Israeli government launches fund to promote normalization with Arab countries

December 10, 2020 by Eliana Rudee - JNS.org
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A new fund recently started by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and public benefit company “Concert Together for Israel” encourages existing organization to submit proposals for new public diplomacy initiatives that emphasize normalization with Arab countries, combat hate speech against Israel and build the reputation of the Jewish state online.

Israeli Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen welcomes her Bahraini counterpart Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani to Israel, at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Dec. 1, 2020. Credit: Israeli Tourism Ministry.

The “Restart” fund, launched in the wake of the coronavirus, will match the funds of private donors and participating organizations, up to NIS 40 million (nearly $13 million) total, so that the organizations can continue their work in full force.

Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have prevented many pro-Israel nonprofits from actualizing their normal seminars, conferences, training and delegations, and have negatively affected their budgets. In a study conducted by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, more than 80 per cent of NGOs expressed concern about a significant decrease in funding from private donors, and more than two-thirds indicated a decrease in the volume of activity they would be able to carry out in 2020.

The goal of the fund, according to a Ministry of Strategic Affairs press release, is to “encourage organizations, notably stemming from Israel’s civil society sector, to tell the ‘Israeli story’ to diverse global audiences utilizing social media.”

Leading the initiative, Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen expressed her hope that the endeavour will concentrate resources to promote Israel in the digital arena, shaping public opinion about Israel.

“Israel faces an ongoing delegitimization campaign on the Internet at large and on social networks in particular,” she told JNS. “Focusing the new fund on messages and actions promoting the true face of Israel online is a natural one; we need to be active in the places [where] opinions are formed and shaped.”

“During the pandemic, with no meetings or events taking place,” the minister continued, “the obligation to move our centre of gravity to social media has dramatically increased. Important organizations that were hard-hit economically will receive vital financial assistance, while at the same time, the fund will provide an opportunity for NGOs to continue operating during this difficult and challenging period.”

“We see how anti-Israel, anti-peace activists use these platforms to slander the Arab countries normalizing ties with Israel; we see how the social networks allow anti-Israel incitement and hate speech to flourish,” emphasized Farkash-Hacohen. “Since taking office, I have focused on increasing Israel’s presence in the digital arena. Its importance in establishing perceptions and awareness regarding Israel suffers from the rampant spread of anti-Israel hatred and falsehoods.”

“We must fight this, and we will do so alongside those promoting peace and tolerance online,” she said.

‘Delivering messages directly and creatively to the world’

Micah Avni, chairman of board of “Concert Together for Israel,” maintained that “the best ambassadors of the State of Israel are its citizens.”

“The country’s success and continued existence are impacted by its image,” Avni told JNS. “The stronger the view of the country, the stronger the country will be, and we want to encourage showing our true selves as much as possible.”

At the forefront of Israel’s public diplomacy, he continued, “it is appropriate these heroes be given an opportunity to tell Israel’s remarkable success story. The achievements reached by the State of Israel in so many areas—science, technology, cyber, business, culture, entertainment—all stem from the special spirit of the Israeli people. We believe this drive is the most powerful and authentic tool for delivering messages directly and creatively to the world.”

Avni explained that one of his primary goals is to refine the reputation of Israelis, especially on social media, as “one of the most open, vibrant and diverse people in the Middle East.”

His parents, including his father who was murdered in a terrorist attack in 2015, marched with Dr Martin Luther King Jr., “and now Black Lives Matter is opposed to Israel—how did that happen?” he said. The solution, maintained Avni, is to empower the pro-Israel ecosystem to rebuild Israel’s image in the global arena, thereby fighting the anti-Israel BDS movement, combating delegitimization and curbing anti-Semitism.

Through facilitating synergy between organizations, he noted, the fund will increase the effectiveness of participating organizations and help them migrate to a more digital world. The process of receiving funds, said Avni, will be transparent, simple and streamlined so that organizations in need can receive money in a quick manner.

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