The University of Haifa has launched an academic course to combat the online “delegitimization of Israel”, in what it claims to be a “first” for academia. In a press release dated 30 March, the University proudly describes the four credit course, offered by the Department of Multi-Disciplinary Studies, as preparing “students to be unofficial ‘ambassadors’ for Israel on the Internet”.
In the University press release, programme instructor Prof. Eli Avraram cites Israeli Apartheid Week as an example of the kind of “phenomenon” students are taught to “fight”, describing the annual, globally-observed event “an expression of pure anti-Semitism” (IAW also features in this promotional video for the programme).
The ‘Ambassadors Online’ course began life as an extra-curricular project, before its ‘upgrade’ to the level of “a full academic course” contributing credits towards a student’s degree. According to the University, “achievements” by students to date have included “an operation room that propagated the reality in Israel during the military operation Pillar of Defense”, initiating “propaganda delegations abroad”, and creating “viral memes” (including in support of Scarlett Johansson).
The University notes praise for ‘Ambassadors Online’ by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose officials have instructed students on how “to use social networking sites to defend government policies”. Other elements have included “writing Wikipedia entries, publicizing hasbara (public diplomacy) talking points and confronting anti-Israel activists in online chat rooms”.
The project is described on its own website as “a joint partnership of several academic and student offices”, including the Dean of Students Office and Haifa University Student Union. The programme works “together with” relevant Israeli government ministries, as well as established lobby groups like StandWithUs and the Israel on Campus Coalition.
Recent lectures, as shared on the programme’s Facebook page, have featured former spokesperson IDF Colonel (res) Miri Eisen speaking about narratives, and the University of Haifa’s Student Dean, Prof. Hanan Alexander, asking “when does criticism of Israel become anti-Semitism?” Participants have also previously heard from the Foreign Ministry about “creative energy” rebranding strategies that focus on “start-ups” and “the arts”.
Israeli academic institutions have a proven track record in cooperating with hasbara initiatives of the government or lobby groups – including these examples at Bar-Ilan University, Hebrew University, and Ben-Gurion University. Last August, it was reported that the Prime Minister’s Office would be setting up “a network of advocacy units in Israeli universities, operated by students”.
Already deeply complicit in the crimes and human rights violations of the state and the military, Israeli universities are also increasingly involved in whitewashing and defending those very policies to an international audience.