Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 2)

Published as: Andre Oboler, Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 2), Jerusalem Post Blog, July 31 2011

This is part two of an article on online public diplomacy and the challenge and opportunity September presents for Israel advocates. In the first part I explained what public diplomacy is and where it comes from. I concluded by noting the need for the involvement of more professionals, better resourcing for the online sphere, and a cultural change in favour of joint projects and greater cooperation between Israel’s supporters. In this continuation of the article I discuss the challenges we will face in more detail, and what we should be doing for online public diplomacy in support of Israel.

The battle we are facing in September, from the BDS movement to the unilateral declaration of statehood to Durban III, is about delegitimization. The battle began as an effort to brand Israel as evil using Apartheid South Africa as a metaphor, but today it is modeled on the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a public diplomacy battle that seeks to dissolve Israel both from within and through external isolation from without.

The battle lines are clearly visible and many strong advocates of the left, who have opposed the occupation for decades, are now equally vocal in their opposition to a limited boycott, a declaration of a Palestinian State outside the framework of direct negotiations, and a declaration before Palestinian institutions are ready to run a state. They correctly see these moves as tactics to divide, conquer and ultimately erase the Jewish state from the pages of history. These moves are more about being anti-Israel than they are about being pro-Palestinian. Israel’s supporters have clear points of consensus; they can stand together if political differences on other topics can be ignored. This, however novel, is not what makes September different.

The real difference this September is that online advocacy will come into its own. September will be a month of advocacy on college campuses across North America since the Arab Spring. It will come at a time when activism on campuses is traditionally at a peek, the start of a new academic year. From North America, the power of social media will take the campaign global and connect it with other causes and campaigns. The Palestinian cause has a history of infiltrating other groups. We have seen the “Stop the War” coalition rebrand as “Stop the war – Free Palestine,” the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament adopted a “Hands of Iran” campaign. We need to be ready not only in North America, but in places as far apart as Europe, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Social media will take this global.

At our end, efforts are also under way. Unfortunately they tend to be authorized by people with little to no understanding of social media. These people employ others who “sort of get it.” The result is very few experts and lots of people who think they are experts. Tactics that have been tried and reject years ago by the other side are now being promoted with much excitement by some Israel advocates. What few resources are dedicated to online advocacy are misspent. There is a lack of long term thinking, a lack of strategic analysis and planning, and a lack of online expertise. Being able to use Facebook does not make one a social media expert and getting lots of likes on a Facebook page does not itself count as a success. It may be the first step, but it is only the first step.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Blogs and all the other content sharing and social media platforms are only a publicity channel. The real online public diplomacy work takes far more resources to create. It involves websites, videos, and dedicated social media accounts that will rapidly get large followings. It involves high quality content generation, access to celebrities, and enough of a splash to be noticed in the main stream media. Mostly though, it involves education.

Effective public diplomacy, even online, means sharing a story, a narrative, and connecting to people so they want to learn more. It means giving people confidence in their knowledge so they can engage in debate, correct misconceptions and take apart the delusional misrepresentation of Israel they see presented in public. None of this is unique to social media, but social media provides a channel these supporters of Israel, these advocates, can use to express themselves. The online resources give them something to share, something to comment on, and something to use to educate and challenge both themselves and their friends. The days when it was enough to parrot messages prepared by others are long past.

The Palestinian plans are openly published on the web, or distributed widely to lists with little or no security. Our efforts tend to be super secret with no Jewish or pro-Israel group knowing what any other is doing. Worse, every group feels the only initiatives worth perusing on the ones they create and the only campaign worth perusing is the one with their name and logo in 10 foot high letters. We don’t have a culture of cooperation, we have a culture of self interest. Social movements don’t mix well with such an environment. However good the content, unless people are willing to share it in their personal life, in their personal online space, the effort is wasted – and how the content is branded makes a huge difference to this.

Our leadership structure poses another problem. Those in leadership, and I am speaking specifically about those in the 45+ age group, need to realize things are now different and their vast experience is dated. The world has changed. The core philosophy of needing only a small handful of leaders, and working to maintain this core while disempowering many others, is the antithesis of what’s needed for modern leadership in an online world. The new model is one of networks, and of many people each contributing in their own way and each having their own level of creative input into ideas and taking ownership. Asking people to turn up for a rally or to like a Facebook page is no longer enough. Even if they do it, they are not involved enough to become advocates for the cause.

