The war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, now in its fifth week, has claimed thousands of lives and ignited a geopolitical firestorm. Amid this bloody chaos, another struggle has played out across the internet, with politicians, activists, influencers, and media outlets grappling for control of the narratives around the conflict. Bad actors have further muddied the waters with fake images and misinformation meant to advance their own agendas.
But while the stories of those under bombardment by IDF forces in Gaza are mostly told by a patchwork of embedded journalists, supporters abroad, and trapped Palestinians themselves, Israel has a monolithic social media presence in the form of several state government accounts. There’s @Israel on TikTok, @Israel on YouTube, @stateofisrael on Instagram (and Threads), a Facebook page for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and @Israel and @IDF on X, formerly Twitter, where the government has millions of followers in total.
Unsurprisingly, given the tenor of the discourse surrounding the war, while there is some support for the accounts, content from these channels is far more often met with contempt, dismissed as propaganda, or ridiculed. A typical @Israel TikTok — like one showing footage from a large pro-Israel demonstration in Beverly Hills — might receive thousands of likes but almost twice as many comments including the slogan “Free Palestine,” or the Palestinian-flag emoji. The Instagram comments are similar. On X, the backlash can be even more extreme.
Nevertheless, hour after hour and day after day, Israel continues to pump out statements, photos, infographics, hashtags, and calls to action for a massive online audience. Who’s behind this tireless social campaign?
The Israel accounts are managed by the digital bureau of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a division that has been run by David Saranga, a diplomat whose career has long involved pushing web communication and managing Israel’s public image around the world, including in American media. He became chief of the department in August 2022. That December, he told the Jewish Insider in an interview that when it comes to hostilities with Hamas, “The most important thing is to bring the Israeli message as fast as possible before the Palestinians bring their message.”
The ministry devotes considerable resources to digital strategy. Saranga tells Rolling Stone via email that his team “is comprised of about 30 individuals, ranging from department heads to seasoned digital consultants, language managers, interns, and graphic designers.” Together, they manage “more than 20 accounts in six languages” that he estimates have “reached 2 billion people in the past month.”
At present, Saranga says, the department’s strategy is to emphasize the horrors of the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and raise awareness for the 240 hostages abducted that day. “For years we have been warning the world about Hamas, but this last massacre showed the world exactly what Hamas is capable of and will do if given the chance again,” he says. To that end, they might counter criticism about Israeli airstrikes damaging Gaza hospitals with, for example, video purporting to show a Hamas fighter wielding a rifle inside one such hospital. That Friday tweet, however, was deluged with replies from users claiming the object was either a stick or baton — including from the chairman of a Geneva-based human rights group focused on the Palestinian territories.
Saranga sees the challenges to Israel’s social media content as a problem of “disinformation,” which he says has reached a “staggering” volume in recent weeks.
“There are endless pro-Palestinian bots who are sharing photos from Syria and other conflicts and claiming that the subjects are victims of Israeli aggression,” Saranga claims. “These same bots are attacking journalists who share verified information about Hamas’ crimes against humanity and accusing the journalists of lying. The amount of denial we are seeing online brings to mind those who deny the Holocaust.” The digital bureau director also speculates that “there are quite a few large accounts who are possibly being funded by dangerous foreign actors,” though he did not name any parties he suspects of pushing anti-Israel sentiment this way.
“Remember that the internet does not reflect reality,” Saranga cautions when asked whether the global public’s perceptions of Hamas and the conflict itself are at odds with those offered on Israel’s accounts. “Social media thrives on extremism, so it tends to blow up and amplify dangerous pro-Hamas voices,” he claims, saying his division’s goal “isn’t to change the minds” of those individuals.
On balance, Saranga says, he feels the overall web campaign has been successful in connecting with a Western audience. “We have put out more than 2,500 posts in the last month that have reached over a billion English speakers,” he says. The @Israel feed on X has added around 600,000 followers. Saranga again argues that a substantial amount of the negative response comes from “millions of organized pro-Palestinian bots who have automated systems which aggressively attack our posts.” (There does not appear to be an independent analysis to support this contention, though in the early days of the war, Israeli social threat intelligence firm Cyabra did issue a report which found that one in four of 162,000 profiles engaged in conversation about the conflict were “fake.”)
Saranga repeats that “the online sphere does not reflect the real world,” implying that backlash to Israel’s communications may be the outcry of deceptively few people (this despite the massive street demonstrations on behalf of Palestine around the world). “We are trying to reach the silent majority, millions of people around the world who consume social media without publicly engaging with material online,” Saranga says. “These are the masses we are targeting.”
Asked about the overwhelmingly antagonistic response to certain materials shared by @Israel, like an apparently AI-generated meme of the Harry Potter villain Voldemort holding a phone on which he is evidently watching footage of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, or a sketch from the satirical program Eretz Nehederet depicting Columbia University as naive Hamas supporters, which critics accused of carrying racist and homophobic overtones, Saranga is undaunted.
“We are posting hundreds of items a day, so it makes sense that there are always going to be materials which work more effectively and those that don’t,” he says. “In the age of social media fatigue, we constantly need to find creative ways to tell these stories. Ninety percent of the time we are successful, the other 10 percent of the time materials are less well-received.”
Even amid these setbacks and controversies, Saranga believes his team has played a vital role in shifting opinion toward the perspective of the Israeli government. “Since we began our activity on Oct. 7, we see more and more individuals who have been typically more critical of Israel express understanding and even support for our response,” he says. “They finally understand the barbaric enemy we are fighting.”
And whatever heat Israel’s official accounts might take on the timeline, you can expect the posts to keep coming with relentless speed and fervor. “We will continue to put all our efforts into making sure the cry of millions of Israelis reverberates both online and offline,” Saranga says.