Families of US citizens killed in Israel terror attacks sue Facebook for $1 billion


The families of five American citizens killed in terror attacks in Israel are suing Facebook for $1 billion, accusing the social network of providing material support to Hamas for its incitement and violence.

Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, an advocacy organization based in Israel, filed the lawsuit Sunday night in Manhattan federal court. The suit alleges that Facebook is violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act by assisting terror groups such as Hamas in “recruiting, radicalizing, and instructing terrorists, raising funds, creating fear and carrying out attacks.”

The lead plaintiffs have been identified as Stuart and Robbi Force, the parents of Taylor Force, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University and a U.S. Army veteran who was killed in March in a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv. Force had been on a school trip to Israel to study the tech industry.

The other plaintiffs are the relatives of dual Israel and U.S. citizens, including the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, who was kidnapped from a West Bank bus stop and murdered along with two other Israeli teens in June 2014; the parents of Chaya Zissel Braun, 3 months, who was killed in a car-ramming attack in Jerusalem in October 2014; the son of Richard Lakin, 76, killed in a stabbing attack on a bus in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem; and Menachem Mendel Rivkin, who was seriously wounded in a January stabbing attack in Jerusalem.

“Facebook has knowingly provided material support and resources to Hamas in the form of Facebook’s online social media network platform and communication services,” the plaintiffs alleged in a statement issued to the media. “Hamas has used and relied on Facebook’s online social network platform and communications services as among its most important tools to facilitate and carry out its terrorist activity.”

Facebook did not comment on the lawsuit when asked by several news outlets.

Since September, 34 Israelis and two American tourists have been killed in a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets.

Shurat HaDin was part of a class-action lawsuit filed last October by 20,000 Israelis against Facebook in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn claiming that Facebook posts have inspired many recent terror attacks.

According to that suit, “Facebook’s algorithms and platform connect inciters to terrorists who are further encouraged to perpetrate stabbings and other violence attacks against Israelis.”

Shimon Peres on Facebook: I’m not quite dead yet


Amid rumors of his death, Shimon Peres took to social media to reassure the public he was very much alive.

Rumors flew around social media Monday that the 92-year-old Peres had died, starting on Whatsapp groups and snowballing from there.

“I wish to thank the citizens of Israel for the support, concern and interest, and wish to clarify that the rumors are false,” Peres said in a Facebook post. “I’m continuing with my daily schedule as usual to do whatever I can to assist The State of Israel and its citizens.”

Peres retired as president of Israel in 2014 after more than half a century in public life.

It is believed the death of someone else named Shimon Peres may have sparked the rumors.

20,000 Israelis sue Facebook for ignoring Palestinian incitement


A class-action lawsuit against Facebook is accusing the social media platform of ignoring widespread Palestinian posts calling for violence against Jews.

In the suit filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the 20,000 Israeli plaintiffs claim the Facebook posts have inspired many recent terror attacks and that “Facebook’s algorithms and platform connects inciters to terrorists who are further encouraged to perpetrate stabbings and other violence attacks against Israelis.”

According to a news release issued by the plaintiffs, many recent assailants “were motivated to commit their heinous crimes by incitement to murder they read on Facebook — demagogues and leaders exhorting their followers to ‘slaughter the Jews,’ and offering instruction as to the best manner to do so, including even anatomical charts showing the best places to stab a human being.”

The suit alleges that Facebook has a “legal and moral obligation” to block much of this content but that it chooses not to.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against Facebook requiring the social network to “immediately remove all pages, groups and posts containing incitement to murder Jews; to actively monitor its website for such incitement that all incitement is immediately removed prior to being disseminated to masses of terrorists and would-be terrorists; and to cease serving as matchmaker between terrorists, terrorist organizations, and those who incite others to commit terrorism.”

The complaint does not seek monetary damages against Facebook.

The lead plaintiff, Richard Lankin, 76, is in critical condition after having been shot and stabbed by Palestinian terrorists while riding on a crowded Jerusalem bus on Oct. 13. Two Israelis were killed and more than 20 were wounded in the attack.

Three attorneys — Robert Tolchin of New York; Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, and Asher Perlin of Fort Lauderdale, Florida — filed the suit.

In a news release issued by her organization, Darshan-Leitner said, “Facebook wields tremendous power and this publicly traded company needs to utilize it in a way that ensures that Palestinian extremists who are calling to stab Israelis and glorifying the terrorist that do, are not permitted to do it on its platform.”

An article published Saturday by The Associated Press said that social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, is the “number one source of news among young Palestinians.” Some 3.7 million Palestinians follow the Quds News Network, believed to be affiliated with Islamic Jihad, on the social media platform and 4.2 million follow the Shehab News Network, which is believed to be affiliated with Hamas, AP reported.

The audiences of Palestinian Facebook groups “dwarf those of more traditional news sources,” according to the AP.

The ‘Tweetifada’ hits Facebook with graphic videos of violence


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Facebook feeds of Israelis and Palestinians are being swamped with videos claiming to offer the “truth” of the series of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis that have left seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians dead this month.

On social media some are calling it a “tweetifada.” This is a play on the Palestinian term for uprising, Intifada, and a nod to the videos and images that are being posted on social media on an hourly basis. During the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, the internet was just emerging as a medium and a smartphone was unheard of. But today everything is recorded and uploaded quickly to the internet.

“There are videos circulating in two different networks…both sides in the conflict and their supporters… are distributing videos that they think make their case stronger,” Nicholas John, from the department of Communications at Hebrew University, told The Media Line. This is not a new field in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what is different is the instantaneous speed with which images can spread.

The second change is the unfiltered images swamping social media.

“(This) completely bypasses any kind of censorship… we are exposed now to far more gruesome images than we would have seen on the news,” John suggested. This reduces the distance people feel from the violence, making it seem more real and intimidating, he said. Such was the case with the video below.

13th October Vehicle Attack in Jerusalem

The feelings of young Palestinians viewing images and videos online, “range from pride to fear to excitement to a feeling of abandonment,” Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and columnist for Al-Monitor, told The Media Line. Three quarters of Palestinians are under the age of 29, and many are active on Facebook.

Videos being shared among Palestinian social media users tend to fall into three areas, Kuttab suggested. Those showing clashes between protestors and Israeli security forces; those showing alleged brutality by the Israeli military; and those demonstrating what Palestinians see as peaceful resistance by an underdog towards heavily armed Israeli soldiers. Of the most popular recent videos, Kuttab said, shows an elderly Palestinian man in a red headscarf scolding soldiers in Hebron for firing their weapons at Palestinian children. These videos show a “young person or a woman ignoring the fact that these men are very well armed and shouting at them – it gives people a sense of pride,” the journalist explained.

Inevitably, interpretations over what a video is showing and the context of the incident come down to the eye of the beholder. “We have this idea that a photograph (or video) should somehow tell us the truth of what actually happened but we know it hasn’t always,” John explained.

