Justice for Jews and Israel
Handbook of Israel Advocacy
The Web deserves and gets a special section because it is the most undervalued and underused tool for Israel advocacy. Neither pro-Israel advocacy groups nor Israeli government institutions and departments seem to understand the Web or how to use it. Most of them do not seem to really care. One "expert" is still insisting, even after the last US election and after recent events in Iran, that the Web is not an important source of information and does not influence opinion!
The Web was an important communications channel five years ago. Now it is fast becoming the most important channel in many respects, as printed newspapers fold or go online and television news becomes increasingly oriented to infotainment rather than informative news. The Web is an especially important source for activists. Television is still the number 1 source of information and has many advantages, but it often does not provide the level of detail and historical background that are needed by people who are really interested in a cause.
This section provides an overview and makes a case for Web use. If you have or are making a Web site or Web log or want to make one, see Appendix C Web Use Guide for a technical discussion of the "how to do it" aspects.
Popularity of the Web and Internet versus other media
The role of the Internet in the 2008 USA election was studied extensively. According to Pew Research:
Among young adults, the Internet is favored even more:
Therefore, we can assume that the Internet will become increasingly important in the future.
The Pew report also tells us something about the long term trends and about who is most likely to use the Internet:
The young, college educated and wealthy are more than twice as likely as the poorest and least educated to use the Internet as a source of political news. These are the decision makers and opinion formers of today and tomorrow. It is obviously impossible to ignore this market.
The young, college educated and wealthy are more than twice as likely as the poorest and least educated to use the Internet as a source of political news.
Another PEW survey showed that there is an increasing likelihood that Internet viewers will watch a video at sites like YouTube.
PEW survey estimates may be conservative. A poll conducted by a Web log together with Zogby international reported in January of 2008
There is one other overriding factor we did not mention. Internet coverage can be free or almost free, while television advertisements are costly and getting television news coverage for an event requires quite a bit of public relations savvy and muscle. What you are fighting for there might be a one-minute mention that could be bumped by a welfare strike or a four-alarm fire. On the Internet, you can have a brief event description, that links to a dozen "issues" pages, videos and photos with as much detail as you like.
The polls of course, relate only to a "hot issue" - the Presidential campaign. How would television stack up against Internet as a source of basic information about geography, population statistics, economy or history?
Who visits a Web site?
Your Web site is going to attract people from around the world. The public Web is public and global. Your Web log or Web site is not the right place to carry on internal arguments with your neighbors and friends using obscure jargon. The majority of your visitors may filter themselves selectively to suit your views. They may come from a particular part of the world. However, you are nonetheless still capable of reaching and influencing everyone on the Web. You can increase your chances of reaching outsiders if you have articles in their language and use language that they are likely to search for on the Web. That includes using terms you may not like, such as "West Bank," "Nakba" "Israel Apartheid" "Zionism is Racism." "Ethnic Cleansing." Obnoxious slogans and campaigns can be turned against their users with appropriate popular Web pages on some of these topics.
An identifiably "Zionist" Web site does not attract only Jews. Here are some recent statistics for visitor shares of different countries at Zionism-Israel.com:
• 30.3% United States
• 14.5% Pakistan
• 4.6% India
• 4.5% Egypt
• 4.0% Algeria
• 3.5% Israel
Since there is a much higher percentage of Internet users in the United States than in Pakistan, these are very interesting figures. We have a bigger share of the Pakistani and Egyptian Internet audience than of the American one. There are not many Jews in Pakistan, India, Egypt or Algeria. We are not "preaching to the convinced."
The Web as a source of basic information
Web institutions like Wikipedia have become respected sources of basic information, for better or worse. A single Wikipedia article about a popular Middle East related topic may get 80,000 page views in a week. The high school student who is asked to report on Zionism or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to turn to the Web first for information. What they find there is likely to influence their perceptions for years to come. It really does make a difference if the first description a student reads about Zionism is an objective account, or if the Web site they select states:
The above are taken from actual Web sites that are displayed by the Google search engine among the first 10 results for keyword Zionism. Thousands of people visit those sites each week.
Web sites are also used by teachers in preparing lessons and students are often referred to specific articles just as in the past they were sent to the library. We know this is so because teachers and digital text preparers have asked permission to use materials at our Web sites, and it is becoming an increasingly common practice. The changeover to the Web has now "gone public." A New York Times article states:
What makes Web sites popular?