Within organizations, those in control of budgets usually don’t get social media and are unwilling to commit resources. They expect everything on the internet to be free, every task done by volunteers, and anything that is done to be “good enough.” This attitude shows a complete disrespect both for the power of the medium and for the experts working in this field. Why do we respect our lawyer and accountants when asking them for advice, but not show that respect for our computer science, information technology, and digital media graduates? Until we realize these people are very highly paid in their professional work, and their time is often worth as much as the lawyers and the doctors, we will have a problem. Until we start inviting many of them onto our boards and management committees, out lay-leadership will have a blind spot.

As September draws near, we need to put more attention on online public diplomacy. We need to stop focusing on what each of our organizations can do to get recognized. We need to stop focusing on how we can do the minimum necessary to look active without investing resource. We need to stop shifting the burden to our volunteers and asking them to repost organizational links. We need to decide if Israel is worth our commitment, and if it is we need to get serious.

We need to decide if we are ready to properly resource projects. We need to decide if we can afford to engage experts. We need to recognize the difference between a volunteer who is good at using social media and a social media professional. That last one is the difference between going to a first aider or a doctor when you are seriously ill. We need to start to work together, to share ideas, financial resources and even staff. We need to make getting the job done, and not getting the headlines, our goal. Unless we start to make a change, my prediction is that when September comes we will once again be caught napping. Let’s not miss this opportunity, let’s at least start the reform and modernization process.

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Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 1)

Published as: Andre Oboler, Online public diplomacy: When September comes (Part 1), Jerusalem Post Blogs, 25 July 2011

As September draws near, both supporters of Israel and Palestinian activists are becoming more organized and are spending more time online planning, networking, and building both resources and infrastructure. As an expert in online advocacy, many of these plans end up on my desk. I receive not only the pro-Israel plans, but also copies of plans that Palestinian activists have been discussing – often with a note asking “what are we going to do about this?” This two part article discusses online public diplomacy for Israel and the threats and opportunity September provides.

Israel has always known the outcome of war is shaped by diplomats as much as it is by soldiers. Abba Eban’s role in the earlier years of the state, particularly at times of war, was phenomenal. Eban however engaged in more than simple diplomacy. He also invested his time heavily in the media and in meetings with American Jewry. This was a reflection of a changing reality. Along with diplomats and soldiers, public opinion started to play a role in determining the outcomes of war.

Governments soon started to respond to the need to have foreign populations think well of them, giving rise to the term “public diplomacy” which was coined in 1965. The formal history of public diplomacy however predates the coining of the terms, it goes back to the establishment of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1953. USIA sought to manage the world’s perception of the United States as a force for good, and at its peak spent 2 billion dollars a year of tax payers money on this task.

Modern public diplomacy has taken a new twist. This is a result of a change in media consumption from a one way broadcast medium to a two way dialogue. The result has been a shift from broadcasting to recruiting members of the public, or segments of civil society, to share your message indirectly. This can also be done by boosting the volume of existing fringe groups.

The debate over boycott laws and the limits of civil society action in Israel is really a debate about the role foreign funding may play in Israeli politics, and specifically the use of foreign funding to boost fringe opinions. Perhaps most worrying is when foreign governments engage in such internal manipulation. This is clearly public diplomacy, and equally clearly, as documented by NGO Monitor, it has been used to fund delegitimization within Israel.

The debate surrounding the New Israel Fund (NIF) can be seen as another aspect of the public diplomacy battle. NIF have dodged and weaved rather than coming out with a clear statement saying either: (a) NIF will not support any organization who supports BDS, regardless of that organization’s aim, or (b) NIF will support Israeli civil society organizations regardless of their position on BDS, provided they promote Israel democracy. Either of these positions is legitimate for an Israeli civil society organization.

The problem so many are having, is that only one of these positions is consistent with being Pro-Israel and the other fuel anti-Israel public diplomacy both symbolically and financially. The second position effectively says: when there is a war on about democratic rights, we will play a role in the public diplomacy effort, but when the war is about the continued legitimacy of the state, we will not commit. That’s a pretty powerful message. To take the first position for a minute, imagine how powerful it would be for the message that BDS is off limits if organizations like NIF made it a condition of funding? With a position like that from NIF and the left generally, the entire boycott law debate may never have arisen.

