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PM’s office recruits students as paid social media propagandists for Israel

The report from Ha’aretz is followed by the two 2012 reports by Ali Abuminah, who broke the story.

David Seaman. heading the recruitment of students who will  do covert propaganda for Israel, directed at the Jewish diaspora, on Facebook and Twitter

Prime Minister’s Office recruiting students to wage online hasbara battles

PMO and national student union to create covert units at universities to engage in diplomacy via social media; unit heads to receive full scholarships.

By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
August 13, 2013 

The Prime Minister’s Office is planning to form, in collaboration with the National Union of Israeli Students, “covert units” within Israel’s seven universities that will engage in online public diplomacy (hasbara).

The students participating in the project, who would post on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter on Israel’s behalf, will be part of the public diplomacy arm of the PMO, but would not identify themselves as official government representatives.

About a week ago, the outgoing deputy-director general of the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Daniel Seaman, sent a document to the government tender committee seeking to exempt the national student union from being chosen as the partner in the project through a public bidding process.

The PMO is looking to invest close to NIS 3 million to recruit, organize and fund the activities of hundreds of university students, as part of the country’s public diplomacy effort.

The Public Diplomacy Ministry is being closed and its staff are being integrated into the national public diplomacy unit in the Prime Minister’s Office. Seaman, who previously served as head of the Government Press Office and also ran as a candidate in the Likud party primaries, is expected to assume a new position shortly – that of head of an office with the very official sounding name of “the interactive media unit.” In practice, this is the entity that is expected to coordinate the public diplomacy efforts of the Prime Minister’s Office on the Internet and social networks.

Seaman informed the public tender committee that the Prime Minister’s Office was interested in having the student union recruit up to 550 students with knowledge of foreign languages from Israel’s seven universities. The student union is to publicize the project among tens of thousands of students and be responsible for the screening process, which will include submission of resumes, submitting answers to questionnaires, providing translation samples and participating in individual interviews. It is also the student union that is to provide computers and work space for a project headquarters on each campus.

Seaman informed the committee that the diplomacy units at each university would take direction from staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, but its public face would be one of an independent student entity. “The entire idea of the setup is based on activity of students and by students,” Seaman wrote to the committee. “The idea requires that the state’s role not be highlighted and therefore it is necessary to insist on major involvement by the students themselves without any political link [or] affiliation.”

It is apparent from Seaman’s document that a diplomacy group will be set up at each university and structured in a semi-military fashion. The head of the unit will be a student “senior coordinator,” who will receive a full scholarship from the Prime Minister’s Office. Working under the senior coordinator will be three other student coordinators, each of whom will head one of three desks, responsible for languages, graphics and research. These coordinators will get smaller scholarships. A group of student activists, who will receive nominal student stipends, will work under each coordinator. The Prime Minister’s Office will fund a total of NIS 2.78 million in scholarships for the program in the upcoming academic year.

“In light of the success in the battle for awareness during the Pillar of Defense Operation [the Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip in November of last year] and the experience gained in activating a large number of situation rooms on university campuses and work with students in general, it was decided to establish a permanent structure of activity on the Internet through the students at academic institutions in the country,” Seaman wrote. “The students are an organized population that is familiar with, and active on, the Internet on an ongoing basis, trained in use of the field, [who] live and speak the language of the [medium].”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response that the project is designed to strengthen Israel’s public diplomacy and adapt it to changes in how information is being consumed. “The national public diplomacy unit in the Prime Minister’s Office places an emphasis on social network activity,” the office stated. “As part of this, a new pro-Israel public diplomacy infrastructure of students on Israeli campuses is being established that will assist in advancing and disseminating content on the social networks, particularly to international audiences.”

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said the main subjects that the campus-based units will deal with are diplomatic- and security-related issues, efforts to combat the boycott of Israel and anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel. The students will emphasize Israel’s democratic values, freedom of religion, pluralism and “other subjects that give expression to the Israeli government’s public diplomacy policy.” The Prime Minister’s Office added that similar efforts with students were successful in recent years. “This model significantly advances Israel’s public diplomacy capabilities so that concurrent with messages conveyed by the country’s official spokespeople, content will also be conveyed that has been developed and disseminated by the students that is adapted to social media.”

