The Fight against online hate

The Australian Jewish News (Sydney Edition) reports on the completion of the first stage of CIE’s new project to combat online hate. The first stage, funded by B’nei B’rith Australia and New Zealand, involved the design of a solution for emprically monitoring online hate, particularly in social media. The solution was presented at an experts meeting of the Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism which took place in Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in early July 2011. Following this meeting it was presented at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne. A report containing detailed information on the project was also created.

Source: Chantal Abitbol, The Fight against online hate, Australian Jewish News, 22 July 2011

Plans for Australian-designed software, which seeks to identify and disect online antisemitism, have been unveiled.

The system called Fight Against Hate is the brainchild of social media expert Andre Oboler, and forms one component of the Community Internet Engagement (CIE) project launched in Melbourne in January.

According to Oboler, its aim is to produce empirical data about the colume of online hate, focusing specifically on social-media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Its features include allowing the public to report content to a third party, separating data from questionable content, and producing trend reports on processed data. Over the past few weeks, Oboler has criss-crossed the globe to present the first-stage design of the softwarer — first at the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism in Israel and last weekend at B’nei B’rith events in Sydney and Melbourne.

“The response has been very positive,” Oboler told The AJN this week.

“The consensus is that this is something new and very much needed. And from the experts dealing with online hate, the view is that this is a tool that would allow them to do [much] deeper analysis, which they can’t really do at the moment. So far all we have is samples, not empirical data.

“The aim is to try and clean up social media,” Oboler said. “If we do that, we can start changing social values so that hate is again seen as not acceptable in society.”

Now all that is needed is the fundign to build it.

Oboler is trying to raise $230,000 to get it off the ground, with another $200,000 a year to cover operating costs. This is in addition to the CIE core operating budget.

“As soon as we have the funding we can start,” he said.

“What we hope is that the major donors in the Australian Jewish community are willing to step forward collectively so this solution can remain a primarily Australian initiative, covering not only antisemitism, but online hate in general. As a multicultural and innovative society, we believe it fitting that Australia is seen to take the lead in this arena.”

CIE NOTE: The CIE project has actually been operating since September 2009, not January (as indicated in this article), and its core funding is generously provided by the Pratt Foundation. The B’nei B’rith contribution provided additional capital to employ the additional staff needed for Fight Against Hate project.

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Jerusalem Report features CIE’s work combating online antisemitism

Lawrence Rifkin, The (Sometimes) Antisocial Network, Jerusalem Report, May 9 2011

Israel and Jewish organizations are scrambling to exploit the good side of Internet 2.0, but also to minimize its potential for spreading anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments.

NOT LONG AGO, IF THE conversation veered toward anti-Semitism on the Internet, it would focus on what seemed like an endless number of dedicated hate sites. These sites were so ubiquitous that Google, which relies on complex computer codes called algorithms to find entries that are relevant to what’s typed in its search window, would trumpet the hate site Jew Watch at the very top of its results for the word “Jew.”

The barrage of complaints that rolled in apparently made Google rethink at least some of its algorithms – so that typing the word “Jew” now brings in, high on the list of results, the following disclaimer: “If you recently used Google to search for the word “Jew,” you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google.

…Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted.

A search for ‘Jew’ brings up one such unexpected result.”

While there is far more than just one “unexpected result” (dedicated hate sites have probably multiplied since the Google/Jew uproar was first heard), some of the hatred has been migrating to a still evolving phenomenon called Internet 2.0. A sobriquet conjured up to imply a completely new Internet – which, in a way, it is – Internet 2.0 is unlike traditional websites designed for passive use. Internet 2.0 is built around what’s called “interoperability.”

This is hi-tech-speak for user interaction, and its denizens include social networking sites like the immensely popular Facebook and video-sharing sites such as Google’s YouTube, where, according to publicists, the servers upload 35 hours worth of footage from users every minute.

INTERNET 2.0 BRINGS PEOPLE together and further democratizes an already democratic medium. It allows anyone with a computer browser and modem – and no web publishing knowledge at all – to post text, photos, audio recordings and videos on the World Wide Web, usually for free.