More than the media, the battle ground today is online. Unlike mass media, social media is interactive. The audience is also the content producer, people do their own filtering, find their own sources, and share with their friends and wider networks. Those pushing an agenda, on all sides are constantly seeking to break into these networks; to make your circle of friends share their content. They are seeking to set limits and promote unity in their sphere of commonality with their target audience, and to use this to drive a wedge between their target audience and others. There are also larger online public diplomacy projects, most run by experts, which are actively seeking to shape public opinion.

Electronic Intifada is one of the best of these, and seems to only grow stronger each year. On our side, well established sites like my own Zionism On The Web, which have run voluntarily for years, are not updated as regularly as they should be. This is typical of sites heavily reliant on the voluntary contribution of a few experts and which are intrinsically linked to these volunteers. One of the most prolific volunteers was Ami Isseroff and with his passing an entire network of pro-Israel and pro-peace sites have lost their spark. Come September, I’m pretty sure we’re going to notice.

However you look at it, the Palestinian narrative is dominant online. They seem to have better resources, more professionals, and allies from the far right to the far left that promote their narrative. They also work well together, sharing resources, content, and campaigns. The Jewish community’s own way of operating is ill-suited to the online world and problems in the relationship between Israel and Diaspora exacerbate our difficulties. September provides both a threat and an opportunity. If we are open to change, to cooperation, and to funding increased professionalism in the online activity of our communities, September could see significant growth and re-engagement with both Israel and local communities across the Jewish world. If not, well, it will be business as usual as we slip further and further behind.

Part two will discuss more of what we should be doing and what challenges we will face.

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Web searching gets personal for Israeli teen


In an attempt to organize the Web experience on a whole new level, 19-year-old Daniel Gross and his $4.7 million budding company have created a personalized search toolbar to index and sort through all of the user’s online data.

“More and more people in the world are approaching this point where a lot of information you have is online on a bunch of different websites,” Gross said, reminiscent for the times when computer users could just press “Control+F” and find necessary information on their computer hard drives. “What hit me hard was events,” he added, frustrated that a whole host of places, like Evite, Facebook and Gmail, could all contain different appointments and social gatherings.

The result – a free tool called “Greplin,” which allows subscribers to add as many websites as desired to their accounts so that the program can search through all the data in one place. If a user knows he or she had scheduled a meeting at a local coffee shop, for example, but can neither remember the time of the meeting nor where that information was stored, Greplin’s goal is to provide a quick answer.

Greplin – whose name comes from a combination of the words “grep,” a programming term used in search utilities, and “zeppelin,” the online “cloud,” or network – currently has around $700,00 worth of angel investments and about $4 million in series A (first round) finances.

“More and more of the information we have and consume is not sitting on our hard-dive – it’s on some other service,” Gross said. “Why can’t I have this box and type text into it and get results about items that I own on the Internet?” “If you think of Google, it’s a great way to search the public Internet – we’re primarily building a ‘Google’ but for your things,” he added.

Gross, who for the last 15 months has been living in San Francisco, was born and raised in Jerusalem, after his parents made aliya from America. After finishing high school in Israel, he successfully applied for a grant from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed funder for start-ups.

“Y Combinator is boot camp for start-ups,” Gross said, explaining that participants are generally awarded investments between $12,000 and $20,000. “The goal is for you to take that money and go through this three-month program where they give you basic building blocks on how to be a good company.”

The idea that Gross originally used in his grant application was not Greplin, however, but a website like eBay with a social networking structure so that buyers and sellers could see what their friends’ consumer patterns were. This concept then evolved into yet another idea, which in turn ended up not working at the last minute, toward the end of the grant period. So Gross said he needed to quickly think of something else to impress the judges – representatives from various investment groups that were coming to learn about that season’s Y Combinator projects.

“I essentially built a basic form of Greplin in the last 48 hours,” Gross said, and this basic model had surprising success with the investors who attended the March 2010 event.

Deciding he wanted to expand upon the idea, Gross said he joined up six months ago with company co-founder Robby Walker, an intellectual phenomenon who began college at nine years old and had a PhD by age 20, who at the time was working at Google and had done Y Combinator in the past.

