How Israel is utilizing digital diplomacy to win in Iran


4 hundred and fifty million. That’s the variety of occasions social media customers throughout the globe engaged with Farsi-languge digital content material generated by Israel’s Ministry of Overseas Affairs final 12 months. And guess what, 93% of those viewers had been in Iran – a rustic dedicated to wiping Israel off the map. 

For greater than a decade, Israel’s digital diplomacy workforce has maintained channels in additional than 50 languages which attain some 2 billion individuals annually. However in some way Farsi has change into the most well-liked language of all – much more than Hebrew and English mixed.

How did this occur? For one factor, in contrast to in different, extra digitally cautious nations, Israeli diplomats can put up each private {and professional} content material with comparatively few restrictions. This openness fits a rustic the place expertise and innovation are our best aggressive edges. And the digital sphere isn’t any exception – significantly on the subject of coping with our enemies.

Because the outbreak of protests in Iran final September, Israel’s Farsi-language platforms have seen a large improve in followers — together with an equal increase in content material associated to the rebellion.

The US and the West have a lot to be taught from Israel’s efforts to penetrate audiences in hostile nations. Contemplate Iran. In a rustic the place conventional and social media networks are closely censored, tens of millions use VPNs to entry content material blocked by the regime. For greater than a decade, Israel has labored inside these constraints to construct a web-based group of Iranians excited about studying about Israel, a spot Iranian leaders have lengthy known as “the Little Devil.” 

Israel’s digital journey in Iran is proof that each governments – and their individuals – want little greater than a smartphone to form public opinion overseas. To take action, governments should in the beginning communicate the languages of their goal audiences — actually and metaphorically.

Israel's Farsi-language Instagram account has witnessed the largest rise in traffic, up by 700,000 followers in the last year alone.
Israel’s Farsi-language Instagram account has witnessed the most important rise in site visitors, up by 700,000 followers within the final 12 months alone.
Israelpersian/ instagram

The girl behind our Israel in Persian accounts on Twitter and Instagram escaped Iran as a young person and moved to Israel the place she lives at the moment. Persian meals, holidays and Farsi are usually not simply hobbies for her, they’re core parts of her id and Iranians following @IsraelinPersian can see themselves within the content material she produces on Twitter and Instagram. 

Each @IsraelinArabic and @IsraelinPersian create content material that focuses on shared tradition, music, meals and values. For Iran, this has meant postings celebrating Persian holidays like Norwuz alongside, extra lately, content material that publicly helps the hundreds of Iranians protesting for his or her fundamental freedoms. This method seems to be working: In October 2022, the Israel Ministry of Overseas Affairs managed to conduct a ballot inside Iran which revealed that over 70% of Iranian respondents expressed constructive sentiments in the direction of the Jewish State.

The past years has also seen a spike in Israel's Farsi-language Twitter account, which has seen its number rise by 15%.
The previous years has additionally seen a spike in Israel’s Farsi-language Twitter account, which has seen its quantity rise by 15%.
Israelpersian/ twitter

Earlier than the most recent protests, Israel in Persian coated every part from Israeli expertise to Persian Jewish historical past to ongoing human rights abuses of the Iranian Regime. Nonetheless, because the starting of the demonstrations in September, the account has advanced into an unlikely voice for the Iranian individuals whose media choices have by no means been extra restricted. Content material at the moment now focuses on the horrific beatings, executions and violations perpetrated by the regime. 

Starved of data, Iranians seem to need what we’re providing: Because the starting of the protests, Israel’s Persian-language exercise has skyrocketed – with Instagram followers surging from 400,000 to 1.1 million within the final 12 months alone, whereas our Twitter numbers have risen almost 15%. All of this development is natural.

Access to social media has become increasingly restricted in Iran, where users often bypass constraints via VPN systems in order to surf, swipe, post and like without alerting the authorities.
Entry to social media has change into more and more restricted in Iran, the place customers typically bypass constraints through VPN methods as a way to surf, swipe, put up and like with out alerting the authorities.

The Israeli authorities differentiates between the brutal ayatollahs and unusual Iranians preventing in opposition to many years of oppression and abuse. Israel in Persian brazenly criticizes the Iranian regime whereas supporting the Iranian individuals of their struggle for freedom. At a time when many Iranians have by no means felt extra unvoiced, different nations would possibly think about following our lead.

As new AI applied sciences reminiscent of Chat GPT emerge, the still-nascent world of digital diplomacy will proceed to strengthen as nations innovate and iterate their official social media methods. True, there isn’t any substitute for conventional face-to-face diplomacy. However digital instruments now enable governments to form public opinion on-line for insurance policies they want to promote offline — typically in methods unimaginable even a decade in the past. 

In reality, our @IsraelinArabic efforts did simply that. Our first Arabic-language social media channels launched nearly a decade in the past – lengthy predating the signing of the Abraham Accords, which noticed Israel and a quartet of Arab and Persian Gulf nations set up diplomatic relations in September 2022.  Years earlier than the Abraham Accords, our Arabic groups had been planting the seeds of regional peace by highlighting historic and cultural commonalities.  

For years Israel has also operated a robust social network ecosystem in Arabic. The content, which highlights cultural commonalities between Arabs and Jews, helped lay the groundwork for 2020's Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and a handful of former enemy nations.  Here, the Accords are signed in Washington in September 2020.
For years Israel has additionally operated a strong social community ecosystem in Arabic.
Getty Pictures

One viral Fb video from 2019, as an example — which confirmed the similarities between phrases in Hebrew and Arabic — has been considered almost 7 million occasions and was even shared by a high-ranking UAE official who praised the bonds between the 2 languages. Social media — with all of its flaws and challenges — has allowed nations like Israel to bypass the constraints posed by battle and warfare and communicate on to the residents of nations with which Israel hopes to sooner or later align. 

And now again to Iran. Authorities change in Tehran is inevitable. Which is why Israel’s digital diplomats are getting ready Iranian public opinion for the day when the still-unrealized “Cyrus Accords” might be signed bringing peace between Israel and Iran. None of us know when that can occur. However within the meantime, our digital diplomats will proceed to function sudden voices for the Iranian individuals.

Ambassador David Saranga is the Director of the Digital Diplomacy Bureau at Israel’s Ministry of Overseas Affairs


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