'Like for Israel' takes on flotilla advocacy
By KAROLYN COORSH
Entrepreneur duo take to social media to rally pro-Israel supporters around the world.
In a sparsely furnished office on Sokolov Street in Herzliya, Niv Calderon and Barak Hachamov are attempting to start a social media revolution.
It's Tuesday, and the pair is busy holding closed-door meetings, phones glued to their ears. Outside their office door is the "Flotilla Situation Room" where volunteers at computer workstations are busy media monitoring, researching and posting information about the 2011 flotilla to proisraeli.org.
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The website is powered by Like For Israel, an online social media initiative formally launched just two weeks ago by Hachamov, 44, and Calderon, 31.
A pilot project, Like For Israel is designed to be a tool for pro-Israel activists around the world, regardless of political views, to connect, share information and meet.
The pair says they launched after noticing an absence of pro-Israel supporters and activists in worldwide social media circles. If there was any voice at all, they say, it was disorganized and disengaged from other sources.
That disconnect, Hachamov says, was reflected in what he finds is a growing voice in support of the deligitimization of Israel. "We feel as social media guys, it's not ... equal currently between what Israel hasbara is doing, and what the Palestinians are doing."
So the pair is taking to social media to connect the dots. Their formula works, Hachamov says, as illustrated by the so-called Facebook Revolution that gave momentum to the Arab Spring in Egypt and other parts of the region.
Pro-Israel supporters "want to act, to show that there is a different picture in Israel," Hachamov says. "Especially when it comes to the deligitimizaion of the existence of Israel."
The prevailing notion of delegitimization "is really a strategic threat," that endangers Jewish and Israeli activists, Calderon says, "because when you speak about Israel like this, it means you can hurt Israelis and Jews because (if) Israel is not legitimate, then it's not legitimate to be either Jew or Israeli or someone who supports Israel."
The message most people currently receive, Hachamov says, is a distorted one.
Pro-Israeli activists "know that it's a different country than the one you see [in] the media," says Hachamov, explaining that many associate Israel with the image of a small girl standing in front of an army tank. "It's always captured well and this is Israel for many, many people including in the Arab world."
So the ultimate goal is to balance the picture in the public realm by connecting and empowering the individual.
Hachamov and Calderon are armed with industry experience; Hachamov is a high-tech entrepreneur, while Calderon, also an entrepreneur, has been working in social media for several years. Over the past year, Calderon has also gotten involved in public diplomacy, and ran a similiar situation room during Operation Cast Lead.
Already, their efforts with the flotilla seem to be receiving the desired results. In tracking and disseminating information about the flotilla's participants, they have steady growth on Facebook, and Twitter. They also have a presence on Youtube, Scribd, Flickr and flavors .
Facebook groups under the Like For Israel umbrella are divided geographically, or by special interest, for instance, there's a Like For Israel lawyer's group.
And they say they've already made some headway in the flotilla situation. Calderon himself was able to obtain an online french document that included the names and emails of some flotilla participants.
"I've seen many times during the past two weeks that we know about things 24 hours before the press knows about them."
But both Calderon and Hachamov stress that Like For Israel is by no means a political organization, and they are certainly not recruiting people to bolster the government's position. "We won't tell them what to say," Calderon says, adding they are creating infrastructure to connect people and information.
"Suddenly what happens when you connect people suddenly partnerships emerge. And a new solution emerges [for] old problems."
Hachamov takes his hat off to Palestinian supporters, who he says are adept at promoting their message through social media. "They're doing great stuff recently," he says. He gave the example of iGaza, an app developed for iPhone.
Calderon and Hachamov are not completely sure yet what path Like For Israel may take. After all, the project is in its infancy stages and is not yet a formal non-profit organization. Calderon and Hachamov say they are not even at the fundraising stage yet, right now they are preparing to branch out and develop their own platform while coupling it with established social media platforms. And of course, they hope to go viral. Eventually they may need another office. The Herzliya office they are working in was lent to them by the Interdisciplinary College, but it's not a permanent location, and they are currently relying heavily on support from outside groups and volunteers.
But Hachamov is optimistic for the future, saying he hopes one day Like For Israel can inspire peace-making and bilateral relationship solutions beyond their region, including in places like Iran.
"Because after all, we're human beings, we all want to live pe