Missed the live show (November 2)? See the recorded video of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon’s web conference.
"For us, being able to connect to the grass roots, without any filters, of the media or others, is the best thing."
Deputy FM Ayalon web conference
Ms. Goldberg: Good evening. My name is Nili Goldberg. I’m founder of Brandforce, an enabling platform for grassroots organizations to generate mass conversations. And we’re here with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
How would you like us to call you? "Mr. Ayalon"?
DFM Ayalon: No. Please, "Danny" is fine. We are all friends on the website. We are all friends in life also. Please call me Danny.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, great. So, Danny, we’re here with Gefen and Chaim, who are going to introduce themselves shortly. This is our third Web conference that you are actually hosting, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is hosting with grassroots organizations and their representatives. It’s been a very successful event so far, and now we’re leveraging it and we’ve brought you into the picture. So you have a lot on your shoulders, right?
DFM Ayalon: Thank you. I’ll try to meet the challenge. And I’m looking forward to a very, very good session which will be both effective, informative and, hopefully, enjoyable as well.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, so, first of all, before we have fun, guys, anyone who’s online and now watching us, you can post your questions either on Twitter, on Israel’s account on Twitter, as well as on our Facebook pages.
So just go ahead. Let’s start off with Chaim. How about introducing yourself?
DFM Ayalon: If I can just say… first of all I would like very much to thank our excellent and professional Nili and our two great volunteers, Chaim and Gefen. And now they will introduce themselves. Okay, so I’ll shut up.
Chaim: Okay. I’m Chaim. I’m the initiator of the Israel Web Diplomats, and it’s a grassroots organization connected with large pro-Israel organizations, like StandWithUs, and the World Jewish Congress. And the goal of the organization is to coordinate passionate Israeli advocates around the world who are online, to defend Israel and share a positive message about the value that Israel offers to the world.
Gefen: Okay, my name is Gefen Luz. Firstly, I’m here as an active member of the Flotilla Gaza group on Facebook. It has been one of the biggest and fastest-growing group on Facebook. In only one week they gathered more than 150,000 members, and now the number has doubled, and it’s still very active. And also, I’ve initiated a grassroots group at the Hebrew U, Students Volunteer for Hasbara for Israel.
DFM Ayalon: Thank you. Wonderful.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, you know what, before we start off with questions and warm-ups – we talked about it earlier, about the vision of online diplomacy and how Israel is taking a very active lead in this game in comparison to any other country. I mean, we’re out there with Israel and Canada; is that what you told me beforehand?
DFM Ayalon: Well, first of all, Nili, I want to thank you for mentioning that and for helping us to be one of the top three foreign ministries who excel in online diplomacy. I think we realize the power of the Web, we realize the democratization on the Web, and we understand that this is not only a very innovative and a new platform; this may be the only platform as we look into the future. So it’s very important for us to be right there in this cutting-edge technology, in this cutting-edge practice. And for us, connecting, being able to connect to the grass roots, without any filters, of the media or others, is the best thing. Because I believe that people all over the globe, no matter who they are, Jews or non-Jews, Christians, Muslim, whatever, if they will be introduced to Israel, if they could look at Israel with clear eyes, without any filters in between – that some of them are very obviously trying to detract and defame us – then I believe they will see the attractions of the country, the beauty of the country and its people, and the importance of Israel and what it does in order to help the world community: whether we are the first ones to go into areas of distress like Haiti or other areas, or whether we are here working very hard to have better medicine for everybody, to have better food and all kinds of innovations that start in Israel.
The fact that we have, per capita, the most Nobel Prize winners, five Israeli Nobel Prize winners, I think is a testament of the dedication of Israel and the Jewish people not just to knowledge and bettering our lives, but to do it for the entire world community and to share.
We have a very strong division in the Foreign Ministry called MASHAV, an international division where we share and we connect with more than 120 countries, to really cooperate with them on technology, whether it’s bettering agriculture or health care, or anything that you can just think of. This is the true Israel.
