Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent an unprecedented 30 minutes on live Facebook chat this past Monday in an attempt to use the social media site as a tool to help eradicate stereotypes of both his character and of Israel. Ofir Gendelman, the prime minister’s spokesperson for Arabic media, translated questions from participants as they were submitted onto the PM’s Arabic Facebook page, and then continued to translate and type Netanyahu’s responses.
A reported 700 people participated in the chat representing Arab concerns from Jordan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, the Palestinian Authority, North Africa, and Israel. The questions largely addressed the threat of a nuclear Iran, continuing unrest in Arab nations, and the dormant peace process with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spokesperson Ofir Gendelman chatting live with Arab Facebook users on Monday.
In response to the Arab uprisings, Netanyahu stressed the critical challenges that face these societies, which can only be resolved through internal reform and increasing access to freedom of information. The Israeli PM also articulated his willingness to meet in Ramallah to begin peace talks with the Palestinians. “To my regret, Abu Mazen is not prepared to come to my office. I think that this is a mistake,” he said.
In addressing inquiries on Israel’s sentiments regarding Iran’s rising nuclear threat, Netanyahu stressed that “Iran is a threat to the entire world,” even the Arab World, and noted that Israel shares an interest with Saudi Arabia to “prevent the spread of terrorism by extremist elements.” The prime minister also expressed a frustration with current day stigmas regarding Israel and its relationship with Arabs. He explained that 20% of Israel’s population is Arab, and those citizens enjoy equal rights and are represented in the Knesset and legislative system.
In his unparalleled chat with the Arab World, PM Netanyahu’s underlying message was to urge Arab countries to alter their diplomatic view towards Israel. Though his Facebook Q&A session won’t likely cause any immediate change for the better, Netanyahu’s attention to social media during his term has been a breath of fresh air for a country with a notorious PR problem.