NAZARETH. ISRAEL // The passionate support for Israel expressed on talkback sections of websites, internet chat forums, blogs, Twitters and Facebook may not be all that it seems.
Israel’s foreign ministry is reported to be establishing a special undercover team of paid workers whose job it will be to surf the internet 24 hours a day spreading positive news about Israel.
Internet-savvy Israeli youngsters, mainly recent graduates and demobilised soldiers with language skills, are being recruited to pose as ordinary surfers while they provide the government’s line on the Middle East conflict.
"To all intents and purposes the internet is a theatre in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we must be active in that theatre, otherwise we will lose," said Ilan Shturman, who is responsible for the project.
The existence of an "internet warfare team" came to light when it was included in this year’s foreign ministry budget. About $150,000 (Dh551,000) has been set aside for the first stage of development, with increased funding expected next year.
The team will fall under the authority of a large department already dealing with what Israelis term "hasbara", officially translated as "public explanation" but more usually meaning propaganda. That includes not only government public relations work but more secretive dealings the ministry has with a battery of private organisations and initiatives that promote Israel’s image in print, on TV and online.
In an interview this month with the Calcalist, an Israeli business newspaper, Mr Shturman, the deputy director of the ministry’s hasbara department, admitted his team would be working undercover.
"Our people will not say: 'Hello, I am from the hasbara department of the Israeli foreign ministry and I want to tell you the following.’ Nor will they necessarily identify themselves as Israelis," he said. "They will speak as net-surfers and as citizens, and will write responses that will look personal but will be based on a prepared list of messages that the foreign ministry developed."
Rona Kuperboim, a columnist for Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website, denounced the initiative, saying it indicated that Israel had become a "thought-police state".
She added that "good PR cannot make the reality in the occupied territories prettier. Children are being killed, homes are being bombed, and families are starved."
Her column was greeted by several talkbackers asking how they could apply for a job with the foreign ministry’s team.
The project is a formalisation of public relations practices the ministry developed specifically for Israel’s assault on Gaza in December and January.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Israel Deploys Cyber Team to Spread Positive Spin -- Jonathan Cook
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