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Op-Ed: Time for Israel Advocacy 2.0

NEW YORK (JTA) — A recent online search of the phrase "Zionism is racism" yielded 1.3 million Web pages. "Israel + apartheid" turned up a cool 231,000 hits. Type the word "Israel" into Facebook or YouTube and more than likely you will be confronted with user-generated content created by people who do not hold pro-Israel views.

Things are not much better over at the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Palestinians and their sympathizers have added "al Nakba," an Arabic term meaning "the catastrophe," to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War entry. On Google Earth, sophisticated Palestinian 2.0 advocates have tagged many Israeli towns and cities with their Arabic names. Both Google and Wikipedia — two Internet behemoths — take cover behind editorial neutrality and free speech, remaining unmoved by Jewish community concerns.

In short, our adversaries have gone 2.0 in their battle to delegitimize Israel, and the recent military operation in Gaza is yet another indication of how Palestinian activists are using the Web to manipulate the public affairs aspects of the debate. A Jan. 18 Jerusalem Post article reported that on Facebook, 648,828 users signed up for the STOP Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza application. Only 342,892 users installed QassamCount, a pro-Israel application that updates the user’s status with current data showing the number of Kassam rockets that have been fired into Israel from Gaza.

Letter-writing campaigns, used with discretion, may actually help to change a particular media outlet’s take on a certain issue. But these tactics alone are not sufficient for capturing the hearts and minds of people all over the world who are increasingly going online for news, analysis and discussion.

As more Jews and non-Jews seek out information online, use social networking tools and watch short form videos, we must train Israel advocates to effectively engage these forums. We must garner our communal resources to train and unleash the next generation of storytellers, bloggers and social media gurus to tell Israel’s full story in compelling ways.

If the rise of the Internet and the decentralization of media have shown us anything, it is that information will not reach people unless it is presented in unique ways that succinctly communicate its point. We need to find innovative ways to tell, share and distribute those stories in a variety of formats, including e-mail, blogs, vlogs, music videos and whatever other platforms emerge in this fast-paced media environment.

It is also clear that we are well outnumbered, which is why a much more concerted effort is needed. Those of us who care about Israel’s agenda and how the future narrative will be portrayed need to mobilize our community to man the battle stations from our laptops.

Each day we hear about newspapers and magazines that are either shutting down or laying off record numbers of staff.  As far as we are concerned, the writing is on the wall. A few months ago, the Israel Advocacy Initiative — a joint project of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the United Jewish Communities — launched a Facebook group to create discussion about online Israel advocacy.

For years we’ve been using new media to disseminate "Israel beyond the conflict" stories that aim to educate and inspire the Jewish as well as the broader community. Recently we created a Twitter account (twitter.com/IsraelAdvocacy), where we plan to "tweet" about the latest online advocacy methods, Israeli news and other topics related to pro-Israel activism. We’ve adopted these methods in an effort to digitize our advocacy and frame the discussion online now and in the future.

This is the new frontier in public affairs. It’s time to hop aboard.

(Amos Kamil is the director of the Israel Advocacy Initiative.)

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