“People like him have this desire to build things,” Gross said. “They love building products.”

Greplin launched an initial public version of the website in November, but because “a lot of people tried to use it,” the site “crashed” and had to be restructured, Gross said. Since then, he explained, the site has been “re-launched a million times before it worked,” but now is working properly.

The company’s most recent developments include a $4 million investment fromSequoia Capital that closed in December and went public in February, along with the hiring of three new employees.

“Greplin has the potential to be a killer app,” said Dr.

Andre Oboler, social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“What it adds is the convenience of everything in one place, while at the same time asserting its independence.

With the larger players already having so much information on each of us, the last thing we need is for them to be aggregating our data.

Greplin lets the user enjoy the benefits of aggregation without the need for crosssharing between platforms. I have no doubt that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other sites will soon start competing for this space, but personally, I’d much rather trust Greplin.

“Greplin is carving an important niche for itself in a market where there is decreasing trust in the major players.

As an independent aggregation of personal information, Greplin has the potential to put the customer first, and that may prove to be a major commercial advantage.”

Greplin never actually gets to see users’ passwords on their various online accounts being searched, because similar to what occurs in Facebook “app” usage, the subscriber grants Greplin access through each individual site – upon adding Facebook to the index, for example, a Facebook page will pop up asking the user if he or she wants to grant access to Greplin, according to Gross. The same occurs on websites like Gmail, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange and Twitter, and the technical term for such a process is called “OAuth,” which standards for Open Authorization.

“We have never stored a single password,” Gross said.

While basic usage is free, Greplin is now beginning to charge ($5 and $15 monthly plans) for storing more data and adding certain “premium” sites to user indexes, those that required “quite a bit of computational force” on the part of the Greplin staff, Gross explained. One such site would be Salesforce, which offers businesses massive customer relationship management tools, according to Gross.

“Is it something that business users will have a tendency to use? Is it very expensive for us to index?” Gross said were some the questions that go into deciding if a site should be considered “premium.”

Asked whether the public should be expecting anything new from Greplin in the near future, he responded, “We don’t have any solid product launches coming up in the next few days but we will soon.”

Gross’s interest and skills in computer science stem back to his childhood.

“I was sort of always interested in this as a kid and my father is a computer science teacher in Israel,” Gross said.

“I was always curious and I had the tools to learn.”

Attending university to accrue even more such tools is “on the list of things I have to do,” Gross added, noting that “there seems something to be gained by having education in the arts that I don’t have” – so he plans to apply to college, though not tomorrow.

“My parents are Jewish, so I think I have to,” he said, laughing.

Gross wouldn’t comment on how he is dealing with his requirement to serve in the IDF. He has no immediate plans to return to Israel but he said that he had initially expected to come back right away and still remains surprised that he didn’t.

“I constantly thought to myself I’d be back a month later and then three months later,” Gross said. “But once we actually took funding, I realized I couldn’t just back out. I have other people’s money invested in the success of my company.”

When asked to give a statement about Gross’s case and his obligation to enlist, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said he “did not show up for induction and is currently out of the country. Upon his return to Israel, he’ll be handled by the relevant authorities.”

By Sharon Udasin

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Schalit Bill to come one step closer to legislation

Ten months after passing their preliminary readings, and years after they were first filed, bills designed to put pressure on Hamas to release captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit will begin to be prepared Monday for their first reading on the Knesset floor.

The bills, collectively known as the Schalit Bill, will be joined together in the process, and sponsors hope the final product will be ready for the first plenum reading during the Knesset’s Summer Session.

The Knesset’s Interior and Environment Committee will hold the first hearing on the bill, which proposes changing the prisonconditions of Hamas prisoners as long as the terror organization continues to hold the IDF soldier in captivity.

Despite the bill’s popularityamong MKs, its future is far from certain. “This bill will correct the absurd situation by which terror organizations kidnap Israeli citizens as bargaining chips, completely prevent visits, while members of these terror organizations who sit in Israeli prisons are allowed to receive visitors,” complained MK Danny Danon in the introduction to the bill that he sponsored.

Danon’s amendment would reduce visits to the minimum required by law, permitting only visits by an attorney and visits by the International Red Cross once every three months.

