As I mentioned yesterday, Israel's public image is taking a real hit from Twitter and Facebook reports on Gaza. Here's their solution:
In a campaign to improve its image abroad, the Israeli government plans to provide scholarships to hundreds of students at its seven universities in exchange for their making pro-Israel Facebook posts and tweets to foreign audiences.
The students making the posts will not reveal online that they are funded by the Israeli government, according to correspondence about the plan revealed in the Haaretz newspaper.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which will oversee the programme, confirmed its launch and wrote that its aim was to “strengthen Israeli public diplomacy and make it fit the changes in the means of information consumption”.
The government’s hand is to be invisible to the foreign audiences. Daniel Seaman, the official who has been planning the effort, wrote in a letter on 5 August to a body authorising government projects that “the idea requires not making the role of the state stand out and therefore it is necessary to adhere to great involvement of the students themselves, without political linkage or affiliation”.
[...] But Alon Liel, the doveish former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, criticised the plan as “quite disgusting”. “University students should be educated to think freely. When you buy the mind of a student, he becomes a puppet of the Israeli government grant,” he said. “You can give a grant to do social work or teach but not to do propaganda on controversial issues for the government.”
This is the not the first time Israel has used student groups for hasbara (propaganda):
Last year a “covert” Israeli government initiative came to light which planned to pay students for spreading propaganda online.
“The whole point of such efforts is to look like they are unofficial, just every day people chatting online,” Israel expert Dena Shunra told The Electronic Intifada.
“But in fact, these are campaigns of organized lying, orchestrated with government-approved talking points and crowdsourced volunteers and stipend recipients,” Shunra added.
According to Ynet, “The war room was opened in the afternoon of the first day of Operation Protective Edge,” one week ago, by the IDC Herzliya student union, and currently has more than 400 volunteers active in it, all students at the institution.
We all know how hard they work at this stuff. But will it work this time?