Israel fights 24/7 infowar against Iran in cyberspace

In response to the Iranian government’s recent media war against Israel on satellite television and the Internet, Israel’s Foreign Ministry last month launched its own offensive — a Persian-language pro-Israel Web site. Although the site’s first aim is to teach Persian-language readers about Israel, it also gives Iranians in Iran a different perspective on their own government’s activities. And for all these reasons, the site, — Persian for “camaraderie” — is also of great interest to Los Angeles’ large Iranian community.

Hamdami has been praised by local Iranian Jews and Muslims for reaching out to average Iranians who are constantly fed anti-Israel propaganda by Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime.

“I believe it’s a well-designed, balanced, factual and informative site,” said Sam Kermanian, Secretary General of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “The content is less about Israel and more about political issues relevant to all people of the Middle East.”

Politically active Iranian Muslims in Southern California who have used the Internet to reach out to Iranians, particularly the student-run opposition groups, see opportunities in Hamdami.

“A site like this can definitely influence everyday Iranians and brings them closer to Israel despite the negative brainwashing they might have received from the government,” said Roozbeh Farahanipour, head of the Marze Por Gohar Party, an Iranian political opposition group based in Westwood.

Farahanipour said the reach of the Iranian regime’s anti-Israel campaign goes beyond its own hate-filled Web sites; it has also provided financial backing for multiple anti-Israel, pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic blogs through the Web site. Orkut is a free international social networking Web site for non-Westerners set up by Google.

Los Angeles Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch said the Hamdami site is the first effort by Israel’s Foreign Ministry in nearly 30 years to open a direct channel of dialogue to Iranians in Iran.

“We have always distinguished completely between the people of Iran — who we believe are striving for peace — and the Iranian regime, which is very radical,” Danoch said. “We believe that it’s a tremendous step in Israel’s public diplomacy when it comes to the issue of Iran.”

The Hamdami site offers information in Persian about the Holocaust, a response to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denier’s convention in Tehran last year. The site also gives readers opportunities to interact directly with Israeli officials.

“There will be a Q-and-A for people from Iran to ask questions from the government of Israel through this Internet site, and they will receive answers from us directly,” Danoch said.

Various online surveys and estimates indicate that as many as 11 million people from among Iran’s population of 70 million use the Internet. Farahanipour said even though the Iranian government may be able to block the Israeli site, Iranians will find ways to gain access.

“I think this site can still be very beneficial even if blocked, as it is likely that other Persian-language sites that are not blocked will reference it as a source — so Iranians may ultimately obtain this information from the Israeli government one way or another,” Farahanipour said.

According to a poll of Iranians living in Iran conducted by the Center for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (CFPD), an L.A.-based Iranian American nonprofit, 70 percent of Iranians do not agree that Israel should be destroyed and another 65 percent do not believe Ahmadinejad’s statements about the Holocaust.

Danoch said that later this month the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles will have its own formal event to launch the Hamdami site and welcome local Persian-language newspapers, radio programs and television stations to attend. A year ago, the Consulate first reached out to Los Angeles’ Persian-language media outlets broadcasting into Iran by holding a press conference responding to Iran’s leaders who were calling for Israel’s destruction. The gathering was the first public interaction between the Israeli government and the Iranian media in more than 25 years.

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said that while the Hamdami Web site is a productive first step by the Israeli government to reach out to Iran’s population, the Iranian government is still winning the public relations war in the United States and Europe.

“They [Iranian officials] seem to be very effective in arguing their half-truths, untruths and proliferating them into the Western media, which in turn feeds it to Western public opinion,” Kermanian said. “They are also gaining momentum in their direct and indirect lobbying efforts in Western capitals, including Washington D.C.”