And we also try very hard – it doesn’t always manifest itself in great success in the traditional media – but we try to show and define Israel by its own characteristics and not by the conflict. Our detractors are trying to define us only through the conflicts and to defame us.
So I think it’s very important to really use this very, very beautiful tool that we have and are using right now. And our mission, Nili, as you said, is really just availability of facts, to make sure all the facts are known in the most objective way to everyone, and the dissemination of our message. The most important thing is integrating our efforts with all our friends and supporters on the Web, in an ongoing engagement, since they are the real force multipliers; they are the ones who really are there. Once they know the information, I think they can do wonders.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, well, I’m going to hold my breath, because I’d actually like to talk with you for 30 minutes without just taking questions from anyone in the world, but that’s not our purpose. So, hopefully I’ll be able to grab a few minutes of your time later on.
DFM Ayalon: Okay.
Ms. Goldberg: How about we start with you Chaim – as Chaim is in charge of tapping onto the Twitter account and seeing what questions we’ve been having there. I’ve just been taking a peak while you’ve been talking, and it’s actually going quite crazy there. So we’re going to start counting how many questions and how many comments there have been.
But let’s go, Chaim. And be rough.
DFM Ayalon: Make it interesting.
Chaim: This comes from Y. Marcus. He sent it to the Israel MFA Twitter account. "What are your main concerns about Israel becoming a bi-national state and Gaza a uni-national state?"
DFM Ayalon: Well, certainly it’s a concern in the theoretical, in the conceptual sense, because Israel is not a bi-national state. Israel belongs to the Jewish people; has always been Jewish throughout history. The fact that we were not always the masters of our land is because of occupations and other trials and tribulations that we have had to endure over the centuries and millennia. But a bi-national state is now de facto an obsolete term in international diplomacy because we have now the experience that all those bi-national or multinational states have all ended in a fiasco. Just taking a few examples, we have the Soviet Union, the breakup of the Soviet Union to the 15 republics. We have the breakup of Yugoslavia, which was very, very bloody. Other examples: Czechoslovakia was broken into the basic elements, national elements, of the Czech Republic and of Slovakia. We know already in Belgium, the Flemish and the Walloons are talking about actually going their separate routes.
So an artificial way to force two different peoples with different identities and different cultures together no longer works. So from these historical examples, from the current trend, we know this is not possible. However, there are those who are trying to declare Israel as a bi-national state. Some of them are also Israeli citizens. And we have to make sure that we identify this as a threat to the future of the Jewish state. There is only one Jewish country in the world. We should not be apologetic about it. We should not be explaining too much. Israel is Jewish just like France is French or the USA is American.
So I don’t think that the threat is credible. Nobody can force it. And especially after Israel has accepted the notion and the principle of a two-state solution, the fact that it’s not being implemented is not because of us; it’s because of intransigence on the Palestinian side. But once Israel and Israelis have accepted a two-state solution, I do not see this as coming to realization. So, basically I see it only as an empty threat by Israeli detractors.
Chaim: Okay. As a follow-up to that question, it comes from an e-mail that we got earlier from Yaacov Kayman. He says "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. These two concepts appear to be mutually exclusive. How do you reconcile calling Israel a Jewish state and a democratic state?"
DFM Ayalon: Well, first of all, I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive, but let me not go into the theological realm, because I am not a theologian. I am a practitioner of diplomacy or of politics. And this is a great question, because being a Jewish state – this does not only mean through religious eyes. Judaism is not only a religion. Judaism means nationality, ethnicity. It’s a culture. It’s traditions. It’s a whole civilization. So by being Jewish, we define ourselves as who we are and not only – not only – religiously. Now, being a Jewish state does not mean that no one else can live here with full rights, civil rights of course. And this is what we have here.
