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Monday, March 24, 2008

Israel government notices the Internet

We're a bit slow around here...
PM aide planning Website 'to connect all Jews around the world'
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent
Internet entrepreneurs have often wondered why there was no central portal on the Web for Jews and Judaism, especially given the large number of Jews who occupy key positions within the high-tech and computer industry. In addition, Web surfers have at their disposal a large amount of sites devoted to Judaism and Israel, and Hebrew-language sites enjoy high global rankings despite the tiny percentage of Hebrew speakers around the world.

It appears that the enormous scope of material, areas of interest, opinions, and perspectives do not enable the inclusion of all sites under one roof, or even a group of roofs. Even if it were possible, the budget necessary for such a venture - whose potential profitability remains unclear - is enormous. Nonetheless, at least one person is willing to roll the dice.

Last week, the Prime Minister's Office held a meeting chaired by cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel. Representatives of Jewish organizations from around the world were also in attendance at the session, which sought to tackle the issue of creating an internet platform that would serve the Jewish people and represent a bridge between Diaspora Jews and Israel.
The initiative is part of a comprehensive plan prepared by Yehezkel which would seek to redefine the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people. Currently, the proposed site is to be presented in both Hebrew and English, but a number of issues remain unresolved: the design of the site, its content, and who will operate it.

As such, some of the participants can hardly conceal their enthusiasm.

"This will be a global site to which all Jews around the world will connect," Yehezkel said. "They will receive content about Jewish history, education, tradition, and an explanation of official Israeli government policy. People can search for relatives and utilize all the tools that the internet has to offer."

Irrespective of whether the site will be operated by the Israeli government or a Jewish organization, it is clear that the venture will be viewed as a platform for "soft hasbara," or explaining Israeli policy through the back door. To this end, the new public relations department established by the PMO is involved in the initiative.

"There's no chance that this project gets off the ground," said one of the participants in the meeting who wished to remain anonymous. "This idea is too pretentious and it goes against the entire nature of the internet. If this will be a site devoted to government hasbara, people will treat it as such and it won't be popular. If this will be a site that provides surfers with the freedom to exchange opinions and publish material, there will be a lot of things that the government and the Jewish organizations won't be able to live with, and they will need to use a censor."

Moti Friedman, the director of the Herzl Museum who also developed Web sites for the Jewish Agency and was one of the officials who sat in on the meeting, said he believes the project is practical.

"It fulfills a need that is there," Friedman said. "People want a place on the internet that they can interact with Jews from around the world and where they can find "high quality" work by Jewish artists, instantly. [They want a] place where it would be possible to read articles by A.B. Yehoshua, Elie Wiesel, and Bernard-Henri Levy."

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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