Shooting of Fadi Alon

The above video shows an incident where a 19 year-old Palestinian from Isawiya, Fadi Alon, was shot and killed by Israeli police on October 4. Two conflicting accounts of what happened immediately prior to the incident have immerged.

In the Israeli version, Alon stabbed and injured an Israeli and was neutralized by police in their efforts to end an ongoing terrorist attack.

In the Palestinian explanation, Alon scuffled with right-wing Jewish activists he encountered while they were marching in the street, shouting racist slogans. As the fight escalated police arrived and, urged on by the Jewish youths, shot the teenager while he posed no immediate threat to those around him.

Such differences of interpretations, and the narratives used to push them, make up a large part of the information being exchanged on networks like Facebook. People frequently view information that reinforces their existing political views.

Videos which clearly show Palestinians attacking Israeli civilians are shared less frequently on Palestinian social media networks, Kuttab suggested. When they are, an explanation is given for the action. “(The) narrative is described as attacks against settlers and soldiers, not against innocent civilians – “settler” is code word for justifiable resistance,” the journalist explained.

Israel conquered east Jerusalem in 1967 and immediately annexed it. Israelis see it as part of their capital; Palestinians as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Most of the 300,000 Palestinians who live in the city do not have citizenship, but their Jerusalem residency entitles them to Israeli health insurance and social security. Young Palestinians from east Jerusalem have been overwhelmingly responsible for the current wave of stabbings and shootings of Israeli Jews.

Some Palestinians view the stabbings as an understandable response to the ongoing violence of the Israeli “occupation”, Kuttab argued, asking, “Do people think these guys are heroes? Yes, they are heroes. We are an underdog population using low technology against an occupying power.”

Increasingly not just the opinions of the street but government narrative is also being pushed through videos and social media. The Israeli Government Press Office responded to allegations by Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that Israel had “executed” a 13 year old Palestinian who stabbed two Israelis. Israel released a video showing a nurse feeding the youth jello in an Israeli hospital.

There are also the funny videos – often using black humor. Following a video showing an Israeli policewoman pointing her weapon at a Palestinian attacker in northern Israel while continuing to hold her ice cream in one hand, social media responded with the final video.

Ice Cream Satire

Israel says Facebook, YouTube videos encouraging Palestinian attacks


Israel said on Thursday it had asked Facebook and YouTube to remove videos it says have been encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis in the past week.

Four Israelis have been killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the past week, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services. Three suspected Palestinian assailants have been killed by police.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, providing an excerpt from a letter sent to Google Israel, whose parent company owns YouTube, said contact had also been made with Facebook.

“The videos depict recent terror attacks, praise the assailants and present Jews and Israelis in a hateful and racist manner, and since their publishing, three more attacks have taken place so far,” the letter said.

Spokespeople for Facebook and Google Inc said they could not comment on specific videos or contacts with governments.

“YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users,” said Google spokesman Paul Solomon.

The letter to Google included two YouTube video links, one of which has already been removed.

In one clip, archived on an Israeli news site, a song in Arabic-accented Hebrew calls for the killing of “Zionists” while another is an animation of the drive-by shooting of an Israeli couple killed in the West Bank a week ago.

Asked about the Israeli appeal, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook.”

The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Facebook had received complaints about anti-Arab postings.

But she said Facebook, as a rule, urged people “to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.”

Social media sites often flare-up when Israeli-Palestinian violence rises, such as the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, with fiery debates between users and sometimes even officials or fighters on either side, spreading across digital platforms.

A comment posted this week on the Facebook page of a prominent far-right Israeli settler activist called for people to use clubs to beat Arabs in Jerusalem's Old City, where two Israelis were stabbed to death.

Jewish tech billionaire gives $100M to Stephen Hawking’s search for aliens


A Jewish-Russian tech billionaire is teaming up with renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to launch an unprecedented search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.

Yuri Milner, an investor in tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Spotify, is dedicating $100 million to the 10-year project, called the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, according to the French news agency AFP. The initiative will use powerful telescopes to scan the stars, reaching farther than previous methods employing radio signals or lasers.

The project will be 50 times more sensitive than previous attempts and scan 10 times more area, according to AFP. Milner said the project will take the search for aliens to “a completely new level.”

But Hawking warned that dangers come along with the project: If a civilization is far more developed than the Earth’s, it may view humans as unevolved and of no value.

“A civilization reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead,” Hawking said, according to AFP. “If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

Anti-Semitic fliers delivered to Sydney Jewish neighborhoods


Anti-Semitic fliers were dropped in the mailboxes of private homes in Jewish suburbs of Sydney.

Residents of Bondi Beach and Double Bay, which contain large numbers of Sydney’s 40,000-plus Jewish community, found the flier in their mailboxes on Monday.

“Wake up Australia,” the flier reads. “Jews have been kicked out of countries 109 times through history. … Could it be that having them in a European country is harmful to the host?”

The flier included an invitation to join Squadron 88 and check out the local white supremacist group on Facebook. It also included a reference to Stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi website, and to check them out on Facebook.

“The flier is an appalling litany of racist stereotypes, all too predictable from neo-Nazi organizations,” said New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff. “It’s no coincidence that 88, which appears on the flier, represents HH, which stands for Heil Hitler.”

The flier also reads, “The Jews own all Hollywood studios & 97% of US newspapers and media. Any movie or tv show you watch may well be coming straight from Israel.”

Police are investigating the flier, the latest episode in a spike of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Australia since the start of the war in Gaza seven weeks ago.

Alhadeff said his organization complained to Facebook, but the social media platform said it had reviewed the Squadron 88 page and it “doesn’t violate our community standards.”

“It is very disappointing that Facebook fails to grasp the import of what is expressed in the flier,” Alhadeff said. “If the people at Facebook who are tasked with monitoring its standards don’t consider this flier to be hate speech, what is?”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose district includes the two suburbs, condemned the flier as “a crude and vicious attempt to intimidate and insult the Jewish community.” He added, “Racism must be opposed, called out and condemned wherever it is found.”

S. African union official calls for ‘wrath’ against Jewish leaders


A South African union leader called for “eye for an eye” attacks on Jewish communal officials in retribution for civilian deaths in Gaza.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Tony Ehrenreich, a trade union official and the 2011 Cape Town mayoral candidate for the African National Congress party, condemned the “killings and maimings that have been taking place in Gaza.” He accused the Israel Defense Forces of “attempts to steal the Palestinian lands.”

Ehrenreich wrote that South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies, the national Jewish communal organization, should suffer for its support of Israel.

“This makes the Jewish Board of Deputies complicit in the murder of the people in Gaza,” he wrote. “The time has come to say very clearly that if a woman or child is killed in Gaza, then the Jewish board of deputies, who are complicit, will feel the wrath of the People of SA with the age old biblical teaching of an eye for an eye.”

