Creating people's geographies
07.28.2006 | The Times
From Yonit Farago in Jerusalem
WHILE Israel fights Hezbollah with tanks and aircraft, its supporters are campaigning on the internet.
Israel’s Government has thrown its weight behind efforts by supporters to counter what it believes to be negative bias and a tide of pro-Arab propaganda. The Foreign Ministry has ordered trainee diplomats to track websites and chatrooms so that networks of US and European groups with hundreds of thousands of Jewish activists can place supportive messages.
In the past week nearly 5,000 members of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) have downloaded special “megaphone” software that alerts them to anti-Israeli chatrooms or internet polls to enable them to post contrary viewpoints. A student team in Jerusalem combs the web in a host of different languages to flag the sites so that those who have signed up can influence an opinion survey or the course of a debate.
Jonny Cline, of the international student group, said that Jewish students and youth groups with their understanding of the web environment were ideally placed to present another side to the debate.
“We’re saying to these people that if Israel is being bashed, don’t ignore it, change it,” Mr Cline said. “A poll like CNN’s takes just a few seconds to vote in, but if thousands take part the outcome will be changed. What’s vital is that the international face of the conflict is balanced.”
Doron Barkat, 29, in Jerusalem, spends long nights trawling the web to try to swing the debate Israel’s way. “When I see internet polls for or against Israel I send out a mailing list to vote for Israel,” he said. “It can be that after 15 minutes there will be 400 votes for Israel.
“It’s very satisfying. There are also forums where Lebanese and Israelis talk.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry must avoid direct involvement with the campaign but is in contact with international Jewish and evangelical Christian groups, distributing internet information packs.
Amir Gissin, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s public relations director, said: “The internet’s become a leading tool for news, shaping the world view of millions. Our problem is the foreign media shows Lebanese suffering, but not Israeli. We’re bypassing that filter by distributing pictures showing how northern Israelis suffer from Katyusha rocket attacks.”