It appears Israel is gearing up for its own citizen army to defend itself – on social media.

From the Jerusalem Post’s article, Government to use citizens as army in social media war:

The Prime Minister’s Office has a far-reaching plan to utilize students and other supporters of Israel around the world in the state’s efforts to defend itself in social media, Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman told The Jerusalem Post last week.

Ha’aretz  reported Tuesday about a small aspect of the plan involving scholarships for local university students who will advance messages about Israel in interactive media. But there are also plans to coordinate social media efforts with Jewish organizations, Facebook groups and with pro-Israel student groups around the world.

That planning effort is being led by outgoing deputy-director general of the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Daniel Seaman.  Previously the head of the Government Press Office, Seaman will soon assume a new role as head of “the interactive media unit.”

Recruited students will theoretically work in collaboration with the National Union of Israeli Students and will be part of the public diplomacy arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, but maintain its own independence as a student entity, according to Haaretz.

In a post titled Prime Minister’s Office recruiting students to wage online hasbara battles, Haaretz provides details of the plan.

Seaman informed the public tender committee that the Prime Minister’s Office was interested in having the student union recruit up to 550 students with knowledge of foreign languages from Israel’s seven universities. The student union is to publicize the project among tens of thousands of students and be responsible for the screening process, which will include submission of resumes, submitting answers to questionnaires, providing translation samples and participating in individual interviews. It is also the student union that is to provide computers and work space for a project headquarters on each campus.

Seaman informed the committee that the diplomacy units at each university would take direction from staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, but its public face would be one of an independent student entity. “The entire idea of the setup is based on activity of students and by students,” Seaman wrote to the committee. “The idea requires that the state’s role not be highlighted and therefore it is necessary to insist on major involvement by the students themselves without any political link [or] affiliation.”

In most countries, this would seem a controversial plan.  But it appears to be one that Israel feels is needed under its current circumstances.

The driving motivation behind the plan is the need to combat continued disinformation and attacks against Israel.  Indeed, it has for years endured an aggressive and organized campaign from its detractors, who also launched a movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.

From Haaretz:

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said the main subjects that the campus-based units will deal with are diplomatic- and security-related issues, efforts to combat the boycott of Israel and anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel. The students will emphasize Israel’s democratic values, freedom of religion, pluralism and “other subjects that give expression to the Israeli government’s public diplomacy policy.” The Prime Minister’s Office added that similar efforts with students were successful in recent years. “This model significantly advances Israel’s public diplomacy capabilities so that concurrent with messages conveyed by the country’s official spokespeople, content will also be conveyed that has been developed and disseminated by the students that is adapted to social media.”

[…]

Hagar Yisraeli, a spokeswoman for the Union of Israeli Students, added: “Israel is dealing with an extreme, ongoing delegitimization campaign that is being conducted against it on the social networks. The student population is a talented, educated group of people with independent and diverse views and speaks [a variety of] languages and can therefore assist in dealing with such an [anti-Israel] campaign… The students are an integral part of the Israeli reality and it is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they take an active part in dealing with the delegitimization. It is accepted in the world that students are integrated and take part in various diplomatic activities. The student union is not a political organization and is not identified politically [with one school of thought]. The members of the union hold a range of views from across the Israeli political spectrum, and it is our intention to preserve that.”

Seaman also cited Israel’s success in the battle for awareness during the Pillar of Defense Operation last year, in which university campuses became engaged.  He wrote that it was decided to make such a structure permanent, given students’ familiarity with and active use of social media.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response, according to Haaretz, “The national public diplomacy unit in the Prime Minister’s Office places an emphasis on social network activity… As part of this, a new pro-Israel public diplomacy infrastructure of students on Israeli campuses is being established that will assist in advancing and disseminating content on the social networks, particularly to international audiences.”