Israeli Arab reinstated at job after suspension over anti-IDF Facebook post


An Arab nurse at an Israeli hospital suspended from his job for a Facebook post that calls the Israeli military “war criminals” was reinstated.

The Arab-Israeli male nurse at Sheba Medical Center must issue a public apology to the hospital administration, according to reports.

The agreement between the nurse and the hospital came on Wednesday, a day before a scheduled hearing at the Tel Aviv labor court.

Several Israeli-Arabs reportedly have been fired from their jobs during Israel’s current Gaza operation, for statements against Israel or the Israel Defense Forces.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel this week stressed that employers are forbidden from firing a worker just because of his or her viewpoints or online comments.

ACRI in a statement “also has reminded the public that in general, employers bear no responsibility for statements made by their employees in the context of their personal lives outside of the workplace. It is forbidden for employers to spy on their employees or interfere in their personal lives by imposing sanctions or threats thereof.”

The organization also stressed that Israel’s Law for Equal Opportunities in the Workplace “prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his/her viewpoint unless the comments made affect the professional functioning of the employee.”

Showing some skin for the troops


Some support Israel’s troops with prayer; others support them by raising money. But some are supporting the troops by showing a little skin.

The Facebook page “Standing With IDF” was designed for women to show their support and boost soldiers’ morale with racy photos. The page features pictures of scantily clad women with messages of support to the Israel Defense Forces written on their bodies.

The page was unpublished by Facebook after a few days, and a new one with the same name has been created. It has spurred a slew of copycat pages.

Yafit Duer, the page’s volunteer moderator, said that she and her colleagues are working to get the original page up again.

The original page described its purpose as follows:

Fighting for the Israeli front. You’ll guard on top, we’ll guard your bottoms! We will win this battle of beauty for you.

Dear beloved IDF soldiers, we are here as an act of appreciation, you do not need to wait for 72 ugly virgins, you are our heroes. The beauty of Israel girls is waiting for you, here back home. Come back to us.

Additionally: among this page’s fans, we will have a monthly IDF soldier picked out for the special treatment… you know what they say, girls love heroes.

We would love to get your pics

Gavriel Beyo, the page’s creator, also started a similar page for men to post nude pictures. (That page was also removed, but it has not been replaced and hasn’t inspired copycats.)

Judging from messages posted to the “Standing With IDF” Facebook page, plenty of soldiers are enjoying it. “Thank you a thousand times, you girls are amazing me, and the paratroopers love you,” one soldier wrote.

But the page is not without its critics.

Jenny Kutner wrote on Salon that she hopes that “Standing With IDF has some deeper meaning I don’t see. Because a lot of people are dying, and that isn’t usually why people decide to show their boobs.”

Beyo, who has an advertising agency and runs an investment company, wrote to JTA: “You can say I was trying to romanticize IDF and Israel… [and] boost the soldiers sacrificing their lives and best years for us. I got reminded of the old days’ Pin-Up pictures of girls, you always see the soldiers looking at before battle, and thought that after a gloomy and scaring battle — that can serve as an ease.”

Beyo said he had received thousands of positive responses and was told that after returning from operations members of one unit look at the page before calling home, taking a shower or eating.

 

War during the social media era: Israel-Hamas war’s toxic tweets


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

A photograph of a wounded Israeli soldier lying on a gurney appeared on a Facebook page above the comment reading, “I hope all Israeli soldiers come back this way if not at all,” followed by a smiley face computer symbol.

As disturbing as the apparent message was, the subtext was equally troubling. The post came from a student at Jerusalem’s Hadassah College, an institution that boasts a student body that is 20% Arab-Israeli or Palestinian and a history of positive relations between its varied ethnicities.

Students responded with posters affixed to walls throughout the campus declaring, “Racism. Not in our School!” Hadassah College administration reacted swiftly with a summons to the office of the president who expelled the student and rescinded her scholarship.

To many familiar with the incident, more troubling than its occurrence is the growing belief that it symbolizes something far more insidious: a rapidly increasing toxicity of the environment shared by Jews and Muslims; Israelis and Palestinians facilitated by a potent weapon new to the theater of war: social media.

Gershon Baskin of the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) rues “the level of hatred by Israelis and Palestinians in social media and those who support them.” Baskin says, “The pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian movements have reached a level [of hatred] I haven’t ever seen before in my life…I've done things I have never done in my life and removed people from my Facebook and twitter. I posted instructions on my wall stating my Facebook wall is my home; you should respect my home and each other. We can argue here but respectfully, but if you can't follow those rules, you are out of here.”

Senior Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein agrees that newfound angst is spreading at an alarming speed. “An outcome of the war has been a dangerous sense of hatred, where meetings between Israelis and Palestinians are being cancelled. I also do not see either side interviewing the other. You barely see an Arab on Israeli television,” he said.

Before Israel launched its current military incursion into the Gaza Strip, Facebook was, as advertised, “social” media. It was used by Palestinians primarily as a means to inform about engagements, weddings and baby arrivals. But in 2014, social media is arguably the weapon of choice with which to defend the respective narratives of both Israelis and Palestinians.  Since the outbreak of the latest hostilities in Gaza, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are as important to the flow of information and opinion as are newspapers, radio and television.

“In the old days, media used to feed the public with news. In today's world of advanced technology, the people, through social networks, feed the media with news,” said Elias Zananiri, vice chairman of The Palestinian Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society.  The organization was founded in 2012 to convey the Palestinian message to Israelis, in ways that includes bringing Israelis on visits to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian leadership.

“Obviously after the war on Gaza, things have changed a little bit because every side is busy with its own problems,” he told The Media Line. Despite this, he says the message of the committee has not changed as they “try to emphasize to our Israeli interlocutors that at the end of the day, there has to be a political solution to the current war and nothing else because no military force can solve the Arab Israeli conflict,” he said.

Karmel Khaled is also trying to get what she sees as the Palestinian message out, and uses social media to do so. She says she was “inspired by the pain” to create a YouTube video about Gaza to not only “spread the message of what’s really going on, but to get someone to do something about it.”  

In Khaled’s online video, “Believe it or Not: Gaza”, Palestinians hold up signs which read, “Gaza Under Attack”; “Children Have a Right to Live”; “Injustice”; “Protect Gaza” and “West Bank and Gaza are One” before displaying still photos of men, women and children in Gaza.   

“What is important now is to tell others in the West that there is a Palestine since most of them are not familiar with Palestine and think it is Pakistan,” said Khaled, a fourth-year  media student at Al-Quds Bard Honors College for Liberal Arts and Sciences. She told The Media Line that she wants Israelis and Jews who see her video “to believe in our rights to live and have freedom.”

Anger characterizes many debates between Israeli and Palestinian partisans that fill Facebook pages. A Palestinian recently posted on a photograph of Israeli soldiers crying at a funeral for one of their fallen, adding a caption reading, “Good to see the love being shared for a change. May your tears and pain never stop.”