Last May, the bills, sponsored by Danon, Marina Solodkin (Kadima), Yariv Levin (Likud) and Yoel Hasson (Kadima), sailed through preliminary readings with support from both opposition and coalition members, leading to a 56-10 victory.

The bills originated in the previous administration, with the bill sponsored by Solodkin and cosponsored by then-MK Yuli Edelstein. With the formation of the Likud government, two separate bills – one filed by MK Danny Danon (Likud) and the second by MK Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) – were also filed, but repeatedly failed to win the support of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

In May 2010, a deal was reached by which the government would support the bills on the condition that they be advanced to further readings only “in concert and consultation” with the government and the Internal Security and Justice Ministries.

“This bill reflects democracy working to defend itself,” said Solodkin. “I had hoped that a bill that I started in the last government could at least be advanced in this current government, which is supposed to be a national-right-wing government.”

But Solodkin noted that, instead, the government had dragged its feet, both on supporting the bill and then on bringing it to committee for preparation.

Solodkin would not say that she was optimistic, but that she hoped that the bill could be passed in its first plenum reading during the summer, which would allow it to continue to be legislated even if the government were to fall.

By: Rebecca Anna Stoil

Peres expresses ‘kinship’ with Schalits
PM on Schalit deal: Hamas planning attacks from jail
Country observes five minutes of silence for Schalit

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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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In Israel Google Street View needs serious thought

Source: Andre Oboler, In Israel Google Street View needs serious thought, Jerusalem Post Blogs, Feb 20, 2011

Google would like to launch Street View in Israel. The web based application adds an extra level of depth to Google Maps. People can zoom in and see what the street actually looks like to passersby. Google uses roving vehicles that drive down the street taking millions of digital photographs to collect the necessary data. Street view pieces these together along with controls that allow users to step down the street, or turn their view to different angles. Want the red house with the blue door? Google street view has it covered.

Street view also comes with draw backs in the areas of privacy and security. Cars, people, and security measures are all captured. Street view is like having a team of surveillance personal who can immediately send you photographs of any location. The real difference is that they pull these photographs from their archive rather than taking them live. Another difference is that under pressure from privacy regulators, Google added technology to blur faces, license plates and other details identifying people and companies who have been photographed.

Photography has posed problems for Israel before. Three years ago I wrote “Let’s not give away all out secrets on the web.” The issue then was Facebook use by IDF soldiers who were taking pictures on base and in the field. These photographs had the potential to compromise security, but I urged the IDF not to go overboard. Instead, I suggested the flow of information could be managed using existing structures. That approach is not available here as Google itself takes the images.

Street view could be very useful in public spaces, parks, museums, hotels and places of historical, cultural, and religious interest. It could significantly help tourism. A street view of the old city in particular could prove very popular. However, concerns about security in a small number of places, and about privacy in a far larger set of localities, suggest blanket permission would be unwise. Given its connection to Google maps, an edge to edge coverage is not needed. Google could easily provide street view only in front of designated locations of interest where permission has been specifically granted and if needed, where a risk assessment has already taken place.

Israel has specific needs, but the wider international concerns with street view should also be considered. These start with the ability of people to be easily removed. The original requirements were bordering on the comical, but they have improved. We still need to ask if they have improved enough, and whether Google can promise swift compliance with removal requests.

Gated communities, kibbutzim, and villages for new immigrants in particular should have a right to keep out the street view car, or to invite it in. The default should be exclusion until the local community give permission. This need is not unique to Israel, but it may have special implications. In the UK village of Broughton an angry crowd surrounded the street view car preventing its work. A spate of burglaries had residents concerned that appearing on Google Street View could attract further problem. (The article about this incident in The Sunday Times may of course have led to the same result, unless you assume thieves don’t read The Sunday Times).

Google street view cars have also been found collecting and storing data from open wireless networks in addition to taking pictures. This data was not just related to the location of open (non password protected) wireless networks, but also included payload data. In Ireland Google was forced to delete this data. What data could be collected in Israel, and how might this harm Israel? Both public diplomacy and security considerations need to be considered. How might this data be used against Israel’s interests, particularly if it is stored in the US and subject to US government control rather than Israeli control? Keeping the data solely in Israel would be a significant development.