We believe that this involves an essential tool to strengthen Israeli public diplomacy and addresses the major importance that we attach to advancing public diplomacy of the State of Israel on the social networks.

Hagar Yisraeli, a spokeswoman for the Union of Israeli Students, added:

Israel is dealing with an extreme, ongoing delegitimization campaign that is being conducted against it on the social networks. The student population is a talented, educated group of people with independent and diverse views and speaks [a variety of] languages and can therefore assist in dealing with such an [anti-Israel] campaign… The students are an integral part of the Israeli reality and it is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they take an active part in dealing with the delegitimization. It is accepted in the world that students are integrated and take part in various diplomatic activities. The student union is not a political organization and is not identified politically [with one school of thought]. The members of the union hold a range of views from across the Israeli political spectrum, and it is our intention to preserve that.


Israeli students to get $2,000 to spread state propaganda on Facebook

By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada
January 4, 2012

The National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) has become a full-time partner in the Israeli government’s efforts to spread its propaganda online and on college campuses around the world.

NUIS has launched a program to pay Israeli university students $2,000 to spread pro-Israel propaganda online for 5 hours per week from the “comfort of home.”

The union is also partnering with Israel’s Jewish Agency to send Israeli students as missionaries to spread propaganda in other countries, for which they will also receive a stipend.

This active recruitment of Israeli students is part of Israel’s orchestrated effort to suppress the Palestinian solidarity movement under the guise of combating “delegitimization” of Israel and anti-Semitism.

The involvement of the official Israeli student union as well as Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and Sapir College in these state propaganda programs will likely bolster Palestinian calls for the international boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Paying students to spread Israeli propaganda online

This is our opportunity, as Israeli students, to provide hasbara [state propaganda] that is correct and balanced, to help in the struggle against the delegitimization of the State of Israel and against hatred of Jews in the world.

That is one of the exhortations in a Hebrew document issued by NUIS, and translated by The Electronic Intifada, inviting Israeli students to apply for a program to help spread Israel’s message.

The project seeks to take advantage of the fact that “Many students in Israel master the Internet and are proficient at using the Internet and social networking and various sites and are required to write and express themselves in English.”

The paid scholarship will allow them to get training and then work from home for five hours per week for a year to “refute” what it calls “misinformation” about Israel on social networking sites.

Among the stated goals of the scholarships is “to deepen and expand hasbara activities of students in the State of Israel.” The document explains:

The Internet allows uncontrolled access to content from marginal groups and therefore can influence many audiences who are exposed to such information, particularly young people who are more easily influenced.

The Internet, then, is used as a major tool for the dissemination of anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel and of Jews and thus the Internet is also the place to battle against such sites, pull the ground from under them and to provide reliable and balanced information.

Work from the “comfort of home”

The NUIS program document explains:

After training, the student will begin his activities. The student will do the activities in the comfort of his home, where every week he will be obligated to about 5 hours of activities for a period of one calendar year (not academic year). Students will be paid a total of NIS 7,500 [$2,000] to perform the tasks of the project, at least 5 hours weekly for a total of 240 hours of activities under the project umbrella.

What is completely missing from the program is any indication that criticism of Israel could be valid. Rather the National Union of Israeli Students apparently seeks to indoctrinate Israeli students that every criticism of Israel is “hate” and “anti-Semitism” and that the Internet should be seen as a battlefield on which they are foot soldiers.

Using e-learning tools for government propaganda

An interesting aspect of the NUIS program is that it uses the common open source virtual learning environment Moodle as its interface with program participants. This interface can be found at students.digitalchange.co.il.

Whereas Moodle was designed for education – to spread mind-opening learning beyond the constraints of geography – the Israeli innovation here is to use it for mind-narrowing propaganda: getting students to be uncritical, to not think for themselves, but rather to spread Israel’s state-sponsored propaganda.

