Ayalon invites UCSD students to ‘friend him’ on Facebook
By Yiftach Levy
LA JOLLA, California –Since being appointed to the role of Israel’s deputy foreign minister in 2009, Danny Ayalon has achieved some measure of success in an area that has been problematic for Israel for years, if not decades: its PR image. Using — indeed, embracing — emerging technology and social media tools that were unavailable or incomprehensible to his predecessors, Ayalon has disseminated Israel’s message out to hundreds of thousands of viewers and readers who otherwise might have been missed. For example, his YouTube series “The Truth About…”, three videos covering core issues underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have been viewed over 1 million times. On Thursday, May 3, he brought this message to San Diego, albeit to an audience that was friendly and welcoming.
Ayalon spoke at Price Center on the UCSD campus in an event sponsored by Tritons for Israel (the UCSD pro-Israel student group) and promoted off campus by StandWithUs, the international pro-Israel educational and advocacy organization. Similar events with Israeli speakers at other campuses nationwide have in the last few years been venues for organized disturbances and interruptions by Muslim and other pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel activists. Thus it was that Professor Eli Berman, a UCSD Economics faculty member who opened the evening, spent several moments directly and pointedly reminding the audience about the principles of mutual respect and dignity that UCSD and the larger academic community stand for. He warned potential agitators that deliberate disruption of an invited speaker is not covered by the first amendment, and that anyone who engaged in disruptive behavior would be asked to stop, then asked to leave, then, if necessary, escorted out of the event.
His warnings turned out to be entirely superfluous, since there didn’t seem to be a dissenting head in the crowd, much less elements like those who disrupted Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine in 2010 (resulting in 10 students convicted of misdemeanor criminal charges and university sanctions on the Muslim Student Union). Ayalon spent most of his time at the podium on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, touched briefly on the Arab Spring (which he said seemed to be turning into a “radical Islamist winter”), and even more succinctly mentioned Iran and its nuclear ambitions. On this latter subject, he was optimistic, saying that he didn’t believe Iran would end up with the bomb, and implying that this would not be due to a military strike by either Israel or the US.
The bulk of Ayalon’s remarks were, predictably, restatements of the Israeli government line on the stagnant peace process: Israel is, and always has been, extending its hand out to make peace, has made numerous painful concessions along the way, wants to return to the negotiating table without preconditions, and doesn’t build new settlements (only expands existing ones to accommodate natural growth). Some of these proclamations are straightforward and easily confirmed, others are more arguable. Ayalon justifiably criticised the incitement rampant in Palestinian Authority-controlled media, the hatred preached in its mosques, and the delegitimization of Israel in its educational system and textbooks. All these long-standing issues were supposed to be addressed in the early years of the Oslo Accords, but while Israel has lived up to, as Ayalon put it, 95% of its commitments, the Palestinians haven’t really budged at all.
Despite this, Ayalon stated that we should not be discouraged and should continue striving for a solution. “The enemy of the good is the perfect,” Ayalon noted (paraphrasing Voltaire without actually citing the French philosopher). In other words, if we can’t resolve final status issues and achieve a long-term peace treaty, let’s try to achieve an interim agreement: full independence and sovereignty for the Palestinians in exchange for full recognition and security for Israel. He admitted that the obstacles in the way of even this partial peace were great and concentrated on Palestinian leadership. As recently as February, 2012, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas repeated his position that the PA would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel, Ayalon said, respects the Palestinians’ desire for self-determination, and only asks for the same in return.
In closing his remarks, Ayalon encouraged the many attendees whose questions were not read and answered to connect with him on Facebook. He held up his iPhone and said that he spends time during his frequent and long travels to directly respond to questions via social media. He said he enjoyed its instantaneous quality, and his engagement seems to be bearing fruit: the online social media influence tracking site Klout.com (as well as Foreign Policy magazine) ranked Ayalon as Israel’s most influential politician in cyberspace. It remains to be seen if his influence has a significant impact on the issues that most affect Israelis’ daily lives and the future of the Jewish state.
Levy is a freelance writer based in San Diego. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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