The basic disconnect between our assumption of privacy and the concept of street view should also be considered. Segments of the online world have found the irony of stalking the Google Street View car irresistible. Bonus points apply if you can catch Google breaking the law. Of courseGoogle will also catch you catching Google breaking the law. Beneath the fun and games, discussion in the tech savvy online community are ripe with concerns about street view, Google’s potential use of the data, and the wider implications of online monitoring that is publically available. These ideas also need consideration, though culturally Israelis may be less concerned about privacy and surveillance, provided it is for a good cause and not simply a company’s profits. Street view may also have positive benefits for Israel’s security services (at the expense of civil liberties), the balance in Israel may be different to elsewhere in the world.

Privacy officials in Israel as well as Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom have already raised concerns about Google Street View and Google Buzz. They have criticized the roll out of technology before full consideration and protections have been put in place for the public. Yoram Hacohen, head of the Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority signed the letter on behalf of Israel. When the new task force, headed by Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor meets, they may want to consultation with Mr Hacohen and see what role his authority could play in any future arrangements and what additional powers they may require. Some regulators overseas already have the ability to impose significant fines for privacy breaches.

Whatever issues the task force considers, they will not be an exhaustive list of the impact Street View could have on the lives of Israelis. Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement. This may be a good first step.

Israel also has a responsibility to act in the Interests of its people and of the Jewish people more generally. In light of that, Israel may also request further unrelated guarantees from Google, such as an undertaking to cooperate more fully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Antisemitism. The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, of which I am co-chair, came up with many recommendations for service providers like Google. Now might be the time to open that dialogue with Google directly. Google has been far better than Facebook when it comes to respecting the rights of democratic states, but that doesn’t Israel can’t negotiate and ensure its issues are given a higher priority by the internet giant as part of any new expansion.

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Commandment 614: Learning about the Holocaust may not be fun

Andre Oboler, Commandment 614: Learning about the Holocaust may not be fun, Jerusalem Post Blog, 27 January 2011

Late last year reports surfaced in the media that Maxim Genis , an Israeli Jew born in Ukrainian, had cancelled the release of a computer game he spent four years building after pressure from the US based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others.

The game, a first person shooter, put the player in the role of a member of the Sonderkommando, a member of the “special unit” (almost entirely Jewish) who worked in the crematoriums and were tasked with disposing of the bodies of those gasses by the Nazis. The first task of any new Sonderkommando unit was disposing of their predecessors, and 2 to 4 months later the same would usually happen to them. Unlike many Jews murdered in the death camps, the Sonderkommando knew exactly what lay in store for them.
On October 7th, 1944 the Sonderkommando rose up against SS. Filip Muller, a member of the Sonderkommando, described what occurred: “Chaim Neuhof, a Jew from Sosnowice, who had been a member of the Sonderkommando since 1942, approached SS Staff Sergeant Busch and after a brief exchange, yelled the password “Hurrah” and struck the SS man with a hammer.” In the uprising that followed, one of the crematoria was destroyed and a number of SS officers killed. The Sonderkommando involved, the women who supplied them with explosives, and other elements of the resistance within the camps, were all hunted down and shot, hung or gassed. Not all Jews went to the gas like lambs to the slaughter.
The Sonderkommandos are often the subject of contempt. Primo Levi called them “akin to collaborators” for their role in the Nazi killing machine. Other survivors and the Jewish establishment tend to view them negatively as well. They in turn argue they had no choice and were as much victims as any others.
Maxim Genis’s game is built on a game from 19 years ago, Wolfenstein 3D. This was the original first person shooter game, and it too took place against the Nazi. In Wolfenstein 3D the player is an American soldier trying to escape a Nazi stronghold and the aim is to kill as many Nazi as possible on the way out. Genis’s game by contrast is simply about getting out. Where Wolfenstein 3D shows a World War II without mention of the Holocaust, Genis puts the murder of Jews at the center of this story.
In an interview with Kotaku, a video game blog, an ADL spokes person said, “The Holocaust should be off-limits for video games.” They called Genis’s game “horrific and inappropriate” and “an offensive portrayal of the Holocaust”. They described it as a “crude effort to depict Jewish resistance during this painful period which should never be trivialized”. The Simon Wiesenthal Center were also critical, asking, “What happens if this is the only thing a young person gets to know about the Holocaust or a concentration camp?”
The ADL and SWC play valuable roles in Holocaust education, but they don’t have a monopoly on Holocaust remembrance. This game may be a decade too early, distressing to survivors in its glorification of the resistance effort of the Sonderkommando. It may, however, also be 19 years too late. Other aspect of WWII have long been the topic of games and it is through games that many get to know about aspects of history. The Jews have been painted out of this history, forgotten if you will. This gives rise the Rabbi Cooper’s theoretical young person who currently knows nothing. Show we tell them Jews were killed and show them the ovens? Or should eb leave them in blissful ignorance?
Used properly, games are a great way to educate. I doubt a game based on the camps would be popular… Done properly it would be far too distressing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing? Games educating on the Holocaust (even if that is not their primary purpose) should not be automatically lumped with the neo-Nazi propaganda games the ADL and SWC usually oppose.
Maxim Genis told Heeb Magazine that the media exposure, “just killed me emotionally…I can’t eat, barely sleep, can’t work or function.” He said he put 4 years into the game, including extensive research. Then under pressure he cancelled it. Expert help to make the game truely an asset was available close by at Yad Vashem. The addition of a historical background document on the incident depicted in the game, and links to further information, would truly have made the game an asset. This episode is a loss for Holocaust education, but more significantly, it shows we have the wrong attitude and are asking the wrong questions.
Outside of the Jewish community, education on the Holocaust is poor, often limited to the fact that “many Jews and other people died”. Creating awareness in the wider population of the crematoriums, and the intentional nature of the Nazi murder machine, may be sufficient vindication for Maxim Genis’s game. To answer Rabbi Cooper’s question, if all a player learns is that there were camps and a mass murder of Jews, even that may be an improvement over total ignorance. But it doesn’t need to stop there. A link to more information means many people’s knowledge would not stop there. Given the high level of exposure to Holocaust denial online, any gains we can make are useful.
The real questions are not about games and the Holocaust. They are about historical truth, education, and remembrance. “Games”, like other forms of technology, are no more than a medium. We must use every available medium to spark discussion, educate, and stir a greater interest and understanding of the history of the Holocaust.

