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Israel plans to recruit students for online diplomacy

August 14, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • An Israeli soldier looks at the Israel Defense Forces Facebook page in Jerusalem. As many as 550 bilingual students could join a project to post, tweet and blog pro-Israel content in return for scholarships and stipends.
An Israeli soldier looks at the Israel Defense Forces Facebook page in Jerusalem.… (Sebastian Scheiner / Associated…)

JERUSALEM -- With diplomacy migrating to social media and young activists increasingly shaping policy, Israeli authorities intend to tap university students to bolster the country's sagging image. 

According to Israeli media reports Tuesday, the government plans to recruit hundreds of bilingual students for an online army of hasbara, a local term for public diplomacy, to launch counter-campaigns against critics of its policies.

As many as 550 bilingual students could join the project to post, tweet and blog pro-Israel content in return for scholarships and stipends.

The program will be run by the Prime Minister's Office in coordination with the National Union of Israeli Students, who will screen and interview potential candidates. 

But the students would not have to disclose the government's involvement, thus making it look like an independent initiative.

"The idea requires that the state's role not be highlighted," would-be director of the new program, Daniel Seaman, wrote to the public tender committee, according to media reports.

The concept quickly drew criticism.

Fixing Israel's image problem calls for a change in policy, not "dirty tricks," said an editorial Wednesday in Haaretz. The daily newspaper also questioned whether Seaman, the past director of the government press office openly affiliated with the right-wing Likud party, was the best choice for overseeing public diplomacy.

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