Web sites get most of their visitors from search engines. Search engines give priority to Web pages that they know are important for topics that users are searching for? How do they know? The pages highlight important and popular keywords like "Zionism" "Israel" and "Palestine." The pages highlight keywords by putting them in titles, tags of graphics and other "important" pages. The search engines decide which pages among those appropriate for a specific keyword will be displayed first according to how big the Web site is, and how many other sites link to the site or page. Making a page suitable for search engine display is called Search Engine Optimization. Zionist organizations are rarely aware of Search Engine Optimization and almost never practice it. They do not exchange links, and bury their materials in PDF and other files that are hard to optimize, using keywords like "Hasbara" that nobody is searching for.
Organizational Web sites
In planning a Web site for an organization, take into account that a Web site is not a "one time affair" that is set up by a technician or Web design firm and forgotten. It is not just a "calling card" for your organization. It is a living and growing center that must be updated regularly with news about your organization, new links, and new information and resources. It must be simple for non-technical members to update your Web site, add new content and new pages and links. A Web log offers the easiest, simplest and cheapest (it's free!) method of providing non-technical Web access, but sites with Content Management Systems can do so as well. A Web log can be part of a Web site; if necessary, it can be the means to provide easy access for non-technical people.
Be sure to exchange links with any group or person who offers to do so - that is the best way to popularize your Web site. Links are important not for the traffic they bring from another Web site, but because they improve the visibility of the Web site in search engines. Search engines are the primary source of visitors to Web sites.
Don't count on the Web site as a means of publicizing events. A Web site is not a local tool, and small Web sites generally reach only a small audience. A page may get a few hundred views at most in a week, and most of those people may be out of your area. However, events can be publicized using search engine advertising directed at people who live in a specific area and linking to a specially prepared target page in the Web site.
Getting Active on the Web
Individuals - people like you - can get active and be effective on the Web in once of several ways:
Start your own Web site or Web log - If you have time, you can start your own Web site or Web log. Anyone can start a Web log for free at http://blogger.com and no Web "smarts" are needed. Bring yourself, your ideas and a bit of patience. We will be glad to help you get started. Just write to email@example.com and ask for help. You can also start a Web site pretty easily with an investment of about $30 which can buy you a domain name and enough Web space to keep you busy for quite a while. Even if your site or Web log is small, it can help by exchanging links with others and popularizing pro-Zionist Web sites. Details are given in Appendix C: Web Use Guide
Post at community Web sites - There are several community Web sites or forums such as Free Republic, Indymedia and OpEdNews that are based on user posts. Sometimes they are edited very heavily against Zionist or pro-Israel views, but in other cases they are not. These sites are a good way of propagating your point of view, or or adding an article that you you like (including one of your own!) - Don't forget to include a link to the original post if this is a copy of material that appeared elsewhere.
Controlling Web information
You cannot control the Web sites that appear on the Web, their content or their placement in Google or other search engines by boycott campaigns and petitions. Forget it. The anti-Semitic JewWatch is often the top site returned for keyword Jew. Petitions, demonstrations, prayers, notes in the Wailing Wall or any similar action will not make a difference. Even if you could get rid of one Web site, it would be replaced by a different anti-Semitic site with the same or similar content. You can't suppress bad Web sites by force. It is a wasted effort. You can create better Web sites with good content, popularize them and try to get people to link to them.
You can't suppress bad Web sites by force. It is a wasted effort. You can create better Web sites with good content, popularize them and try to get people to link to them.
If we make enough good Web sites and invest in popularizing them, they can eventually push out the really bad ones from the top results of search engines.
It is important to focus on popular keywords like Jew and Zionism and Palestine and NOT to ignore them. That is what people are looking for on the Web. It is pointless to be number one in Google for keywords Yiddishkeit or Hasbara, because only a few people search for those words each month. Nobody will go to a Web page if they aren't looking for it, or you may be attracting only "convinced" people who already "speak your lingo."
The Web is also controlled to an extent by large-scale volunteer efforts like DMOZ and Wikipedia. DMOZ is a Web directory that used to be the number one source of Web site links and is still influential. Wikipedia is a huge online encyclopedia that is often listed as number one by Google for basic information of all sorts. For many people, it is the de facto final authority, even though many entries related to the Middle East are obviously biased or incomplete.
In theory, anyone can contribute to Wikipedia articles or become a DMOZ editor. In practice, it takes years to become an experienced editor of Wikipedia or DMOZ. The sites have complex and often arcane rules. Biased editors can and do use the rules to control content they don't like, often arbitrarily. Anti-Israel editors have installed themselves for key topics on both, and it may be impossible to get fair treatment of information or listings. You may be sorely tempted to try to right the injustice. Use your judgment. Remember that you are basically contributing to projects over which you don't have much control. It's not as easy as it may look.
