23:57 GMT16 June 2021
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    The outbreak of the corona pandemic coupled with a dire economic situation prompted many Iranians to reach out to Israel's Foreign Ministry asking for help, only to find out that apart from words of comfort, it couldn't do much to assist them.

    The past few weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the number of Iranians reaching out to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking for assistance, MFA said.

    The Ministry runs on five digital platforms and is available to the broader public in six languages. Two of the most important ones are the accounts in Arabic and Persian, which have more than 300,000 and 200,000 followers on Twitter alone.

    MFA's Instagram account in Persian boasts 500,000 followers and is considered the most popular among Iranians because it is the only channel that is not blocked by the government and that is accessible to the general public without the need to use VPNs.

    "We cherish these accounts because Israel doesn't have diplomatic representation in many countries in the region. Given the fact that many states are hostile to the Jewish state and depict it as a demon, using social media is our only way to underline the similarities and show people a different side of Israel", said Yiftah Curiel, the director of MFA's Department of Digital Diplomacy, whose employees hold daily interactions with those who approach the governmental body.

    The department is responsible for managing the accounts of Israel's 250 diplomats and more than a hundred missions around the world. It also shares various content on its social media pages.

    Most of the content is dedicated to news updates about Israel and the Middle East, but it does feature public opinion polls as well as items on high tech, agriculture, tourism, innovation, and health and Curiel says the response they are getting is "outstanding".

    "Apart from the fact that we reach about five million people a week, we also have posts that get four or five thousand replies".

    Iranians Interested in Israel Despite Ban

    While some of those who interact with the Ministry are Iranian Jews, or Iranians who live abroad, there are also those who still reside in the Islamic Republic, but choose to defy a ban imposed by the government despite the potential dangers that such a move could entail.

    Curiel says many hide their identity, preferring to send private messages, but there are also those who interact openly, posting various questions and requests. 

    "Some are asking us about visits to Israel's holy sites. Others are more interested in business opportunities, and yet there are also those who are concerned about health issues. We try to answer most of their questions".

    In recent weeks Iran has witnessed a surge in the amount of COVID-19 cases and authorities raised concerns that a second wave of the pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people across the nation was just around the corner.  

    It was the fear of the virus, says Curiel, that accelerated the engagement of Iranians on social media platforms even though high rates of interaction had been registered before the outbreak of the pandemic. 

    "Many people feel that their regime let them down. Their country has become one of the hubs of the virus contributing to its distribution throughout the Middle East", said Curiel, claiming that the authorities tried to hide statistics, a move that allegedly undermined their credibility in the eyes of the general public. 

    Unable to Help

    However, the surge in interactions with the MFA can also be attributed to the dire economic situation of Iran. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the nation suffered from deep economic woes partially caused by the crippling western sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear programme.

    The eruption of the virus made matters worse and Curiel says some have even written to the MFA asking for assistance in immigrating to Israel or a third country.

    The problem is that unless they are Jewish or married to a Jew, they won't be able to make it to Israel. 

    In addition, unlike the Ministry of the Interior responsible for the issuing of visas and entry permits, Israel's MFA does not have the right to deal with such requests, especially given the fact that those are coming from citizens of a country considered an enemy for the Jewish state .

    "Although we do use the internal channels of the government to assist those asking for help, we cannot do much. All we can do is to listen to them and offer them sympathy. The idea here is to create a dialogue and show them that we are not their enemy", Curiel summed up.

    The Islamic Republic cut ties with Israel in 1979 following the revolution that ousted Israel's ally Shah Reza Pahlavi and brought Muslim clerics to power. Since then Tehran has repeatedly accused the Jewish state of destabilising the region, persecuting the Palestinians, and threatened to wipe the state off the map. 

    Israel, in turn, has accused Iran of developing weapons of mass destruction to allegedly be used against the Jewish state and vowed to curb Tehran's nuclear programme.

    social media, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, Iran, Israel
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