That’s clearly a significant upside, and to revert to an old catchphrase, it can be very good for the Jews.

On Facebook alone, one can find any number of pages devoted to things Jewish and Israeli, ranging from organizations such as Chabad, USY and Peace Now to ad hoc groups calling themselves “I Stand with Israel Today” and “I’m Not Yelling… I’m Jewish… That’s How We Talk.” And as for YouTube, who among us in the lead-up to Passover did not receive at least one e-card or e-mail linked to an impressive holiday video presentation or a hilarious rendition of an old classic somehow reworked into a modern-day iteration of Moses and the 10 plagues? Israeli officials responsible for hasbara – a Hebrew term that refers to explaining Israel’s official policies and points of view – have zeroed in on Internet 2.0. The army has its own YouTube “channel” ( user/idfnadesk) with how-to videos for soonto- be inductees – along with spy drone footage of rocket-launching crews at work in Gaza.

And Benjamin Netanyahu got in on the act in late March when he was interviewed in a live television broadcast that, because it simultaneously appeared on YouTube, allowed questions to be put verbally to the prime minister in real time from around the world.

The official Internet 2.0 face of Israel is the Foreign Ministry’s Information and Internet Department.

“Over two years ago, we noticed that more and more people are getting their information from social media and not just from websites,” department head Chaim Shacham tells The Jerusalem Report. “We don’t really have a strong sense of where the best hasbara should be, so we decided to go where most of the people are.”

The department has its own Facebook page (, You Tube channel ( and Twitter account (, and uses them for what might be termed “proactive hasbara.”

“We view our business as branding Israel, not defending it,” Shacham says. “More and more people can identify with Israel if they can identify with the content. People using the new media usually want a burst of information and then to be drawn in. We use Internet 2.0 as a net, and then try to guide them to Internet 1.0 for a reservoir of content.”

On Facebook, the netting process begins when a client looks up a friend. The friend’s page reflects things he or she does and likes. If the friend has seen the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page and recommends it to others, the friend will note this with the nowomnipresent “Like.” And because so much of Facebook relies on links – perhaps the World Wide Web’s most unique tool – if the friend hasn’t posted a “Like” for the ministry’s page, there’s a chance the client will link to the page of a mutual friend who has.

Once you reach the Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page you’ll see Shacham’s “burst of information,” links that take you to his “Internet 1.0,” the ministry’s dedicated website (www.mfa/ That site is jam-packed with just about everything you might want to know about Israel – or, to be more blunt, just about everything Israel would want you to know. It is, after all, about branding.

“Yes, we want people to know about issues,” he tells The Report. “But we want them to learn about them while learning about Israel with its rich history, about the innovative Israel with hi-tech success and business opportunities, and about the Israel experience, with its tourism, arts and multiculturalism.”

Of course, as with any website, the address of one’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitter page is important: the simpler and more direct, the easier it is to remember. The Foreign Ministry’s YouTube and Twitter pages once had the “MFA” suffix that its Facebook page still has, but just plain “Israel” has been the goal.

“YouTube was withholding the name and we had to go through a lengthy process to prove we were the official representative of the Israeli government,” Shacham explains. “With Twitter it was a little different. It turns out that a pornographer in Florida whose first name is Israel owned the name. We ended up paying him $5,000 for the rights.”

SO MUCH FOR THE UP – or lighter – side of Internet 2.0. Its biggest downside, on the other hand, is the ease of accessibility for purveyors of hatred and hostility. And with regard to Israel, these are not limited just to anti-Semites or Israel-bashers.

They prominently included Jews and Israelis who vent their wrath on Arabs and on each other.

The recent brouhaha over a Facebook advocacy page in Arabic titled The Third Intifada serves as an illustration. On the surface, The Third Intifada exhorted followers from the West Bank and other Arab countries to stage something of a “million-man march” right up to the border with Israel on May 15, the Gregorian date of Israel’s independence and a day the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or the catastrophe. However, according to critics, the page had an undertone that could be construed as incitement to hatred and even violence against both Israelis and Jews, while user comments often were much less subtle.