A better volunteer effort by fair-minded editors and more attention to bias might yield better results. However, organized efforts are discouraged. Wikipedia caught and reprimanded editors that were allegedly part of a CAMERA project to clean up Wikipedia entries on Zionism and Israel-related topics.
Email use and etiquette
Email is an important and powerful tool that can be used in various ways for advocacy work. It is free and fast and takes the place of tedious mailing work. Once you have built appropriate contact lists, you can use email to instantly do the work that used to require a lot of envelope addressing and (if you didn't have a postage meter) a lot of stamp licking.
Beyond a few dozen names, it becomes very difficult to organize an email list without automated help. If you cannot pay for mailing software or a mailing service, use a Googlegroup or Yahoogroup service (for example see ZNN ) to distribute your mail, archive it on the Web if you like and keep track of subscriptions automatically. The list can be made to grow by "viral advertising" (recipients' forward mail).
Emailing Articles - A bad way of propagating articles that you think are important is use of the "Email this article" widget in journals. The recipients get only a link to the article, rather than the article itself. Always cut and paste the entire article and include the URL address. Always give proper credit to authors and show provenance of any materials you send.
Discussion lists - There are two types of email lists: Newsletters, in which one person is broadcasting their opinions, and discussion lists. The latter are generally self-limiting in either size or participation. A list of 5,000 people all writing to each other would generate a huge amount of mail, much of it rubbish. Discussion lists generally need to be moderated to keep out spammers and to prevent trading of public insults. The attractive seeming idea that you can actually organize a volunteer group wholly through an email list does not work. Volunteers are volunteers and do what they please, especially when there is no direct contact to generate social pressure. Often the most active members of lists join the list for reasons other than the stated purpose of the list, regardless of what guidelines you may try to impose.
Adding people without permission - A common tactic to make a mailing list grow is simply to add the name of every person who contacts the organization to a mailing list. Contact the NJDC to complain and you will be added to their list, like it or not. I find this obnoxious and pointless, but others can do as they please. Unwilling participants will simply ignore the mail, or they may be using it to spy on you. Some of the unsolicited mailings I get are very useful for understanding tactics used by the other side. However, if you do get a contact address because someone wrote to you, you should certainly make them aware of your group and invite them to join the mailing list.
Confidentiality - Never forward emails that were sent to you or to a small group personally without permission unless you want to lose a friend. Always assume that someone else's mail is confidential unless it is material that was posted in a public Web site or e-list. On the other hand, because too many people ignore this rule of netiquette, always assume that any email you send, as well as anything you put on the Web, may become public or may be forwarded to the wrong people.
If you have signups for your group at public events or through the Web, assume that some anti-Israel people will sign up for the sole purpose of monitoring your group’s activities. Assume that any announcements you make to your list will be immediately available to the opposition. Just as with a Web page, do not put anything into a group e-mail that you don’t want someone in China or Africa, or your anti-Israel neighbor, to read. If you are doing a lot of event planning by e-mail, you will want to create a separate discussion group for this purpose that is limited to those trusted individuals that you know personally or have been vetted by a trusted person. It should be made very explicit that no e-mails in that group are to be forwarded to anyone outside the group without advance permission. Anyone who knowingly violates that rule is clearly not a trusted person.
Open addressing - Respect the privacy of friends and members of your group. If you are sending mail to dozens of people, use the "blind copy" feature unless they really all know each other.
No anonymous information - Never pass on anonymous letters for which you could not find a reliable source by inquiry or by searching on the Web. They are almost invariably hoaxes. The ones that state, "Forward this to everyone you know as soon as possible" are always hoaxes. The anonymous email hoax eventually is often published by someone and can get a "pedigree" in that way. If the message is not a hoax, it originally had an author, whose name was stripped off by some unscrupulous person, probably to deny credit to a competing organization.
Try to give complete information - Do not send posts that contain only a link. It is unlikely that many people will click on that link. Articles should always be forwarded in full with the URL address of the original. For videos or other materials that cannot be sent by mail, provide a summary that tells people what they are going to see and why it is important for them to look at it.
Neatness counts - Many people get hundreds of mail messages a day. Well formatted and attractive mail is likely to be read and believed and to elicit a reaction, A letter that shows addresses of dozens of previous recipients,, is full of irrelevant ads, large white areas, ">" angle brackets that signify replies etc. will probably be ignored.
