Jerusalem, May 17 - What began as a modest outreach initiative of Israelis to the Arab world following the Arab Spring, has become a phenomenon on the Arabic social media scene.
“Israel Uncensored”, an Arabic-language Facebook page published by the Israel advocacy group “The Israel Project”, has chalked up more than 520,000 “likes” and a weekly outreach of around 10 million people around the Arab world.
Published out of Jerusalem by a small group of Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, “Israel Uncensored” has become a primary source of information about life in Israel for young Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis and residents of other Middle Eastern countries.
The stories, all written in Arabic, present the complexity of life in Israel and relations within Israel’s diverse population in an open style – and in stark contrast to the stereotypical manner in which Israelis and Jews are often portrayed in the mainstream Arabic media.
This landmark comes as Facebook moves toward selling shares to the public. The company was to set the initial share price of its IPO on Thursday and will begin trading publicly on Friday. Although some have expressed doubts about its long-term commercial prospects, the Israel Uncensored venture provides rich evidence about the ability of Facebook to bring people together.
“Israel Uncensored” communicates the real story of Israel, with all its complexities, to the Arab world”, says Shimrit Meir, Director of the Arabic Media Program at The Israel Project. “Our audience is made up of the young people who are the future of the region”.
“Of course we write about politics, but we also cover Israel’s ethnic communities as well as writing about art and culture, sports and music. Much of our activity centers on the ensuing dialog – the comments and interaction.
Meir goes on, "Some of our features are met with plain incredulity. We covered a young, religious Muslim woman called Nasrin Qadri who had won the Israeli version of “American Idol”, and who got a lot of love from the Israeli audience. We received a barrage of surprised comments from around the Arab world. People simply couldn’t believe that we didn’t make this up “.
The page was launched a year ago, as it became clear that the young protestors in Tahrir Square were using social media as a tool to convey political messages, share ideas and to mobilize. Approximately half of the “likes” are from Egypt.
“Although we work very closely with the mainstream Arabic media, we now have the opportunity to converse directly with people around us”, says the Israel Project’s Executive Director in Israel, Marcus Sheff.
“By cutting out the intermediaries - the reporters and editors of Arabic outlets whose reporting about Israel is often biased, we are able to provide a different perspective of Israelis to a young, politically engaged generation of Arabs", said Sheff.