Dr Andre Oboler is Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia. He is a social media expert with a focus on online hate and public diplomacy.

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YouTube reinstates Palestinian Media Watch channel

Ron Friedman, Jerusalem Post, 20 December 2010

The video sharing website originally removed the PMW video channel for violating its community guidelines.

Following a report in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, video-sharing website YouTube reinstated Palestinian Media Watch’s channel on Monday.

YouTube had removed the channel, which exposes anti- Israel incitement broadcast on Arab media, for violating its community guidelines on hate speech. PMW director Itamar Marcus claims Palestinian Authority officials were behind the move.

“I am convinced that this was an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to remove the videos and close us down. It’s part of a pattern. Everywhere we go, they constantly come at us,” said Marcus.

Marcus said that the Palestinians wanted to shut down PMW because it provided the world with proof of Palestinian incitement against Israel.

The videos that were removed all showed examples of hate speech propagated against Israelis and Jews, material that, according to Marcus, the Palestinians preferred to keep hidden from wide viewing.

“They can’t attack what we say because the material speaks for itself, so they try to delegitimize us and take advantage of YouTube’s automated system to remove our material from the Internet,” said Marcus.

Marcus said that he was glad that the videos were back up, but said that there were still problems in the system.

He said that searching for the videos individually was now more difficult because the automatically generated ranking system had been altered and videos that had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times were not given the high ranking they should have merited.

Marcus said he hoped it was only a technical glitch and that it would be remedied in the upcoming days.

“It seems someone, or some group of new media anti-Israel activists, is gaming the system,” said Dr. Andre Oboler, the director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, in an interview with

“They are taking advantage of YouTube’s automated and semi-automated systems to push their agenda slowly through the system. First one complaint, then a second…

until eventually the goal is achieved and the channel itself is shut down,” Oboler said. “Until YouTube can improve the system, and recognize when people are trying to ‘trick’ the system into doing what they want, rather than what it is intended to do, we all have a serious problem.”

Oboler added, “For now, YouTube needs to find the accounts that are causing these problems and deactivate them.

This problem is far greater than Palestinian Media Watch, though the damage done to them must be fixed, and an apology wouldn’t hurt either.”

Marcus said he had never heard from YouTube representatives, either before or after the videos were reinstated.

The Post’s request for an explanation also had yet to be answered.

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