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Israel Wakes Up to the Power of Twitter (Sort Of)

Baby steps.

The diplomatic “tsunami” (Ehud Barak’s term) expected ito accompany the Palestinians’ push for statehood at the UN in September has spurred the Israeli Foreign Ministry to jump into the social media. “We are intensively preparing ahead of September,” says Chaim Shacham, head of the information and Internet department at the Ministry. That preparation will¬†entail “constantly monitoring the blogs, tweets and insofar as possible, Facebook entries too,”¬†according to Haaretz.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, describing the new initiative, said: “We have formulated some arguments that are relevant to what’s going to happen in September, even if we don’t know exactly what it will be. We began disseminating these arguments and statements, backed by links to documents and articles, among the relevant bloggers and social media members. From our perspective we’ve already begun the battle over publicity, though formally, nothing has begun. Our main argument is ‘Palestinian state yes, but only through direct negotiations.’ In events that we have to truncate the message to fewer characters, we say, ‘Let’s talk’.”

Okay, good start, but…oy.

Palmor says Israel learned from its p.r. trouncing following the Mavi Marmara incident that it had to make better use of the social media, but his language doesn’t inspire confidence.

“We will go into battle over public opinion,” he says. With him so far.

“It is clear to us that messages that pass through the social media need to be simpler, to be based on elements with international authority.” O….kay. Started well, but went off the rails a bit there.

“For instance, it isn’t enough to say there’s a maritime blockade – we have to explain where it can be under international law. Since the explanation is a complex legal one, which contradicts the simplicity of messages by Twitter or Facebook, we have to distill the complex messages in a more accessible way, and send links to legal sources.”

I’m sighing here.

Look, people. That’s all very nice — seriously, there’s value in trying to drag the conversation into reality — but you’re completely missing the magic of these media. Nobody’s going to follow your helpful links to legal sources if your tweets are as stuffy as you sound right there. (Sorry, Yigal. I say it with love.)

Last March, I attended an Act For Israel-sponsored meeting at the Foreign Ministry about the social media. The Ministry people were good guys with good intentions, but way too buttoned-up. A handful of suits are not going to win this war. Humor, irony, wit, a spirit of youthful iconoclasm — that’s what’s needed here.

Right now, the other guys are perceived as the cool kids. I gather that it irks you, Israel, to have to think in those terms when the stakes are so high. I feel you, but with respect, it’s time to suck it up. You’ve got a whole army — literally — of cool kids who know exactly how to communicate with the young minds you’ve got to win over. Enlist their help. Enough with the polite, sober, mature explanations: that’s you on the defensive, and nobody’s listening. Go on offense. Those tweets should combine wit, charm, and killer snark. That’s what people read Twitter for.

Get on it.