So it is very important to explain to the entire world that, just as we have accepted the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, they have to accept our right to self-determination. And we have already determined ourselves as a Jewish state; this is according to our Declaration of Independence. And guess what? It has also received international recognition, because if we go back to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 from the 29th of November 1947, Resolution 181, which called for partition, talked about a Jewish state – none other than a Jewish state. So being Jewish, I don’t think it should be attached only to religion or religious connotations. But, as I said, it’s a whole identity, it’s a whole nationality, and we are proud of it and we will keep Israel as a Jewish state.
Ms. Goldberg: Well, following up on that, which is very interesting, I think what a lot of our viewers here and a lot of our participants in this huge Web conference are actually asking is how they can practice what you’re actually preaching. So Gefen just found a great question from Nancy from Florida.
Gefen: Okay, she’s asking "All of us want to be a better Web advocate. What would be your tip for us?"
Ms. Goldberg: Taking all that information you just provided us, all these pro-Israelis worldwide just want to know how they can leverage that into their salons, into their communications, either online, offline…
DFM Ayalon: Well, that’s a very great question, because it comes right to the root of what we’re trying to do here. And really, as I said, once the facts are known and we’ve all on message, I think it should be fairly easy. We truly do have an uphill battle here, an uphill battle for not hasbara but for our own reputation. Why? Because there are those who try to defame and condemn us. And unfortunately they outnumber us. You know, if you look at 22 Arab League countries which are part of 57 organizations of Islamic countries, and they’re part of what used to be the nonaligned but the developing countries, you have already 118 countries which vote as a rubber stamp to what the Palestinians or Arabs want.
So really, here, it’s a case of a few against the many. However, if we use mass media, this fast media, I think then we can kind of level the playing field. And if you in Miami and everyone else here connect to 10, 100, 1,000, whatever, and they connect to others, I think then we can make sure that our message and the true facts are being known.
So I think it’s very important for all of us to be logged into the information. If there is an issue like a flotilla, get the facts right and talk and defend, and especially dispel all the blatant lies that are being thrown at us. So I think, just as we are now here in a Web community, we have to create Israel defenders or a community of all those who are engaged, all those who are interested and who care. And I’m sure once we have a network like that, many, many more will find it as their home, many, many more will join, and it will be an accelerating pace of more and more people that join us, and then I think we can be equal to those who detract us, in terms of quality and also quantity.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay. I see we have a stream of questions coming in from JSS News, so how about we take one of them. Chaim, would you like to pick?
Ms. Goldberg: Something that will be helpful for all of the Israeli hasbara advocates out there, something that we can all benefit and have as a takeaway.
DFM Ayalon: By the way, also, Nili, if I can just intervene here. Any ideas that all of you have here, all of you here that are logged in now, or any of your friends, anybody, please, just send it to us. We’re trying now to be also very active on the Web through Facebook, through Twitter, through websites, whether it’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or my own personal Facebook. So I invite all of you, any ideas, to let me know, and we would be very happy to examine and share them and use them as well.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, guys, bombs away. This is your chance. Send out any message, any idea, any question, any initiative you have.
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely.
Ms. Goldberg: And we’ll make sure that our team — or the team here at the MFA — I will personally call them up tomorrow morning and make sure that they’re opening up all their boxes, be it Twitter, Facebook, as well as the e-mail address you all have. This is very, very important for us, because every one of these grassroots that we’re trying to organize around us is something that is very meaningful for us.
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely.
Ms. Goldberg: So, you know, if you’re willing…
DFM Ayalon: By all means.
Ms. Goldberg: …then I’m sure all other people are going to be sending us e-mails. We’re waiting.
Chaim, go ahead.
Chaim: Well, earlier today we got an e-mail that was discussing essentially that conferences like these or actions online are primarily people going to websites that are already pro-Israel, and spreading messages essentially to their friends and to people that are already pro-Israel, and not really engaging with the rational detractors, so to speak. Understandably, there are people who you can’t necessarily speak to, but how do you suggest people engage with rational detractors. And should people be out there giving their own opinions, or should the message be coordinated from somewhere higher, like the Ministry or something like that?