While the social network was created to allow friends to connect with one another, the recent violence in Gaza has put many friendships on the fringe.

Ibtesam Humiedan  is not usually an active Facebook member, “but with what is happening today in Gaza, I find myself always checking my Facebook for updates, news, and  sharing and creating posts,” the Bethlehem resident told The Media Line, saying “it has become a duty to speak up and tell the truth.”  One of her Facebook friends is an Israeli, who also happens to be a former colleague. She explains that “under better circumstances, we would never comment on each other’s posts. Now, we do when it has to do with Gaza.”  And it’s not pleasant.  “Conversations become very heated very fast. What started out as comments quickly become attacks.” Describing the phenomenon as “unbearable” and “senseless,” Humiedan said that all of her friends have urged her to remove her Israeli colleague from her Facebook page, or to at least stop responding to his comments. “But I keep him on my list because I want to know how average Israelis like him think and how they can justify their government’s action.”

@tweet_palestine is a pro-Palestinian on-line activist who says she “can relate.” Out of fear, she gave The Media Line only her Twitter name, explaining that she’s “been attacked by the Palestinian Authority; the Israeli army spokesman; and right-wing politicians,” and sees herself in danger. She’s been told things like, “We hope you’ll get bombed along with the Palestinians”; and “You should be one of the people killed in Gaza.”  She says it’s crucial that Palestinians use all of the technology available to them in order to show the truth. Using the Hebrew word for public awareness, @tweet_palestine says, “This means posting images to ‘fight the Israeli propaganda machine and Israeli ‘hasbara.”’

Professor Mohammad S. Dajani Daoudi says that, “sending creative but truthful messages through the social media enhance the effectiveness of the Palestinian cause; while cursing the other and sending death threats only backfires and alienates those searching for the truth.” Daoudi recently made the news when he resigned from the faculty of Al-Quds University after coming under criticism for taking Palestinian students and faculty to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps earlier this year.

In an email, he wrote The Media Line that, “In these dark hours we need to keep our eyes on the ball and do not let hate and enmity blind us. Moderation, peace, and reconciliation are our only option and are the only path we should take if not for our own welfare then for the security and prosperity for our children and grandchildren.”

Shireen Yassin agrees.  When she was 16 years, she, along with other Palestinians, went to a camp with Israelis where the main principle taught was peace. “I still believe that there should be a solution,” she told The Media Line, saying that she has Israeli friends who post pro-Palestinian messages on social media.

Meanwhile, rejecting call to join the boycott of Israeli goods, supermarket owner Omar Salah says his store’s inventory includes 30% Israeli products and he has no intention of take them off the shelves because of what’s happening in Gaza. “Boycotts are not for people who are under occupation,” he told The Media Line.  Nevertheless, he says the amount of Israeli goods has declined since the onset of violence [second Intifada] in 2000. “Violence always makes things worse for everybody,” Salah lamented.

Zananiri agrees. “Whether today or tomorrow, the war will end,” he says. “The main question is the day after the war is over, where are we going? What are we going to do? Both Palestinians and Israelis, every leader who has a brain in his or her head should think of a political solution.”

Ambassador Michael Oren to resign post


Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, announced that he will be leaving his post this fall.

“Israel and the United States have always enjoyed a special relationship and, throughout these years of challenge, I was privileged to take part in forging even firmer bonds,” Oren said in a statement sent to media and posted on his Facebook page.

Oren, a native of New Jersey who made aliyah as a young man, later became a historian and was named ambassador in 2009, played a significant role in rebutting reports of a strained relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In interviews, Oren has stressed improvements in the defense relationship between the two countries during the two leaders’ tenure while acknowledging differences in some areas, particularly regarding the intensity of pressure on Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent.

In recent weeks, rumors have circulated that Oren will be replaced by Ron Dermer, formerly a top aide to Netanyahu.

Billion-dollar Waze


UPDATE [7/29/13]: Google bought Waze for $966 million.

Just a couple of years ago, the Israeli entrepreneurs behind the traffic-fighting smartphone app Waze were knocking down the door of every news outlet in Los Angeles. They were seeking publicity to help forge their way into the iPhones and Androids of L.A. drivers by promising some reprieve from “Carmageddon” weekend on the 405 freeway. Waze argued that its brave new method of crowdsourcing map and traffic data — via social media, with input from an active user base — would be the perfect tool to navigate drivers around the monster 405 freeway project and resulting traffic jams. The company needed press, and bad — because if enough people didn’t use the app, it wouldn’t work for anyone.

Well, they don’t need the press anymore. On June 11, Google Inc., the American tech giant at the forefront of online mapping, bought Waze Mobile for between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, according to various media reports (neither company has disclosed the final sum). Google’s acquisition is one of the largest in the history of the Israeli tech industry and stands as a major vote of confidence for both Waze and Israel’s startup scene at large.

These days, the Waze guys, who once reached out to Los Angeles eager for attention from any reporter, are mum. They are happily cloaked under Google’s strict no-press policy. “We are Google employees” now, says one of the app’s three founders over Facebook chat, “and we cannot speak to the press.”

Even without Google, Waze picked up a fast and loyal following in its first five to six years on the market: The app already boasts almost 50 million users in 190 countries and counting.

But no one will ever love Waze quite as fiercely as Israel.

[Related: What is it with Israelis and high tech?]

The buzz of the billion-dollar sale could be felt last week through the summer heat in Tel Aviv and environs, where Waze has long been regarded a national treasure — the top of the class in a nation of 1,000 startups. “Congratulations, you have reached your destination,” cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a reported phone call to Waze’s founders on the night of the sale.

“The Israeli people feel that they have some part in this huge success story,” said Izhar Shay, head of Israel operations at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. “We were the test group. We were the first users of an international breakthrough project, and we were part of the reason why Waze was so successful.”

The local market may only be about 7 million strong — a shortcoming that some say has slowed the overall progress of consumer-oriented invention in Israel — but it’s famously hands-on.

“By nature, people here are happy to try out new technologies, new concepts, new ideas — especially if they’re introduced by Israelis,” said Shay. “When Waze started, everybody knew somebody at Waze. So if people had bugs or issues with something that didn’t work properly, they would pick up the phone and call to yell at somebody at Waze.”

There have been local concerns, over the years, that large foreign companies are harvesting many of the best Israeli business ideas at an unripe age. But industry analysts who spoke with the Jewish Journal argued that the Waze buyout, which reportedly includes an agreement to keep Waze’s headquarters in Israel for at least the next three years, is the best possible scenario for a local company looking to go global.

Gil Ben-Artzy, co-founder of UpWest Labs — a training program in Silicon Valley for Israeli startups — called the sale a natural and smart evolution for Waze, and a “beacon” for other Israeli entrepreneurs.

“I find it hard to accuse somebody who sold their company for over $1 billion of selling too early,” said Jonathan Medved, head of Israeli crowd-funding venture OurCrowd.

