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Israel Makes Its Case -- In 140 Characters or Less

Twitter feeds, YouTube footage show what really happened.

10:55 AM, Jun 2, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Noah Shachtman has a rather dour take on the utility of Israel's new media engagements in the wake of the flotilla fiasco:

The Israeli government is hoping YouTube and Twitter can help restore its reputation after a botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine people. Don’t get your hopes up, Bibi. There’s only so much a technological tactic can do after such a big strategic blunder. Besides, the folks on those ships had camera phones, too.

Every few hours, the Israeli Defense Forces are uploading to YouTube a new video meant to demonstrate that their troops acted responsibly — and that the people in the “Free Gaza” flotilla were the hostile ones.

At around 10 p.m. local time Monday night, it was footage taken by IDF naval boat showing the passengers beating up Israeli troops. An hour later, it was a clip of the “knives, slingshots, rocks, smoke bombs, metal rods, improvised sharp metal objects, sticks and clubs” found on board the Mavi Marmara. About two hours ago, the IDF showed how it was unloading “humanitarian cargo” from the ships and into Gaza. In between, the IDF is providing a stream of Twitter updates and blog posts to reinforce its position.

But no one — not even the Israeli military — seems to think it’ll make much of a difference in the international tide of ill will following the raid. "We know one thing for sure, in the media we are going to lose the war anyhow," Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry, told the Christian Science Monitor. “It doesn’t matter what we do.”

Dror might be right. But that doesn't mean Israel can afford to sit out the PR fight, especially when Hezbollah and Hamas are so adept at explioting suffering. 

The IDF's use of new media gadgets is a 180 degree turnaround from prior PR disasters -- snafus that could have easily been avoided with a combat cameraman and a Twitter feed. In the immediate aftermath of the flotilla pacification, IDF spokespeople flooded YouTube and Twitter with videos, metrics and data (like how much aid moves into Gaza daily via Israeli checkpoints), and even directly contradicted some of the more virulent anti-Israel propaganda inundating cyberspace. This wasn't insignificant. Had the IDF failed to publish the video of their commandos being attacked by murderous activists (swiftly posted by McCormack here on the blog hours after the ship's seizure), the current narrative could have been completely different. 

Savvy PR utilization can be a game changer, and I think -- at least in the this instance -- the IDF has finally wised up. 

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