Jewish watchdog groups, such as the Anti- Defamation League, appealed to Facebook, which in late March, after a bit of foot dragging, removed the page. Nonetheless, it has since reappeared in several forms, in turn spawning Facebook pages such as “Against the Third Palestinian Intifada” and “Crush the Third Intifada Page.”

“New ways of using the web, such as social networking sites like Facebook and user-generated content sites such as YouTube, have led to an explosion of online bullying,” says Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director for civil rights. “Social networking sites are also used to promulgate hate and extremist content, increasing the depth and breadth of hate material that is available and which confronts nonextremist users,” she tells The Report.

Lauter says her organization works directly with “service providers such as Facebook” to confront the problem.

“Our discussions are fruitful and ongoing,” she says. “It is critical to note that the amount of material – Facebook has hundreds of millions of pages, YouTube has hours of videos uploaded every second, and Twitter has 140 million tweets per day – makes it virtually impossible for pre-posting policing of material.”

Replying to a Jerusalem Report query on the Intifada page matter, Facebook spokesman Simon Axten e-mailed the following – apparently boilerplate – response: “[W]e don’t typically take down content that speaks out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.

However, we monitor Pages that are reported to us, and when they degrade to direct calls for violence or expressions of hate, we have and will continue to remove them.”

The spokesman referred to the specific issue as follows: “The Third Palestinian Intifada Page, while using a term that has been associated with violence in the past [referring to the term Intifada - ed], began as a call for peaceful protest. In addition, the administrators initially removed comments that promoted violence. However, once the Page gathered publicity, comments deteriorated to direct calls for violence, and eventually, the Page administrators themselves also participated in these calls. After sending several warnings to the administrators about posts that violated our policies, we removed the Page.”

ENTER ANDRE OBOLER, A SOCIAL media expert who directs the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia and co-chairs the working group on online anti-Semitism for the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. Oboler holds a PhD in computer science and in 2007-2008 was a post-doctoral fellow in political science at Israel’s Bar- Ilan University.

Taking his cue from the moniker given the new interactive Internet when it began gathering speed several years ago, Oboler coined the term “anti-Semitism 2.0.”

“The difference from classic anti-Semitism,” he tells The Report, “is that it tries to put on a socially acceptable face. Success here lowers social resistance to bigotry.”

By way of example, Oboler says he is bothered less by Stormfront, an openly anti- Semitic website run by white supremacists, than he is with the ostensibly benign Facebook, which can give similar material a veneer of respectability.

“I’m not so concerned about the spread of hate among people who hate us already,” he says. “I’m far more concerned about the spread of hate material to our friends and to those we’d want to be our friends in the future.”

Beyond the veneer, he says, the issue is also in the presentation.

“Anti-Semitism 2.0 mixes 50 percent racism and 50 percent claims of why it’s not racism. It compares Israel to Nazis, but goes on to say ‘we’re not racists,’ and then offers what it calls citations, but which are not really citations,” Oboler explains.

He claims that this modus operandi is particularly striking on Wikipedia. “You see a lot of things that are referenced to faulty, misused and fictitious citations. It is an attempt to portray hatred as an academic argument, all wrapped up in a legitimate website rather than an overtly hateful site.”

An overtly hateful website, he goes on, is much easier to have removed or filtered by search engines. “But you’re not going to pull down Facebook because of the anti-Semitism it contains. So the question is, what sort of ethical stand are Facebook and YouTube, for example, going to take on enforcement against hate messages?” Facebook’s Axten offers a short and, again, stock explanation of policy.

“Facebook is highly self-regulating,” his statement reads. “We provide report links on nearly every page and encourage people to let us know when they see something they think might violate our standards. Our team of investigators reviews and takes action on reported content according to our policies.”

Paul Solomon, spokesman for YouTube in Israel, is equally succinct. “Essentially, the community is the first line of defense. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that they do violate the Guidelines, we remove them.”

