Feb 29 2012

Ambassadors online

Published by Editor at 11:05 am under Press Releases

A new program at the University of Haifa will train students to be unofficial “ambassadors” for Israel on the Internet. The students will learn how to confront the delegitimization of Israel that is present on the World Wide Web and on social networks in particular.

“Many Israelis don’t know how to respond to allegations against Israel or the most effective way to respond when confronted with articles, events or statements against Zionist values and goals,” explained Dr. Eli Avraham of the university’s Department of Communication, who is academic supervisor for the program. “We will introduce the students to response strategies best suited to different situations and train them to represent Israel on various media outlets.”

The “Web Ambassadors” diploma program will be launched this coming spring semester. Its students will acquire skills in writing Wikipedia entries and correcting tendentious entries about Israel on that platform; launching a Facebook group that will illustrate Israel’s side of the story and getting people with international influence to join it; writing blog opinion pieces; and dealing with anti-Israel activists in chat rooms and forums.

Online deligitimization activity is a broad arena, but the students will learn how the conflict is being portrayed in the global media and how the processes of delegitimizing Israel actually work; how the Arab “man in the street” views the conflict and how he perceives Israel; what the main issues are behind attacks on Israel; how the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses the Internet; and so on.

Lecturers in this program include renowned experts such as Dr. Reda Mansour (formerly Israel’s consul-general in Atlanta), Ms. Miri Eisen (formerly the prime minister’s foreign press adviser on the) Mr. Neil Lazarus (an external adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office on public diplomacy), and others.

“Today, the real battle is for public opinion,” says David Gurevitz, a doctoral student at the University of Haifa who initiated and coordinated the program. “This was blatant during the Turkish flotilla incident. We face a battery of anti-Israel organizations abroad that are busy spreading false information; Israel is portrayed as the world’s number-one violator of human rights; and IDF soldiers are described as cold-blooded killers,” he continues.

“Government ministries try to deal with the situation with the tools they have. A ministry spokesman can issue an official statement. But we, as students, can make personal connections and speak as a primary source. As young people living the Israeli reality, we have a real chance to influence people.”

Gurevitz believes that this study program, and especially the students’ activities after graduating, could be a first step towards their getting involved in more conventional diplomacy.

The program is free and open to all undergraduates and graduate students. It is supported by the Dean of Students, the Student Union and the Comper Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and Racism.

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