Waze “fought like a lion to keep its development in the country,” Medved said. “The fact that these guys showed that you can fight that battle and win, and still sell your company for a good price, means that everybody’s going to try to do it.”

Up until now, Google Maps has been a dirty word in Israel; everyone wants to support the home team, plus Waze appeals to the Israeli nature to jump into the conversation, so the app has become extremely accurate due to all the input. But the two companies’ new all-star collaboration has now set the tech blogs on fire with speculation on the future possibilities of online mapping.

One thing they all can agree on: Waze’s secret weapon in a world clamoring with startups — and undoubtedly one of Google’s top reasons for scooping it up — has always been its devoted army of Wazers, who together helped the app reach the critical “viral” stage by telling all their friends and helping chart new territory within Waze’s virtual map system.

In combining their strengths — manual and social-media mapping, respectively — Google and Waze have hit such a sweet spot in the online map market that Southern California-based interest group Consumer Watchdog has even expressed concern that the duo might become a monopoly.

Facebook and Apple, who were also rumored bidders in the race for Waze, can’t be too happy about the new superpower.

“When you are driving in your car and you’re using Waze … you’re stuck in traffic, and all you have is this small screen in front of you that delivers the most important news to you,” Israeli investor Shay explained. “Now Google has access to our hearts while we are at a very significant part of our day, and we have nowhere to go.”

Israeli techies and investors are also touting the Waze acquisition as a ribbon-cutting of sorts for the new and exciting “consumer-oriented” frontier of Israeli innovation.

In the past, the country has been known more for its security software, semiconductors and other business-to-business (read: boring) technology. 

Waze is the polar opposite — a people’s product to the core. With its cutesy icons and game-like elements — including swords and badges for those drivers who submit warnings about “objects in the road,” police stakeouts, etc. — the app has proven as addicting as any Farmville or Angry Birds, only loads more useful. For the Waze addict, a commute is no longer complete without the soothing voice of Waze’s token she-bot, coaxing her customer through each lurch and turn.

To be sure, the app has had its detractors. Some traffic-safety advocates have worried that Waze’s highly interactive, video-game-like experience can prevent drivers from paying attention to the real-life road in front of them. The company has responded by installing voice-command and motion-sensor functions, as well as a keyboard lock for when the vehicle is moving — although drivers can easily override the latter by telling Waze that they are in the passenger’s seat. Last week, New York Magazine blogger Kevin Roose wrote in a concerned post on the acquisition: “As Google considers adding revenue-generating features like local advertising to Waze’s already-packed interface, it may raise the question: How much information is too much for drivers to handle safely?”

Yet, for Waze’s defenders, the proof is in its adaptability — and with Google’s latest infusion of cash, the app will no doubt keep adapting to meet user demands. 

Consumer-oriented innovation “requires a certain aesthetic understanding, and a certain design excellence” that Israel hasn’t necessarily been known for in the past, said Mick Weinstein, a longtime tech writer based in Jerusalem. “And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about Waze, is the user experience.”

In the wake of Google’s winning bid, Oren Hod, co-founder of video creation marketplace VeedMe, which connects videographers with prospective clients, said startups like his are catching Waze fever.

“I think [the sale] gave hope to some entrepreneurs and Israeli startups that are not super technology-oriented … to make it big in the U.S. market,” said Hod.

Local and international investors, too, are apt to be inspired by Google’s big move, said Shay — and “we should expect to see additional votes of confidence in Israeli startups as a result.”

Medved added that he has “never seen a time when there have been more good-quality Israeli startups that are really attracting worldwide attention — I think it’s a golden age.”

Waze, for one, doesn’t need the press anymore, nor the hasbara. As Google’s gorgeous Tel Aviv campus buzzes with new life and Waze enjoys its hard-earned spot on top of the world in Ra’anana, it begins to sound superfluous — even old-fashioned — to rave about Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” as if it were a niche or an underdog.

Report: Talks between Waze and Facebook break down


Talks between an Israeli technology firm and Facebook reportedly broke down over the Israeli company’s insistence on staying in the country.

The navigation company Waze had been in talks to be acquired by Facebook for $1 billion. But the negotiations reportedly broke down over Waze officials’ stipulation that the company’s managers and employees remain in their Raanana, Israel headquarters instead of relocating to Menlo Park, Calif.

The report of the breakdown in talks was reported Wednesday by the website AllThingsD, citing sources close to the deal.

Neither Waze, a free downloadable navigation app with more than 34 million subscribers, nor Facebook has publicly addressed reports of a breakdown in negotiations.

Waze reportedly is also in talks with Google and Apple.

Hawking and Mohammed


There was so much Jewish outrage last week in the wake of professor Steven Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott against Israel, it’s hard to know where to start.

The most dramatic expression of that outrage could be found in the many commentaries and Facebook posts suggesting that if Hawking is going to boycott Israel, then why not also boycott the Israeli computer chip that enables him to communicate despite his severely handicapped state?

As Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote on JPost: “Why would one of the world’s leading academic minds condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional and political life?”

Hawking’s decision was problematic on many levels. Here is the world’s best-known scientist, a widely respected light of academia, adding his name to a vicious and discriminatory campaign to single out and delegitimize the Jewish state.

Who did he think he was helping with his boycott, besides those hell bent on undermining Israel?

Even well-known Israeli peacenik Akiva Eldar called the decision “stupid” and “shallow,” noting that the global boycott movement “is in opposition to Israel per se, and not against the occupation or against the settlements constructed beyond Israel’s formal boundaries …” and that it “advocates an economic, cultural and academic boycott, the withdrawal of all investments, and the implementation of sanctions against Israel, with no distinction made between the two sides of the Green Line.”

Israel has made its share of mistakes over the years, and, like many countries (including the United States), it can get quite heavy-handed and nasty when it feels threatened. This is no wimpy country. It is a tough nation hardened by the sobering fact of living its whole existence surrounded by unstable and hostile neighbors.

Still, despite this chronic hostility, Israel has managed to create a civil society that is, while far from perfect, the freest and most dignified in the Middle East — a society where Arabs have more freedom, human rights and economic opportunities than anywhere else in the region.

On top of that, it has become one of the world’s leading centers for scientific and medical innovation, contributing more scientific advances than all 22 countries of the Middle East combined.

This kind of Jewish success can inspire a lot of jealousy and resentment, especially if you’ve been taught since early childhood to hate the Jews because they’re the “sons of dogs.” No doubt, in my view, this has been a motivating force behind the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: If you can’t emulate the Jewish state, then delegitimize it.

It is this dark movement Hawking has endorsed with his ill-advised decision. Instead of going after brutal dictatorships, where innocents are murdered and women are stoned to death, he picked on the little country that is consistently and unfairly singled out — Israel.

I have to confess, though, it’s hard for me to muster any negative feelings for someone who has lived his whole life as Hawking has. When I see pictures of him slumped in his wheelchair, I can’t help being moved by how one human being can overcome such overwhelming hardship for so long.

