows scenes from Israel’s Gay Pride Parades and gay nightclubs. It is meant to demonstrate to America’s gay population that Israel is a gay-friendly country. This is also a theme frequently highlighted on the blog. Saranga says that this is just “presenting the reality” in Israel. “When we speak in front of gay audiences” in the United States, he says “sometimes they are amazed at how liberal Israel is.”

Inevitably, though, Israel’s new media push could not be free from politics, which arrived in part with Israel’s recent blog posting about the big European music competition, Eurovision. For the competition — which takes place this May and is wildly popular in Europe and all over the Middle East — each country chooses a representative band and song. Not everyone is happy with Israel’s choice. There was talk recently by the event’s organizers of banning Israel’s entry for politicizing the Eurovision competition, though they have elected not to do so. Teapacks, the band representing Israel, will be singing a song called “Push the Button,” an apparent criticism of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. Israel’s blog promotes the country’s Eurovision entry and links to a YouTube video that shows the band performing the controversial song. The multilingual lyrics include “There are some crazy rulers/ they hide and try to fool us/ with demonic, technological willingness to harm,” and the refrain, “They’re gonna push the button, push the button, push the button, push the button.”

In fact, in the near future the Foreign Ministry will launch a second blog, one devoted exclusively to politics. The plan is to have Israeli Foreign Ministry officials post their thoughts on the current political situation in Israel and the Middle East, and allow readers around the world to post responses. Some worry it is an online war waiting to erupt, but Saranga remains optimistic. “The government of Israel will have a direct dialogue with readers everywhere,” he explains.

In April, Saranga and his colleagues are also set to launch an Internet television station aimed at American evangelicals and other Christians. According to one of the officials involved in the project, the station will have content that “speaks to Christians of all denominations” and “shows Christian movies and clips.” All this, he said, would be accompanied by a “really funky design” that is being coordinated by “Christian experts” hired by the Israeli government. It’s not clear whether the site will include a link to the “Gay Scene in Israel” video on YouTube.

Saranga and other Israeli officials are proud of Israel’s MySpace page and other nascent efforts to break into new media. They point to some early improvement in relations that have gone beyond American youth. “We were surprised by the kinds of people who wanted to be friends with Israel,” one of them told me, mentioning that the blog sometimes receives visitors from Saudi Arabia and Iran. For a while, he said, Israel’s bloggers were regularly conversing with someone from the United Arab Emirates, though eventually it became clear that he was only interested in trying to sell them real estate. Still, the official remained enthusiastic about the overall effort to show “the young lady that Israel is and what she’s got to offer!”

As of this publication, she now has 937 friends on MySpace, though it is still unclear whether one of them is the real Leonardo DiCaprio.

Salon contributor Gregory Levey is the author of the memoir, "Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government." He is on faculty at Ryerson University, and blogs at Gregory

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>