Yet he provides a bit of depth by explaining just how the company’s review system works: “There are three components,” Solomon wrote in response to a request from The Report.

“1) The community flags the video. Despite the rumor that flagging campaigns will remove a video, a single flag is sufficient to trigger this system. 2) Our algorithms prioritize the video in the queue. The algorithms examine things like flesh tones (for sexual content), the history of previous flags (i.e., has it been flagged and approved before?), and a few other demographic factors. 3) Our reviewers perform a manual review using our review tool.”

In reconsidering a video, YouTube looks at both content and intent.

“Consider, for example, the video of the death of [post-election demonstrator] Neda Soltan in Iran,” Solomon continues. “We have policies that prohibit shocking or graphic content.

On the face of it, a video showing a young woman bleeding to death would likely be removed if it were flagged. But we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, scientific or artistic (EDSA) value, provided that it is balanced with the additional context.”

More recently, the Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), which, according to its website, looks for mass incitement and demonization against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, had a run-in with YouTube, where it maintained its own channel. Apparently, an organized flagging campaign was mounted against PMW, and YouTube, most likely having taken only a superficial look without considering the context, eventually removed enough PMW videos to justify shutting down the entire channel – which, after a short appeal process, was reopened.

The same happened to a photo presentation uploaded by Jewish settlers after the government, in a highly controversial move, released graphic and gruesome photos of the bodies of five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby, who were butchered in their West Bank settlement in March. The move, Israeli officials openly said, was intended to show the true brutality of Arab terrorism, but YouTube looked at the content and said no – although it later relented.

Facebook and YouTube seem to have divergent approaches, Oboler tells The Report.

“With YouTube it’s ‘If in doubt, remove.’With Facebook it’s, ‘If in doubt, don’t remove.’” In a report published earlier this year, Oboler illustrates that flags and even written complaints might not always be enough, even with YouTube, where a group calling itself “theytnazism” presented a “list of people we hate and we want to kill… 1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians.”

“I reported this to YouTube in February [2010],” Oboler writes, “and on November 22 – 10 months later – [the group’s YouTube page] was still active…. I then included [a screenshot of the page] in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organization in France… and suddenly the group was gone.”

He believes this was not coincidental, as other groups he had complained to YouTube about, but never mentioned publicly, remained online.

“It’s all good and well to tell the public to report things,” Oboler tells The Report.

“Having people flag things is far more effective than any algorithms. But what happens afterward? The problem is how you decide when you’ve crossed the bridge. The driving force that pushes these companies to do anything is public pressure. It becomes a threat in a corporate sense.”

In a forthcoming report titled “A legal model for government intervention to combat online hate,” Oboler, as part of his work with the Zionist Federation of Australia, calls on that country to broaden existing anti-hate laws to more effectively combat the growing phenomenon on the Internet.

“Governments have a responsibility to take an active role in the online world; if they don’t they cannot meet their wider obligations to the people they serve,” he writes. “The powers, rights and limitations that apply to governments and private citizens in the real world need to be reflected online.”

He also aims his words at “[t]hose advising clients in the technology sector,” warning them that they “should be aware of the potential for increased government intervention.”

Oboler tells The Report that “the use of new media technology can bring governments and communities together. It’s just a channel that can be used for good and for ill, and we have to maximize its use for good.”

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Over 60 Jewish groups condemn boycott movement

NEW YORK – Over 60 Jewish organizations worldwide have issued a statement condemning the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement on college campuses.

The statement was published in the “BDS Cookbook,” an extensive resource for students and professionals to combat BDS through positive programming initiatives and coordinated reactive responses.

The statement asserts that academic, cultural and commercial boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel are “counterproductive to the goal of peace, antithetical to freedom of speech, and part of a greater effort to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland.”

It goes on to distinguish the fine line between criticism and anti-Semitism.