DFM Ayalon: No. You know, in Israel, we are very proud of our democratic values and practices. Certainly we don’t see any message coming from the top down, except having the facts right. I think our responsibility here in the Ministry is to have the facts all available to all of you in a timely fashion. This is the issue. Now, how you explain it and how you interpret it, I trust all of you to do it. It is true that we don’t have to convince all those who are already convinced. It is important to galvanize our supporters. But certainly I think we should reach out to people who are rational, and just debate with them. I think we are standing on very, very firm ground when we explain the history, when we explain Israeli conduct. And we have many examples where we have reached out and are still reaching out. As for the claim of how peace is not possible because of settlements; believe me, settlements are only an excuse. If you look at the past, we made peace with Egypt; settlements were not in the way. We moved settlements out of Gaza in a very painful process.
So there’s a lot we can share and use. I think also, maybe it is important for all of us to get practice, whether in debates or on how to present good arguments. I think when it comes to the tactics, to the mechanics, we can learn a lot from each other. But as far as the message, as far as the conviction, I think all of us should be able to convince anyone who is impartial, and just connect to anyone you can. I think this is very important.
One thing is, Nili, if I can ask you, one of the things that I see is, when I Google some keywords, like "Israel" or "Palestine", you see a reference to Palestinian websites, you know?
Ms. Goldberg: True.
DFM Ayalon: If it would be possible to have our own websites or your websites over there, that would be a great achievement. And this is something that all of us should work on and wrack our brains about how to do.
Ms. Goldberg: Definitely.
Well, actually, guys, I think that what Danny’s calling us for is better SEOs, search engine optimizations, for all pro-Israeli websites. You know what? Maybe what we can do is hold a whole session here by the MFA, sponsored by the MFA, for all Israeli grassroots and websites, and provide them with the top ten tips of what to do and what not to do…
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely.
Ms. Goldberg: …when it comes to search engine optimization, because it’s in our best interest. So, actually, that’s a takeaway that I’ll be happy to help you out with. And we have the best practices here in Israel that will be able to help out these grassroots.
So if you’re an Israeli search engine optimization company and you’d like to help out other Israeli organizations’ initiatives bring out the best of their websites and rank themselves high up in the search engines, please let us know and we’ll get in contact with you and connect you with grassroots that need your help.
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay? So that’s a great initiative. What we do have here, something very exciting; Gefen just found it.
Why don’t you share it with us?
Gefen: We have a very interesting question by a guy called Rani Wami Mustafa You can hear, by the name, very special.
DFM Ayalon: Where is it from?
Gefen: It’s not written, but…
DFM Ayalon: Okay. Doesn’t matter.
Gefen: The question is, "Am I alone in thinking that full Palestinian unification, in message and in action, is critical before we Palestinians can ever be a real peace partner and truly be able to back up our part of any agreement we make with you, our cousins?"
DFM Ayalon: I have something to say: You know, again, if we go from 1937 to 1947 and on, I think Jewish leadership has already reached out to the Arab leadership here for reconciliation, for partnership, for partnership with a two-state solution. We still do that. We still do that now. And in 2000, at Camp David, former Prime Minister Barak made an offer, which was a very far-reaching one, to Arafat. Not only did Arafat reject it; he started an intifada.
So what do we think here as Israelis? We see that the Palestinian leadership, more than they’re interested in building their own nation are interested in destroying another nation, which is ours. And also, part of this delegitimization campaign is something which they are very much dedicated to, instead of trying to build trust and working together, because it’s not a zero-sum game. After all, we believe it’s a win-win.
