A former captain of the Israeli special forces set up an initiative to train tens of thousands of released Israeli soldiers to act as ‘ambassadors' during travels abroad, teaching the veterans how to talk about Israel with non-Israelis, The Times of Israel reported Sunday.
"We understood that Israel has a ‘hasbara' problem and that the people dealing with it the most are recently released soldiers and they have an opportunity to positively influence how Israel is perceived," captain Eyal Biram said in an interview, using the Israel-specific term for Tel Aviv's efforts to spread positive propaganda.
"More than 400,000 [Israelis] between the ages of 20 and 24 travel abroad each year. Basically, a group that is mostly made up of recently released soldiers. […] Each of them is basically an informal Israeli ambassador, for good and for bad," he added.
Biram, together with partners Jonathan Svorai and Barak Deri, approached the IDF with their ‘Israel-is' project. According to the creators, Israel-is is a non-political course that teaches soldiers how to converse by avoiding the pursuit of a particular political viewpoint.
"Our workshops are not political. They are meant to teach how to take your personal story in order to get across a message. It doesn't matter if you're right, left, support, oppose, whatever," Biram noted.
Soldiers are trained to react positively and thank their interlocutors for their questions.
"It's not their fault that they've only heard bad things about Israel," Biram said.
"By the end of the conversation, they still might not like the State of Israel and what it does, but they will hopefully like the Israeli they were speaking to," noted The Times of Israel report.
Soldiers are encouraged to draw from their own service experience.
One program instructor said that while responding to foreigner questions, it is most important to establish that "there is no black and white, but 50,000 shades of gray."
"And remember, if you can't beat them, confuse them," the instructor quipped.
The program has become mandatory for Israeli servicemen preparing to leave the military and all departing service members must undergo an Israel-specific pre-release event detailing the benefits available to them in the outside world.
In addition, the Foreign Ministry and the IDF have provided Israel-is with a collection of videos and infographics about Israel and its conflict with Palestine. The program cooperates with the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a "borderline clandestine" government body tasked with fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel for its part in what many consider to be Tel Aviv's apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians
The group, which employs four full-time employees and relies heavily on contractors and volunteers, plans to expand to cover those who perform national service instead of serving in the military, as well as university students and young Israelis intending to work as camp counsellors in the US, according to The Times of Israel report.