See the world, spread more propaganda

NUIS has also partnered with the Jewish Agency, the Israeli state body that encourages Jews from around the world to settle on stolen Palestinian land, to spread propaganda on college campuses around the world.

The Jewish Agency website announces, as translated from Hebrew by Dena Shunra for The Electronic Intifada:

For the first time in Israel – a unique, world-encompassing scholarship, in cooperation between the Student Union and the Jewish Agency.

Every year the Jewish Agency of Israel sends approximately 150 emissaries to various places around the world – North America, England, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy and South America, who engage in Jewish education and hasbara in three main streams – Hillel emissaries (to campuses around North America), community emissaries and youth movement emissaries.

Training for these overseas missions for successful applicants will take place at Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and Sapir College, after which the would-be missionaries “will set off for a one-year mission in the various Jewish communities around the world, and will also receive a scholarship of up to NIS 5,000 [$1300].”

Applications are open to Israeli citizens who have lived in the country for three years, those who have completed service in the Israeli army, and those who speak foreign languages, among other criteria.

A student union in the service of the state

In most countries student unions often find themselves at odds with state authorities, fighting for the rights of students. But it would appear that Israel’s “student union” does not so much represent students and fight for their rights, but represents the state in the state’s efforts to recruit students to do its political bidding.

In this sense, the NUIS functions in a very similar way to Israel’s “trade union” the Histadrut.

Translation: Students in the Struggle against Anti-Semitism on the Internet

National Union of Israeli Students

Students in the Struggle against Anti-Semitism on the Internet

Vision and background:

The National Union of Israeli Students [NUIS] unites about 300,000 students from all over the country. NUIS promotes the goals and objectives of students, guards the status of students and impacts the public agenda in all aspects from the perspective that the future generation should be a full partner in shaping the Israeli reality of tomorrow.

For young people the Internet is first of all a tool for work and study. Many students in Israel master the Internet and are proficient at using the Internet and social networking and various sites and are required to write and express themselves in English. Like other web users, students encounter anti-Semitic websites disseminating hatred of Israel and hatred of Jews on the Internet.

In recent years use of the Internet for work, finding information and leisure has become accepted and common all over the world. Alongside the development of the Internet and its use, websites have developed that disseminate anti-Semitic and false information that one could not find a publisher [for] in the pre-Internet age.

The Internet allows uncontrolled access to content from marginal groups and therefore can influence many audiences who are exposed to such information, particularly young people who are more easily influenced.

The Internet, then, is used as a major tool for the dissemination of anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel and of Jews and thus the Internet is also the place to battle against such sites, pull the ground from under them and to provide reliable and balanced information.

In the present reality, in which the Internet has become a key tool in spreading anti-Semitism, and given that most students use this medium, it is requested that Israeli students will be the ones to lead the battle against hostile websites.

The following proposed scholarships will allow students to map the anti-Semitic websites and to deal with what is said on them. During the project students can work on social networks to refute misinformation comprehensively available throughout this medium.

This is our opportunity, as Israeli students, to provide hasbara [state propaganda] that is correct and balanced, to help in the struggle against the delegitimization of the State of Israel and against hatred of Jews in the world.

Project goals

To deal with, struggle [against] and reduce dissemination of anti-Semitism on the Internet;

To deepen and expand hasbara activities of students in the State of Israel;

To increase the awareness and involvement of the National Union of Israeli Students, local student associations, and students in general about what is happening in the world concerning Jews and the status of Israel.

Student activities

After training, the student will begin his activities. The student will do the activities in the comfort of his home, where every week he will be obligated to about 5 hours of activities for a period of one calendar year (not academic year). Students will be paid a total of NIS 7,500 [$2,000] to perform the tasks of the project, at least 5 hours weekly for a total of 240 hours of activities under the project umbrella.

The scholarship will be given to the student at three periods; in April, in August at the NUIS scholarship award ceremony, and in November.

Students will be admitted into the project only if they are members of student union at their institution of higher learning, provided such institution is a member of NUIS. Applications are made through the NUIS website www.nuis.co.il at the scholarships page.