In 2008 Prime Minister Olmert also made a far-reaching offer and this time it was to Mr. Abbas, Abu Mazen. We still would like to do that but, please – and this is what we are telling our Palestinian cousins, as you mentioned – if you’re genuine, don’t put preconditions. If you’re genuine, step up to the table, talk to us eye-level. I believe, once we put everything together, all the issues, we can trade concessions and really achieve genuine peace, which would mean coexistence in a most meaningful way. This is what we want. And if we saw a Palestinian approach of no pretexts and no preconditions, believe me, we can then just put everything on the table, and it will be easier to work with all these issues. And the issues are very, very difficult: Jerusalem and refugees and settlements and borders and security arrangements and water resources, and many others. But if you try to put it in a vertical way, you know, one step at a time, it will not work. If you just try to reach the settlement issue before anything else, you hit an impasse. This is why no preconditions, put everything on the table, and then the ability for solutions would be much better.
Ms. Goldberg: Danny, one question, because I see Chaim’s there and I just can’t help myself. And since I got, you know, the title of master of ceremony, I’m going to use it. How can we leverage online diplomacy and all these grassroots out there in order to really engage and better provide, you know, the answers to what you just talked about? Because I hear you talking, and you’re very authentic, and I’m just thinking that there’s someone out there that asked this question. And so there’s this whole online community and people that are active, and is there anything they can do to assist the peace process, even you know, in a small step, one small step for man?
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely. You know, I always say that if we had organizations in the Palestinian camp, you know, civil society organizations, like we have Peace Now, we have Justice Now – we have so many that are criticizing our own government, which is fine. You know, I may not agree with them politically or ideologically, but I’m proud that we are an open society. And I wish…
Ms. Goldberg: Democratic.
DFM Ayalon: And democratic of course – with all the freedoms of speech and engagement and everything else. And I wish there were organizations like that that criticize the Palestinians, because I think self-criticism is very, very important. Insofar as there is no self-criticism or soul-searching on the other side, it’s very, very difficult. So here again, I think our community here on the Web can try and reach out to grassroots Palestinians and talk to them and raise these issues.
I think we also, all of us, should be very much versed with our own history and the facts on the ground. It’s also very important. So I think maybe we should do events like this more often. Maybe we should have more information put on the website of the Ministry, if information is the issue. But certainly I would try also, people to people, to engage. You know, if we have grassroots Israelis or Israeli friends connect with Muslims, moderate ones – because those who are like Hamas or Hezbllah or Al Qaeda, there is no point in wasting any time on them. For them it’s do or die. They will not be convinced. They get their directions supposedly straight from Allah. They will attack us not because of our policies but because of who we are and what we represent, I mean, generically as the Western civilizations. But there is a lot of middle ground, all the silent majority. I think here if we connect to them and try to reason with them, I think that will be an important first step.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay. We have a very few minutes left, so how about we go for rapid-fire questions, rapid-fire answers?
DFM Ayalon: Okay.
Ms. Goldberg: Go ahead, Chaim. I’m sorry we held you back beforehand. I was just curious.
Chaim: It’s okay. We mentioned the JSS before, coming out of France, and they have a lot of questions; a lot of them are political. Let me see one that I can ask.
Gefen: I can ask one.
DFM Ayalon: You can ask any one you want.
Chaim: Go ahead.
Ms. Goldberg: Go ahead.
Gefen: Here’s the question: "Are the sanctions against Iran working effectively, or not?"
DFM Ayalon: Well, the jury here is still out. They hurt economically – the first time that the Ayatollah’s regime understands that they are paying a price. Until the sanctions, they did not pay a price. But it’s not enough, because the sanctions are put there for results, and the results will be, once they stop their ongoing illegal problem, this has not happened. So I believe that in a few weeks’ time, by the end of the year for sure, we will all internationally make an assessment and, if we see that there is no change in their conduct on the nuclear issues, then we can ratchet up the pressure. There are many more tools in the diplomatic and the economic toolboxes than can convey to the Iranian regime that it would not be worthwhile for them to continue.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay. Chaim, anything? We have two, three minutes of Danny’s time.