So, instead of getting upset at Hawking, I would rather we invite him to visit the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan.

There, he would meet Mohammed al-Farra, a 3-year-old Arab toddler with no arms and no legs.

As Ruthie Blum noted in Israel Hayom, Mohammed was born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government refused to pay for his care.

As soon as he was born, he was rushed to Israel for emergency treatment. As reported in HuffPost, his genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system, and an infection destroyed his hands and feet, requiring them to be amputated.

Since then, he has spent his days and nights in an Israeli hospital undergoing treatment and learning how to use prosthetic limbs. His grandfather lives with him. Mohammed has been warmly embraced and cared for by his Israeli doctors, who have arranged for him and his grandfather to live in the sunny pediatric ward.

I wonder what kind of boycott Hawking would have in mind after meeting little Mohammed, and after learning about the thousands of other Arab children from the West Bank and Gaza who are routinely cared for in Israeli hospitals?

Well, I can think of at least one: It would be a boycott of every country in the world that neglects to care for disabled children like Steven Hawking and Mohammed al-Farra. 

There might be a lot of countries on that list, but Israel won’t be one of them


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Netanyahu takes flak over bed on a plane


Benjamin Netanyahu is changing his mid-air sleeping arrangements after a public flap over a $127,000 custom-built bedroom for the Israeli prime minister and his wife on a flight to London last month.

Israel's Channel 10 television reported the sum was tagged onto the $300,000 cost of chartering an El Al Boeing 767 that flew the couple and Netanyahu's entourage of aides and bodyguards to former British leader Margaret Thatcher's funeral.

News of the extra public expenditure, for a 5-1/2-hour flight, caused an outcry on Israel's social media and in its mainstream newspapers that coincided with protests over government plans to raise taxes as part of an austerity budget.

“Bibi is king, and in a monarchy, when the king and queen fly, price is no object,” said political commentator Sima Kadmon, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.

“Where is the shame?” she wrote on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest newspaper.

Netanyahu's office did not dispute the reported figures. It said he had been unaware of the extra cost of installing the double bed and partition and wanted to arrive fresh for meetings with world leaders on the sidelines of the funeral.

The prime minister, it said, was entitled to a good night's sleep on an overnight flight after a busy day. But it added, a sleeping cabin would no longer be installed on his flights to Europe.

The Netanyahu bedroom touched a particular nerve in Israel after news earlier this year that the prime minister's office had an annual budget of $2,700 to buy his favourite flavours from a Jerusalem ice cream parlour.

A post on Netanyahu's Facebook page contained a link to a website inviting people to sign a petition demanding he pay for the bed out of his own pocket. Nearly 4,000 have signed since Channel 10 first broke the news on Friday. (Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Outcry over Israeli soldier’s photo of boy in crosshairs


An Israeli soldier has provoked an outcry by publishing a photograph that appeared to show the back of a Palestinian boy's head seen through the crosshairs of a rifle.

Israel's army said on Tuesday it would hold an investigation into the conduct of the soldier, who posted the picture on the online photo-sharing website Instagram.

Israeli media identified the soldier as a 20-year-old conscript serving in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian officials, who want the West Bank as part of a future state, condemned the publication of the photograph, saying it showed Israeli forces believed they could act with impunity.

“Every Palestinian mother is concerned for her child … because of the picture that is now known and seen worldwide,” said Palestinian government spokeswoman Nour Odeh on Tuesday.

It was not possible to verify independently whether the photo was taken in the West Bank – territory Israel captured in a 1967 war – or whether the person in it was Palestinian.

The Israeli military said the soldier's commanders had been notified and the issue would be dealt with.

“The picture in question does not coincide with IDF's (Israeli Defence Forces) values or code of ethics,” the military said in a statement.

Israeli soldiers have been sentenced to jail time in the past for posting images of themselves posing beside Palestinian detainees.

Reporting by Jerusalem Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Petition to delete Israel-haters Facebook page draws immediate support


The long-standing Facebook war of words between pro- and anti-Israel partisans has heated up a few degrees with a petition to remove a particularly offensive “F… Israel” page.
 
Originator of the removal drive is Michael Mendelson, a Miami resident, who said in a phone interview that his petition has already been endorsed by 75,000 “likes” in less than a week.
 
By contrast, the “F… Israel” drive, which is of long standing, claims only 36,000 “likes.” It features such sentiments as “God bless Adolf Hitler for what he did,” “Jews are children of apes and pigs…they are baby killers,” or just a simple “I hate Israel,” surmounted by a hand-draw flag with a Star of David.
 
However, even on their own page, Israel haters are outnumbered by Jewish defenders, most of who reply in kind.
 
Mendelson said he started his counter campaign “with the help of various pro-Israel groups” in the Miami area.
 
On the opposite coast, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and senior researcher Rick Eaton of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles have been monitoring anti-Semitic and anti-Israel websites and YouTube and Twitter postings for years.
 
There are at least two dozen such sites on Facebook alone, most of them started by Muslim groups, Eaton said, featuring logos like “Free Gaza” in the colors of the Palestinian flag, or an Israeli flag with a red circle and diagonal line superimposed on the State of David.
 
Facebook is also a popular site for hate tirades against Hindus, Mormons, Christians and Muslims, according to Cooper, who phoned from the Berlin airport on his way to Israel.
 
On the whole, Facebook has been responsive to requests for removal of obviously offensive material, according to Cooper, but in numerous instances such sites are reinstated if they clean up their act or they reappear under different names.
 
The “F… Israel” site aside, most veteran hate purveyors are pretty careful to police their sites, Eaton said, because “they know there are a lot of Jews watching and posting alternate comments” and also flagging offensive material.
 
Mendelson said he had been unable to reach Facebook managers, but estimated that his campaign would have to score ten times as many “likes” as the other side for Facebook to act on the removal petition.
 
Deborah Lauter, Civil Rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, urged people to complain to Facebook, not just about the “F… Israel” page itself, but also to flag and call Facebook’s attention to individual offensive comments and posts on the page.
 
In a related development, Reuters reported from Paris that a French court on Thursday ordered Twitter, Inc. to help identify the authors of anti-Semitic posts or face fines of $1,300 per day, as the social network firm comes under renewed pressure to combat racist and extremist messages.

Peres using Facebook to urge young people to vote


Israeli President Shimon Peres released a Facebook application to encourage young Israelis to vote.

Peres on Sunday unveiled a video and Facebook application called “Bocher Mavi Chaver,” or “Voter Brings a Friend.”

He collaborated with the popular actor Eyal Kitzis in calling for every Israeli to invite four friends to go to the polls. The invitation can be sent from Peres' Facebook page.

Yaron Shilon, director of the popular Israeli satire show “Eretz Nehederet” (“Wonderful Country”), and Sari Alfi, scriptwriter for the comedy show “Mazav HaUma” (“State of the Nation”) produced the video.