Promoting your Web site content - Emails can be used to promote articles at your Web site, by giving a one-paragraph "lede" with a link to the article. However, if you want to be certain that people will really read the information, put it all in the letter. Only 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 people will click a link in an email. And if there is substantive information in the letter, people are more likely to forward it.
Notices and reminders - Every mail you send should have a copyright notice. The most unscrupulous people will not be deterred, but others will think twice about stealing your content or content you have taken from others. Every mail you send through a newsletter should have information about how to sign up for the group or newsletter and should have your contact information. Hopefully, at least some of the people who forward the mail will include the notice.
Today, anyone can make a video easily with a Web cam and simple software provided with the Windows operating system. Making a good video, however, requires perseverance, planning and experience and may require much more elaborate equipment and software.
Effective videos posted at YouTube can reach hundreds of thousands of people. Many of them would not otherwise read anything or see anything about Israel. A video of Israeli teens dancing got about two million viewers. A video of pro-Israel drunks sounding off about Obama in a bar got over 600,000 viewers in YouTube and did a lot of damage. Was it unfair? All's fair in love and war. If our side is too incompetent to take advantage of video, we have only ourselves to blame.
The IDF used YouTube during Operation Cast Lead (Gaza, 2009) and got hundreds of thousands of viewers for its content. The videos could have been more effective if they had had more extensive explanations and perhaps some enhancement or labeling of aerial reconnaissance footage and the like. The extensive IDF documentation of use of human shields by Hamas, rocket attacks by Hamas, use of ambulances for combat purposes etc. did not prevent rights groups and media from raising various "war crimes" charges. They even denied that Hamas used "Human shields." This, despite the existence of a Hamas video that explained that use of human shields is part of their strategy. However, at least, "the truth was out there." A better grass roots Israel advocacy effort and better handling of the press might have made sure that the material was more effective in making the case for Israel.
Quality counts above all - For video, the medium is really the message. Many of the pro-Israel videos posted at YouTube have unrecognizable sound and jumpy filming or poor imagery. If nobody can understand it, the video is worthless. Don't bother.
Use the medium - A video that consists only of a 40-minute lecture or text that could just as easily go in a Web page is generally going to be boring. Videos should be brief and filled with moving picture footage or at least attractive slides that illustrate your points. Humor, artistic presentations and personal stories all can do a great service in humanizing Israel. Narration has to be letter perfect. If you make a mistake, do it over. It's not all politics.
Naming the video - Be sure to use a relevant keyword such as "Israel" "Zionism" "Gaza" in the NAME of the video. Poetic or obscure names may be cute, but nobody will be able to find the video in search engines.
Use YouTube - Always put videos at YouTube because that is where people will look for them and that gives you the best chance of getting the most visitors. Embed the videos at your Web site as well.
Ancillary Web activism
Even people who do not create content and do not know much about the Web, and do not even have a mailing list of their own, can "participate" in Web-based activism. They can do it by recommending articles through social media such as Digg or Twitter, by commenting in blogs or talkbacks or even by voting in Web polls.
Talkbacks and polls - Social media and propagation of materials that others created is important. However, the value of activities like voting in polls or commenting on articles is often marginal or perhaps nil. It may give participants a feeling of involvement, and a sense that they are "doing something." However, nobody takes Internet polls seriously. They are just a gimmick for popularizing Web sites. It is useful to comment at large Web sites if the comment section is serious and people are likely to read what you wrote. Remember that comments are moderated. Try to be polite, constructive and to the point. If you spent a lot of time on your comment, save a copy for use elsewhere, as it may never get published.
Generally however, few people read talkbacks, many of which are generated by the same participants with predictable and "eccentric" views. Not long ago, the Israel Foreign Ministry demonstrated its ignorance of the Internet when they encouraged bloggers - creators of original content - to spend their time participating in polls and in talkbacks instead of creating original articles.
Discussion groups - Arab-Jewish or other electronic dialogues and open fora can be valuable places to present and defend your opinions on the Web and Internet. Closed private groups of like-minded people who spend their time complaining about the bad situation and the "leftists" in the Israeli government are wasting their efforts and talking to themselves.
This material is copyright © 2009 by Ami Isseroff and members of the Zio-Web group. No part may be reproduced without permission in any form.
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Zionism - Definition and Brief History - A balanced article that covers the definitions and history of Zionism as well as opposition to Zionism and criticisms by Arabs, Jewish anti-Zionists.
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