Chaim: This comes from JSS News. He asks "I’m a supporter of Israel from Tunisia. When will you launch an international TV station, like France has, France24, particularly one in Arabic?"
DFM Ayalon: Well, thank you very much. We are thinking about it very much. We will have now, I hope, a channel dedicated for an Arab channel 24 hours a day. It’s a matter of budgets; it’s a matter of organization. But it’s a very good point. And if it was my decision, we would have done it yesterday. But, I hope, very, very soon. Thank you very much for raising it.
Ms. Goldberg: What I did notice is that you have activities on Facebook in Arabic, I think. Is that correct?
DFM Ayalon: Yes.
Ms. Goldberg: I’m not fluent in Arabic, but as I noticed.
DFM Ayalon: Absolutely. Again, I think if we connect without the filters of leadership in the Arab Muslim world, without the filters of media and other things, I think, as human beings, we can really relate to our neighbors, cousins and friends, and they can relate to us. And I believe that, really, peace should be homegrown; that’s why I don’t believe in all kinds of international initiatives. It has to be homegrown. And grassroots of course, people to people, is very helpful.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay. Anything that is burning and you’d like to ask, or are we going to have Danny state his mission and send us off?
Chaim: Well, earlier today there was a conference here called "Israel’s Upcoming Public Diplomacy Challenges", and you opened the conference. And I wanted to know if we could hear a quick idea of what the mission is for the future, from that conference.
DFM Ayalon: Well, the mission is to win this battle. We have won many battles. If you look at our enemies, they tried to take us on militarily and they couldn’t. They tried to take us on economically and they couldn’t. We’re very proud of our economy. We’re members of the OECD, so and so forth. They tried to take us on with terror and they couldn’t. By the way, the fence, the anti-terror fence, is working very well to deter terrorism. And now they are attacking us diplomatically and through legal warfare. Once we understand that, I think we are halfway towards the solution.
We also must understand that there is a whole network that’s working against us. Unfortunately, we see the Palestinian Authority engaged with Hamas, with Hezbollah, with Iran, with other organizations internationally which are being manipulated by the Palestinians. So there is a network working against us, so we must fight the network with our own network. And I think what we’re doing today, by connecting everyone we can, NGOs, academia, the business community, to work together and explain to the world what Israel is, is the best way and, most of all, to dispel all the lies that are being thrown at us.
So I think, today, what we’re doing right now, what we did today, is trying to put everybody on the same page and understanding that there is a fight. It’s a fight because those who are fighting us are very dedicated, are very disciplined, and this is why we will have to take it in a very serious way. And as they say, "à la guerre comme à la guerre". We’ll have to fight it with all our available means, and we have the means; it’s just a matter of restructuring, of strategizing.
My mission and my vision is that in a year or two, when people all over the world think about Israel, they will not think about the conflict, they will not think about bloodshed or terrorism, but rather, they will think about tourism, great history and archeology, great innovation, creative energy, and also beautiful Israelis. And I think we can do that, achieve that.
Ms. Goldberg: Listening to you talk about creative energy, I know it’s one of the grassroots organizations that has emerged here in the past year. Danny, I don’t know if you know how many people were actually attending and watching. We’re going to go on and look at the statistics. But…
DFM Ayalon: It’s exciting.
Ms. Goldberg: …it was a pleasure. And I really want to thank you for the opportunity and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosting us and sponsoring these events this third time in a row. It’s been very exciting.
DFM Ayalon: Well, let’s do it again. I think it’s great. The more the better.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, what are you doing next Monday?
DFM Ayalon: We’ll let you know.
Ms. Goldberg: Okay, guys.
DFM Ayalon: We’ll look at the calendar. Thank you.
Ms. Goldberg: Thank you. Good night.
DFM Ayalon: Good night.