“I call upon every young person with the right to vote for the first time, don't miss the opportunity,” Peres said when unveiling the project at his official residence in Jerusalem. “When you vote, you respect not only your country but also yourselves as citizens. Voting is a civic duty of the utmost importance; the result will personally impact each and every one of us personally and form our collective future.”

Internet users will be able to ensure that their friends have voted by seeing who has “Checked In” on Facebook when they arrive at the ballot box.

Israeli missing in Los Angeles


[UPDATE: Syril Zimand, aspiring Israeli filmmaker, missing in Hollywood]

The son of an Israeli businessman and philanthropist is believed by his father to be missing in Los Angeles.

Henri Zimand posted on Facebook on Jan 2 that his son, Syril Zimand, 28, has not been heard from for “several weeks.”

Zimand has been reaching out to people and organizations in Los Angeles to help with the search.

“If anyone should come across my son Syril in Los Angeles please advise me urgently,” Zimand wrote online.

Zimand added that his son, in the midst of a six-month trip in Los Angeles, was last seen at USA Hostels in Hollywood, located at Hollywood Boulevard and Schrader Boulevard. It was unusual for Syril to go several weeks without contacting him, Zimand wrote on Facebook.

Brigit Nickol, director of operations at USA Hostels, Inc. confirmed that Syril Zimand was a guest at USA Hostels in Hollywood, having stayed there from Nov. 10-24, the maximum amount of days allowed for guests at the hostel.  Nickol did not have any additional information regarding Zimand’s whereabouts, she said.

Zimand’s father, a resident of Monaco, did not respond immediately on Wednesday to the Journal’s attempts to contact him.  Via social media, he has asked that anyone who has information about his son call the Los Angeles Police Department’s missing-person unit at (213) 996-1800 or (877) 527-3247. The Journal will be updating this story as more information becomes available.

missing

Hamas forbids local journalists from working with Israeli media


The Hamas government in Gaza has forbidden local journalists from working with Israeli media outlets.

The weekly Cabinet meeting in Gaza decided to ban Palestinian journalists from working “with all Zionist media and journalists,” which it declared “hostile,” it announced in a statement, the French news agency AFP reported.

The Cabinet has forbidden the local journalists from working for Israeli media and television stations.

It is the first time the Hamas government has required such action, according to AFP.

There is no similar requirement in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2006.

In a Facebook post, The New York Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, reported that Gaza journalist Abeer Ayyoub confirmed the ban and said that Hamas also announced that permits for foreign journalists would now go through the internal security office.

Rudoren wrote that Israeli media outlets rely on local Palestinians for news from the coastal strip, since Israelis are forbidden from entering Gaza.

Obama first, Netanyahu 23rd on Forbes most powerful list


President Obama for the second straight year was named the world's most powerful person by Forbes magazine, which placed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 23rd on the list.

The list includes 71 individuals — one for every 100 million people on the planet.

Other notable Jews on the list included Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, at No. 6; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 16; Google co-founder Sergey Brin, at 20; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, at 25; and Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, at 36.

Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, which develops and manufactures space launch vehicles, at age 41 is among the youngest on the list and appears at No. 66.

Following Obama in the top 10 are German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates; Pope Benedict XVI; King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia; European Central Bank President Mario Draghi; Xi Jinping, the secretary-general of China's Communist Party; and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Khamenei finished two slots ahead of Netanyahu.

Israeli faces ‘Obama’ blackface backlash


One of the Israeli military's most visible spokesmen is under fire for a photo he posted on his Facebook page captioned “Obama style” in which his face is smeared with mud.

Sacha Dratwa posted the photo in late September, but since the furor he has restricted access to his account. A screengrab of the original post circulating online showed that it drew mixed reactions, with one commenter saying, “You know this is racist, yeah?”

Read more at news.yahoo.com.

Israel finally joins the online arms race


Mere hours after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took down their first Hamas official at the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, an army of young Israelis took to the Internet. Not to be out-tweeted by the people of Gaza and their supporters around the world, as has been the case in Israel-Palestinian conflicts past, hundreds of college-aged millenials uploaded the Israeli perspective onto a Facebook page called “Israel Under Fire.”

The account has since racked up an impressive 27,000-plus followers. And although it was founded by the Ministry of Public Diplomacy in Jerusalem with the help of young volunteers, one of its most vital command centers was located an hour north — in a glass-walled classroom at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a small private college along the Israeli coast.

Armed exclusively with the password to the “Israel Under Fire” Facebook page, the IDC volunteers created a sort of meme factory in this room adjacent their campus library. One row of computers was devoted to quick Photoshop jobs such as slapping captions onto images of Gaza rocket damage, or depicting the world’s other major cities under siege; another row was staffed by international students who translated these perfect little shareables into more than 20 languages; and yet another row funneled all the material into an online dropbox, which could then be accessed by volunteers and their contacts the world over.

By way of this rapidly growing friend network, the “Israel Under Fire” posts — such as an image of rockets flying over Times Square, with the caption: “Would you be willing to live like this for one day? How about 12 years??” — were viewed by millions, according to the site’s administrators.

At the height of the Gaza conflict last week, lead organizer Yarden Ben Yosef was eager to tell his startup story.

He and some close friends initially reached out to the Israeli government, he said, “because we understood that the Palestinian side was so strong in new media. In my opinion, maybe it’s because government [in Gaza] is less organized — because they don’t have a department for advocacy.”

Indeed. Despite the fact that the Israeli government has been hiring lots of new social-media hands, according to Eddie Yair Fraiman, director of new media for the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, these paid PR experts lack, by definition, the air of sincerity and authenticity — street cred, you could call it — that any image or story needs to go viral.

Fraiman stressed over the phone that it was he who first “decided to go viral with the page.”

However, many student organizers said they felt their work had succeeded in large part because of the distance they’d put between themselves and public officials. Ben Yosef, head organizer at IDC, noted that “when we speak with the government, we see that they don’t understand this medium.”

The Prime Minister’s office knew all too well that if Israel was to avoid being painted as a ruthless baby-killer this time around, Operation Pillar of Defense would need to be narrated by real Israeli citizens caught in the crossfire — through a personalized, relatable feed of instant wartime updates.

And it was Israel’s Gen-Y, speaking social media as an innate second language, who had the peer-to-peer legitimacy to make it happen.

Although the Israeli prime minister and president likewise have huge social-media followings, their Facebook and Twitter posts are impeccably starched. And even further biased (for obvious reasons) is the IDF's official Twitter account, which like its Hamas counterpart has achieved global infamy for framing the conflict like a videogame — complete with Dr. Evil sneers. (For example: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”)

Government officials claim to have contributed zero funding to the “Israel Under Fire” effort. Instead, they've showered young volunteers in praise and encouragement; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even called them up last week for a face-to-face video chat, thanking them for their “very important work.”

Netanyahu told the volunteers in Hebrew: “What you are doing greatly strengthens us on the public diplomacy front. We must fight for the truth, for the facts, and your help is worth more than gold.”