“We recognize and accept that individuals and groups may have legitimate criticism of Israeli policies,” the statement continued. “Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”

Characterizing the BDS movement as “antithetical to principles of academic freedom,” the statement contends that the movement “silences voices from across the Israeli political spectrum,” and espouses extremist rhetoric.

“By pursuing delegitimization campaigns on campus, proponents have provoked deep divisions among students and have created an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred,” the statement reads.

The statement is signed by groups ranging from the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, to the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and the Zionist Organization of America.

“The World Jewish Congress- United States signed the statement against BDS because we believe that BDS measures against Israel are ways to punish, isolate and falsely criminalize Israel by those who wish to malign her with libelous charges,” signatory Betty Ehrenberg told The Post.

“The statement as well is geared towards fighting against BDS on campus, so it is particularly important in helping to set the record straight for students in general who may not know the true story, and in helping to educate Jewish students in particular by providing them with the facts so that they can stand up to anti-Israel actions and sentiments on their campuses.”

Todd Gutnick, spokesperson for the ADL, told the Post: “As the global efforts to utilize various tactics calling into question the legitimacy of Israel as a member of the family of nations continue to percolate, in recent months, some activists behind anti-Israel initiatives have claimed that Jews and Israelis support these campaigns and tactics.

“While criticism of Israeli policies or actions is always acceptable, these efforts cross a line that goes far beyond the boundaries of mere criticism.

“The Anti-Defamation League felt it was important for mainstream American and international Jewish organizations to stand together and make clear that the vast majority of the Jewish community is utterly opposed to boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.”

By Jordana Horn

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CIE to Deconstruct the web of hate – if funding can be found

Adam Kamien, Deconstructing a web of hate, Australian Jewish News, 7 January, 2011. Pg 4.

A NEW website aimed at mobilising world Jewry, governments and community organisations against the proliferation of online anti-Semitism will be launched on January 24.

The Community Internet Engagement (CIE) site is the brainchild of social media expert Andre Oboler, who has consulted with governments and community organisations around the world.

According to Oboler, theCIE will be a hub for research, education, technology support and advocacy.

He said social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube and others, are easily manipulated by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigners and need to be properly held to account.

“The idea is to build some software whereby artificial intelligence, as well as more wide-spread engagement, would allow us to track pretty much all online anti-Semitism,” Oboler said.

The CIE got off the ground in 2008 thanks to funding from The Pratt Foundation, and has since been coopted by the Zionist Federation of Australia.

Oboler is currently rattling the tin for the CIE and told The AJN his is hoping to raise $2 million, a significant portion of which will be used to create unique software. He would not be drawn on the nature of the program though, citing “trade secret issues”.

“The Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Weisenthal Centre have given up on doing empirical measuring of online anti-Semitism. They Reckon the Internet’s too big, too complicated,” Oboler said.

The co-editor of Australian Jewish online discussion forum Galus Australis, Rachel Sacks-Davis, also believes combating online anti-Semitism is a near insurmountable pursuit.

“I commend any efforts to encourage Jewish community organisations to engage in the online environment as this will help these organisations to communicate more effectively with the Jewish community. However, it is unlikely that it will be an effective way to combat online anti-Semitism,” she said.

“Until anti-Semitism is completely eradicated from the world, it will not be eradicated from the internet. The best strategy for the Jewish community is to create online spaces for Jewish expression, which provide opportunities for people – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to have positive interactions with Jews and Jewish culture.”

But Oboler is adamant inroads can be made. He believes the creation of an online equivalent of the Community Security Group could significantly reverse worrying trends towards anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigning on the internet.

“The result would be we would have a handle on what was happening and we would be able to start reversing some of the public opinion losses that we’re suffering,” Oboler said.

To donate to the Community Internet Engagement project contact Andre Oboler through his website

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ZFA’s innovative internet initiative

To help the community become more involved with the online world, the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) has this month launched the unique Community Internet Engagement (CIE) Project. Headed by online expert, Dr Andre Oboler, regarded for his research into online anti-Semitism and Internet issues affecting Israel, the project aims to build on the established community infrastructure and get Jews online collectively.