Translation: Student Union and Jewish Agency scholarship

Shacham Scholarship – Jewish Agency and Student Union

A scholarship which is a mission – the Jewish Agency and Student Union

Shacham – Mission, Education, Action

For the first time in Israel – a unique, world-encompassing scholarship, in cooperation between the Student Union and the Jewish Agency.

Every year the Jewish Agency of Israel sends approximately 150 emissaries to various places around the world – North America, England, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Italy and South America, who engage in Jewish education and hasbara in three main streams – Hillel emissaries (to campuses around North America), community emissaries and youth movement emissaries.

The scholarship introduces program participants with content relevant to the position, in a 12-meeting course, which is held every other weeks and deals with various issues:

Jewish identity

Israeli society

Tikkun Olam [the religious obligation to repair the world – or make it better]

Hasbara skills

History of the Nation of Israel in modern times

and more…

The course is experiential and includes lectures from the very best lecturers in the country, an active and reflective workshop, an educational experience of collaboration and coping both intellectually and emotionally with a variety of different topics. In August 2012, course graduates will set off for a one-year mission in the various Jewish communities around the world, and will also receive a scholarship of up to NIS 5,000.

The course will be held in four regional centers:

South: Sapir College/Ben Gurion [University]

Center: Tel Aviv University

Jerusalem: the Hebrew University

North: the Haifa University.

Eligibility for application:

Students in their last years of study for an academic degree;

Holding Israeli citizenship and having lived in Israel for at least 3 years.

Having completed military or national service.

With good command of English/Russian/Spanish/French/Portuguese/or other languages.

Having experience as camp counselors, teachers, and the ability to speak publicly.

Having an affinity to Judaism and the Israeli culture and familiarity with Diaspora Jewry.

Admittance to the program is conditional upon passing the screening process, which will be held in November-December 2011 at the various campuses.


Israel’s “pretty face”: How National Union of Israeli Students does government’s propaganda dirty work

By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada

January 05, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about a program run by the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) to pay Israeli college students $2,000 to spread hasbara – propaganda favorable to Israel – on social networking sites.

This raised a further question: who pays for this and what role do Israel’s government and other organizations play in this use of students to deliver propaganda?

When asked by Jillian C. York and Joseph Dana about these issues via Twitter, Avi Mayer, the head of social media for the quasi-state Jewish Agency played innocent…He also dismissed the notion that students involved in this paid propaganda effort would be encouraged to promote a specific viewpoint…

But in fact, contrary to the suggestions of Mayer, the NUIS is deeply committed specifically to spreading the propaganda of, and training students to spread the propaganda of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Hasbara and the US-based anti-Palestinian organization StandWithUs (which recently used fabricated quotes to try to smear me and others as anti-Semites).

Moreover, NUIS receives funding from these ministries and from Mayer’s Jewish Agency to carry out many of these activities. How do we know all this? Because it is openly stated in NUIS’s 2011-2012 workplan and budget – albeit in Hebrew.

Dena Shunra translated for The Electronic Intifada the sections of these documents relating to the NUIS’ Foreign Relations Department. The translation is attached at the end of this post, and what follows is some analysis of key parts demonstrating the deep involvement of the NUIS in government propaganda efforts.

The Foreign relations Department of NUIS: A hasbara auxiliary force

Starting on Page 77 of the NUIS work plan the Foreign Relations Department sets out its vision:

The Foreign Relations Department will act to strengthen the link between the student population in Israel and students around the world, and to develop their dialog. The Department will represent the union with international organizations and will be a partner in the general national effort of explaining [hasbara] Israel around the world.

Under “targets,” the document further specifies:

The Department will harness itself to the national effort to explain [hasbara] the position of Israel in the world.

Goal: the Department will act, in cooperation with government ministries and additional organizations, to improve the explanation [hasbara] of Israel’s position around the world.

