A team from the Israeli Foreign Ministry is using social media as a weapon to increase its influence in the Arab world.
The team’s mission is to use social media to persuade the Arab world to recognize a Zionist state.
The team is campaigning in Arabic on various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as part of a multi-pronged diplomatic effort to increase Israel’s acceptance among the people in the Middle East.
But this is not an easy task, even though Israel has recently signed various agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco with the help of the United States.
The scale of the campaign to change sentiments in the Arab world regarding Israel is indicated by a recent online controversy, in which Egyptian actor and singer Mohammed Ramzan poses for a party with Israeli celebrities in Dubai.
The Israeli social media team later re-posted the photos on Facebook and Twitter accounts, in which Mohamed Ramadan was seen holding the hand of Israeli crooner Omer Adam and they captioned it, “Art always brings us together.”
الفن دوما يجمعنا.. عرض الإعلامي الإماراتي حمد المزروعي صورة للنجم المصري محمد رمضان مع المطرب الإسرائيلي عومير آدام في دبي 🇮🇱🇪🇬🇦🇪 pic.twitter.com/sv4X3r5nUb
— إسرائيل بالعربية (@IsraelArabic) November 21, 2020
However, Egyptian celebrity faced backlash over his photograph with Israeli crooner Omer Adam and it also highlighted anti-Israel sentiment among most Egyptians who view any direct interaction with Israelis as taboo.
Israeli officials acknowledge that this is a major challenge because of the overwhelming support towards Palestinian people against Israeli occupation in the region.
The head of the social media team, Yonatan Gonen, said in an interview that the purpose of posting pictures of Mohamed Ramadan with Israeli celebrities was to show that the situation between Israelis and Arabs was “normal”.
He acknowledged that he was disappointed by the controversy, but said that the response had been positive and that it would take time for the generations to change.
A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Ofir Gendelman, said there was a growing number of people in the Arab world who see Israel as an ally and that there was open support from many on social media.
“With the growing peace process in the region, it has become more important to talk to our neighbours in their own language,” the spokesman said.
According to the spokesman, Israel plans to increase its reach to the people of the region through the Arabic language.
Mohamad Ramzan did not respond to a request for comment, but said on social media at the time of the controversy that he could not ask those who took pictures with him their nationalities: “I salute my Palestinian brothers.” ‘
Dr. Shahabi, a London-based doctor with dual citizenship in Bahrain and the United Kingdom, said the Arab world was still in favour of Palestine.
“This is not a success unless the popular ideology is changed,” he said, referring to the Israeli social media campaign.
Israel seeks broader Arab support through new agreements, compared to past peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan.
Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan in 1979 and 1994, respectively, which were maintained by the leadership of these countries, but there is no positive public opinion about them.
A report by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs in October 2020 found that 90% of Arab social media commentary on normalization agreements between August and September was negative.
According to the report, “Israel should prepare for an online campaign to create positive feelings for Israel in hearts and minds.”
An Israeli ministry official said the rate of negative commentary on social media had dropped to 75% in January.
The social media team consists of 10 people, including both Jews and Arabs.
For messages based on the team’s Arabic and Hebrew words of peace, “soft materials” such as music, food and sports are cited by Jonathan Gwynn.
The team was founded in 2011 but has grown since the news of the first deal surfaced last summer.
The team currently makes 700 social media posts a month.
During a recent visit to Dubai, Lorena Khateeb, a member of the team, shared a photo of herself with the Israeli flag on her back.
A few days later, Lorina operates an official Israeli account @IsraelintheGulf, but a similar picture was tweeted.
Lorina told the news agency that most of the people responded positively to the posts but some negative comments were also posted.
According to Yonatan Gonen, our goal is to create a process of engagement, communication and dialogue with Arabs.
“Our team is reaching 100 million people a month through social media accounts, more than double the number a year ago,” he said.
The team’s main Twitter account is Israel Arabic, where pictures of Muhammad Ramzan were posted, now the account has more than 425,000 followers.