“Jews have always been big on communication. We are a literate peoplewho valued books long before many other cultures. Today we need to take that online,” Dr Oboler told the AJN.

With the assistance of two part time employees, Dr Oboler plans to ensure that all community organisations have a functioning website, in addition to having skills to discover, communication and share information.

“The CIE project is about connecting organisations with their members, and with each other. It is about removing barriers and bringing us closer together and closer to Israel,” Dr Oboler said. “We will work in partnership with the existing organisations, giving new skills to the community leaders and those that work for the community. We will be leaders in research into online issues that affect the community… fromt he positives of sharing simchas, to the problems that threaten and challenge us, we’ll be there working hand in hand with the community.”

The CIE will provide basic services – such as the building of small websites, occasionla updates, training, advice and public discussions – to the community free of charge. Dr Oboler said his team also aims to get the community blogging.

While based at the ZFA, the initative also involves the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.



Published as Dalia Sable, ZFA’s innovative internet initiative, The Australian Jewish News, 18 December 2009, p 11

CIE works with Australian Jewish community organisations that fall under the umbrella of the ZFA, the ECAJ and under affiliated umbrella bodies of either organisation.

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SL Israel brings Israel to the World

Second Life (SL), with more than 18 million members, is an online virtual 3-d world. Often referred to as web 2.0, these advanced web based communities allow for greater social networking, collaboration, and creativity between its users. SL Israel seeks to capitalize on this trend, bringing Israel advocacy into new and exciting areas with the facilitation of forward looking technology. The original inspiration for the project was a search for venues to promote Israel that were outside the box and didn’t center on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Second Life reaches out to a global audience, so it was decided to build an Israel there that is a fun and entertaining place to visit.

Second Life Israel was launched January 2008 and since then has consistently ranked as one of the top Israel and Jewish sites in Second Life. The purpose of SL Israel was to enable people from all over the world, who had never visited Israel in real life, to visit Israel in SL and perhaps eventually in real life as well. It was to allow people to learn about Israel, especially the fun aspects of this country, which is not reported in the regular news media, and to serve as a meeting place between Israelis and non-Israelis.

SL Israel offers Second Life’s millions of members the ability to teleport instantly into the virtual Israel, and to explore a country that is fun and educational, ancient and modern, imaginative and real. There is a tourism information spot for those interested in a real life visit to Israel. Other major sites on SL Israel include the holy sites of the 3 major monotheistic religions, the Tel Aviv Promenade with the Opera House and Dizingoff Fountain, the Dead Sea and mud baths, the Eilat Underwater Observatory, and the Roman Amphitheater in Caesarea. It also includes an exhibition on 16 cutting edge Israeli companies featured at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem in 2008.

SL Israel Dance Yom Ha'atzmaut Party

SL Israel has received extensive coverage in the Israeli, Jewish, and SL media and blogosphere, including such outlets as Yediot Acharonot, The Jerusalem Post, the NY Jewish Week, The Forward, and New World Notes.

SL Israel hosts regular events, including Chanukah balls, Purim costume parties, a live comedy performance streamed from Jerusalem, and numerous music concerts. In 2008 SL Israel streamed a Yom Ha’atzmaut concert by former band members of Shotei Hanevuah that was performed at Columbia University. In 2009 SL Israel’s Yom Ha’atzmaut party featured the opening of the ‘Israeli Entrepreneurial Spirit’ exhibition followed by a live audience discussion by Israeli technology expert Dr. Yesha Sivan. Participants were then invited to a virtual dance party with music from Hisham Abu Me’eteg and Assaf Givati, from the group ‘Urban Desert.’

Second Life Israel is run by the Community Internet Engagement Project (CIE) of the Zionist Federation of Australia, a global team of experts on Israel advocacy and online media engagement under the supervision of Dr Andre Oboler. Chaim Landau heads the Second Life Israel Project from Jerusalem, he can be contacted by educators, youth movements and members of the second life community who wish to make use of Second Life Israel :

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