Using students as Israel’s “pretty face”

The NUIS Foreign Relations Department is not content merely to “harness” itself to national propaganda efforts but is determined to take a leading role, with funding and support from government ministries, as the work plan explains:

Plan: In the face of the multiplicity of organizations in Israel that do hasbara and the lack of any real coordination and cooperation among them, the Union will act to form “a round table” where the various organizations will take part. The cooperation is meant to empower the methods of hasbara and to pool resources. Additionally, it is the goal of the Union to expand the hasbara done by Israeli students, and through them present the pretty face of Israel. It is the Department’s aspiration that through this cooperation, the number of delegations and events in which the student population takes place will expand, and that the support by government ministries will also expand, in future, in sending NUIS delegations abroad and subsidizing them.

Compulsory training by government propaganda officials

 

The work plan sets as a target, “expanding the number of ambassadors who explain Israel’s policy around the world.”

And specifies:

Plan: using students who go on delegations abroad on behalf of the Union (approximately 250 students a year) for hasbara purposes. Before each delegation the students will undergo a hasbara workshop on behalf of the Ministry of Hasbara, which will give them the tools and information to contend with the questions and the critical salvos and the ability to present in their stead “a different Israel.”

Training by government propaganda officials at the Ministry of Hasbara is moreover compulsory:

After selecting the students for a delegation, the students will undergo a hasbara workshop given on behalf of the Ministry of Hasbara, where the logistics are coordinated by the Department head. This training will be a condition for the student’s going on any delegation this year.

Remember that Jewish Agency propaganda official Avi Mayer dismissed the notion that students working in NUIS hasbara initiatives would be expected to present a specific – governmental – viewpoint. It could not be plainer that this is precisely what the NUIS does.

Relying on information from government ministries and StandWithUs

In its workplan, the NUIS Foreign Relations Department sets as a target: “Explaining Israeli policy in the European Student Union” (ESU). It will do this by:

Sending a quarterly report to the ESU about the situation in Israel, relying on reports issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Hasbara, the SWU [StandWithUs] organization, and others.

Using “humanitarian” aid for propaganda purposes

Perhaps one of the most cynical aspects of the NUIS workplan is the blatant use of humanitarianism for state propaganda purposes – known as “bluewashing.” The target set is “sending out a humanitarian delegation”:

Plan: “Tikkun Olam” [repairing the world] – a delegation of Israeli students will go on a humanitarian task in the world.

Operational organization: Foreign Relations Department head & and Nefesh Yehudi [Jewish Soul] organization.

What’s interesting however is that in order to implement this the workplan calls for:

Approaching the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Hasbara and the Nefesh Yehudi [Jewish Soul] organization with the goal of obtaining financing for the humanitarian delegation.

One might fairly ask what the Ministry of Hasbara (propaganda) has to do with humanitarian missions? It is clear of course that the main purpose – as can be seen in the rest of the work plan – is not humanitarianism, but presenting Israel in a sympathetic light.

What is also notable is the sectarian and exclusive nature of these plans. The NUIS purports to represent all students in Israel, presumably including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Yet the Foreign Relations Department plan makes no effort to include or represent such students, and by choosing the “Jewish Soul” organization as one of its main partners effectively excludes them.

“Entrenching” Israel in international student organizations

Under the heading “The Department will act to entrench the Union’s position in the international arena” the workplan states that NUIS will work to increase:

the number of Israeli representatives at the various committees of the ESU and its managing committee (EC) for the purpose of increasing the scope of influence on the ESU & especially the EC. This will be supported by the SWU [Stand With Us?] [sic].

The role of StandWithUs is particularly troubling here since among its other activities StandWithUs works with the Israeli government to harass and silence students who advocate for Palestinian rights on US college campuses.

Funding

According to its budget, NUIS receives the following grants:

Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarship project: NIS 180,000 ($47,000)

Jewish Agency scholarship project: NIS 100,000 ($26,000)

Nefesh Yehudi org: NIS 300,000 ($78,000)

On the expenditure side, the Foreign Relations Department budget includes a payment of NIS 5000 ($1300) to StandWithUs.

[For more details of the NUIS budget, click on headline above.]


Israel’s universities

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, 1912; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1918; Weizmann Institute of Science, 1934; Bar-Ilan University, 1955; Tel Aviv University, 1956; University of Haifa, 1963; Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 1969; Open University of Israel, 1974. (Ariel University, 2012 – not widely recognised).

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