Shalom Life | October 18, 2015

From Rockets to Sharply-Worded Barbs, Digital is the Middle East Conflict's Latest Front

As social media takes center stage, JAFI creates media war room to combat online attacks

By: Joshua Berkman

Published: November 21st, 2012 in News » World

More than 20 young, digital-savvy Diaspora Jews were redeployed from their Masa internships in Israel’s rocket-riddled South to The Jewish Agency for Israel’s new International New Media Center in Jerusalem. Working 12-hour shifts, the twenty-somethings have flooded social media channels with thousands of blogposts, comments, tweets and Facebook updates to promote Israel and correct falsehoods.

Recent Penn State graduate Josh Neuman, 22, is part of this digital platoon. He was teaching an elementary school class in Be’er Sheva last week when a siren wailed. He hurried his students from the second floor to the school’s basement where they waited out the attack. It was one of many similar school interruptions that children of Israel’s South have endured throughout their lives, but it never gets easier.

“I consider myself mentally tough but seeing these children crying and praying and hugging each other for comfort, I almost lost it,” Neuman recalled. “I had to keep it together for the children’s sake.”

Masa, an initiative supported by The Jewish Agency and the Israeli government, helps 10,000 young Jewish adults a year to intern, volunteer and study in Israel for 5 to 12 months. Like Neuman, many of the volunteer staff at the International New Media Center were relocated from danger zones in the South to staff the situation room and maintain a robust voice on the digital frontlines.

“I want to help create a network that ensures the flow of truth—of both sides,” Neuman said. “Maybe we can balance out the tides of the media war.”

Public opinion about this crisis is evolving 24/7. Not only do these college-aged kids offer an authentic voice to the narrative, they’re also developing advocacy skills that will serve the global Jewish family long after Hamas has fired its final rocket at Israeli civilians.

Avi Mayer—the Jewish Agency’s social media expert—has spearheaded this effort, in partnership with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit and the National Information Directorate. Mayer trained the Masa volunteers on digital advocacy for Israel and Israel’s broader public diplomacy efforts.

“It’s not enough that Israel is defending itself on the front lines,” Mayer said. “In the age we live in, a successful social media defense is Israel’s main weapon to win the battle for the hearts and minds of the world community.”


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