The private college where students were stationed also gave up space and resources to support the effort.

Last week, IDC’s Vice President for Student Affairs showed up to the command center with boxes of chocolates. “It’s something very extraordinary, what they’re doing there,” she boasted of her students.

A young man named Tal, who didn’t want to give his last name, sat at the row of computers designated for “data collection,” where volunteers watched what was going viral, and filled comment sections on anti-Israel news stories with pro-Israel arguments.  As his eyes flicked down the screen, Tal explained: “I think there was a lack of awareness on our end [during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010], which is literally a crime. There was a complete misunderstanding that current modern warfare has gone in the direction of social media. The Palestinians understood that.”

It's tough to compete with photos of dead children — a constant stream of which have been uploaded from within the Gaza Strip. But overall, judging by the overwhelming online response to “Israel Under Fire” and photos of support from Los Angeles to Berlin, the Israeli campaign (and other civilian social-media efforts like it) waged a war that the IDF never could.

As one female student, Adi Kadussi, put it: “If we weren't doing this, all the world will see is only the crap about Israel. We want to show the balance.”

IDF Pride photo was staged, Israeli news site reports


A photo posted on the Israel Defense Forces website in honor of Pride Month showing two male soldiers in uniform holding hands was staged, according to an Israeli news website.

Only one of the soldiers is gay and both work for the IDF Spokesman’s Office, The Times of Israel reported shortly after the photo went viral on Facebook earlier this week.

The photo posted Monday and captioned “It’s Pride Month. Did you know that the IDF treats all of its soldiers equally?” had garnered more than 10,800 likes and more than 8,800 shares, as well as 1,555 comments as of Thursday evening.

Positive comments appear to outnumber the negative by a large margin.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office did not deny the photo was staged, according to the Times of Israel, and said in a statement that “The photo reflects the IDF’s open-minded attitude towards soldiers of all sexual orientations. The IDF respects the privacy of the soldiers featured in the photograph, and will not comment on their identities.”

Meanwhile, Anastassia Michaeli, an Israeli lawmaker from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, made anti-gay statements during a Knesset discussion Wednesday on sexual harassment. Michaeli said that “Most homosexuals are people who experienced sexual abuse at a very young age,” and she accused Israel’s Channel 10 of broadcasting programming that encourages children to be homosexuals,

Yisraeli Beiteinu in a statement distanced itself from the comments. Gay rights leaders and opposition political leaders slammed Michaeli’s remarks. 

In January, Michaeli was suspended from the Knesset plenum for a month after she threw water at Labor Party lawmaker Ghaleb Majadele’s face during an Education, Culture and Sports Committee meeting.

Rabbinical court fines man for being unfaithful on Facebook


A woman reportedly proved to an Israeli rabbinical court that her husband was unfaithful by showing it correspondence between him and other women on Facebook.

The court awarded the woman damages from her husband of about $40,000, Ynet reported. It did not identify where the couple was from or when the decision was reached.

The couple, in their 30s, met on a dating website and ultimately married. Six months after they were married, the woman found that her husband was corresponding with other women on Facebook and on dating websites, according to Ynet.

The woman told the rabbinical court that her husband doomed the marriage.

The court agreed with her and ordered her husband to pay a divorce settlement.

Inspired by Facebook, Israeli couple names their daughter Like


An Israeli couple has named their daughter Like, in honor of Facebook.

Lior and Vardit Adler, from the central Israel city Hod Hasharon, told the German press agency DPA that they like to give their children uncommon names.

Their other two children are named Dvash, which means honey, and Pie.

“If once people gave biblical names and that was the icon, then today this is one of the most famous icons in the world,” Lior Adler told DPA.

Following the protests that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an Egyptian man named his daughter Facebook, honoring the social network for the part it played in mobilizing demonstrators.

Facebook sued for $1 billion over Third Intifada page


Facebook and its co-founder Mark Zuckerberg are being sued for more than $1 billion for not immediately taking down a page calling for a Third Intifada against Israel.

The lawsuit was filed March 31 in U.S. District Court in Washington on behalf of Larry Klayman, an attorney and activist who is described in the filing as “an American citizen of Jewish origin” who is “active in all matters concerning the security of Israel and its people.” Klayman is the founder of Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest group.

Facebook removed the “Third Palestinian Intifada” page on March 29 after it had been up for a couple of weeks and garnered 350,000 friends. Israel’s minister of diplomacy and Diaspora affairs,Yuli Edelstein, had sent a letter to Zuckerberg a week earlier asking for the page to be removed. The Anti-Defamation League also had called on Facebook to remove the page.

The page, which called for a third Palestinian uprising to begin May 15, included quotes and film clips calling for killing Jews and Israelis, and for “liberating” Jerusalem and Palestine using violence. It also directed users to related content on Twitter, YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet.

In the lawsuit, Klayman also calls on Facebook to remove from its site all pages using the words “Third Intifada” or any other pages that encourage violence toward Jews.

Facebook said it would fight the case, calling it “without merit,” the French news agency AFP reported.

Meanwhile, a new page with the same name already has attracted thousands of friends, according to reports.

Facebook did not release a statement on last week’s removal. But in a statement released to several media outlets in the days before the page’s removal, Facebook commented on the Third Palestinian Intifada page controversy.

“While some kinds of comments and content may be upsetting for someone—criticism of a certain culture, country, religion, lifestyle, or political ideology, for example—that alone is not a reason to remove the discussion,” the statement said. “We strongly believe that Facebook users have the ability to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content, groups or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.”

Individual posts and comments on the page considered problematic were to be investigated by Facebook and removed, according to reports.

Remove intifada page, Edelstein asks Facebook’s Zuckerberg


An Israeli government minister has called on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to remove a page calling for a third Palestinian intifada.

Yuli Edelstein, minister of diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, in a letter sent Wednesday called Zuckerberg’s attention to the Facebook page “Third Palestinian Intifada,” which calls for a third Palestinian uprising to begin May 15. The page, which has more than 230,000 friends, includes quotes and film clips calling for killing Jews and Israelis, and for “liberating” Jerusalem and Palestine using violence.

“As Facebook’s CEO and founder, you are obviously aware of the site’s great potential to rally the masses around good causes, and we are all thankful for that,” Edelstein wrote. “However, such potential comes hand in hand with the ability to cause great harm, such as in the case of the wild incitement displayed on the above-mentioned page.”

Facebook purchases Israeli start-up


Facebook is purchasing its first Israeli company, a start-up called Snaptu.

Facebook will pay an estimated $60 million to $70 million, according to reports citing market sources. The deal is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks.

The company, established in 2007 with offices in London, Tel Aviv and northern California’s Silicon Valley, has developed applications that allow mobile phones, including simpler phones below the level of an iPhone, to access the mobile Internet. The applications could apply to about 80 percent of all mobile phones in use around the world.