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Who Needs Hasbara? 4 Bloggers Touring Israel

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The winners of the blogger contest have been chosen!

This article originally appeared in Ynet in Hebrew and has been translated
for us by StandWithUs Campus Coordinator at Hebrew University,
Maya Epstein, for the English audience.

Read the Hebrew version here.


By Ohad Keinan 
Ynet News

The phrase “once in a lifetime” might remind you of many TV series, but it’s also the name of a student project aimed to expose beautiful Israel to international bloggers. Four of them are touring in Israel.

“The fact that I am not Jewish contributes to the fact that people see that I have an independent voice and that I am not biased”, says Chas Newkey-Burden a 37 year old blogger from the UK that has arrived to Israel.

Bypassing the media through bloggers

Burden’s blog names OyVaGoy was created during the operation against the Hamas in Gaza and Burden’s goal was to show Israel to the world and to write about Israel’s cultural history. Burden appears often on BBC radio.

Burden claims that the major mass media channels in the UK are anti-Israel and the internet as well as blogs are a good tool to bypass the media. Following an incident where a British reporter claimed that Israelis do not get hit by rockets, Burden posted reports on those injured and killed on the Israeli side.

“Half of my readers get annoyed by my posts, but the other half listens” he says with a smile.

Burden and three other bloggers arrived to Israel and will tour the country for 10 days via “Once in a Lifetime – 2010” a project aimed to “expose the bloggers and through them, expose the world to the true face of Israel”.

The project was initiated by 24 StandWithUs students from the Hebrew University. The bloggers are staying in a rented flat in the heart of the Rehaviya neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Shiri Cohen, one of the project’s founders tells us of the work the students have done for the past few months including choosing the bloggers (via a YouTube based competition and intensive research in various internet blogs and production of the whole initiative. The students were able to get sponsors to fund the project – The Jerusalem Municipality, The Tel Aviv Municipality, El Al, Jerusalem Development Authority, Fatal Hotels and other organizations.

“It wasn’t an easy task to fundraise for the project” says Cohen. “These organizations believe that our project is unique and that public diplomacy is an important topic that needs to be invested in”.

Shanghai Exposed

Dan Redford, a 21 year old blogger from the US joins Burden in Israel. Redford, together with his friend, writes a blog names Shanghai Exposed. The blog was created in February due to Radford’s move to Shanghai. Radford’s first post on Israel describes the security check in China before boarding the plane to Israel.

“I come with a different perspective. In short, I came because this is a cool thing” he says and tells that after spending three summers in China, he wants to get a different perspective and experience Israel on emotional, physical, religious, political, cultural and historical levels. He wants to experience all that is different to what he knew growing up.

“I don’t have much knowledge on the Israeli and Palestinian issues but I am really excited  to learn about them”. Radford adds that Jerusalem is of great importance both religiously and historically and he want to tour the holy sites. He wants to experience the ancient sites of the city alongside modern Israel of the 21st century.

Getting to know about the conflict

Ryan Mauro aged 24 from the US works in the field of foreign policy and national security, writes in a blog names WorldThreats as well as for other websites. He makes a living as an analyst and commentator on the radio whilst finishing his second degree.

According to Mauro, anti-Israel extremist groups dominate the discourse about Israel in the US. “The conflict is projected as the Israelis have tanks and the Palestinians throw stones … I am trying to counter this”. To ensure the tour is balanced, Mauro would like to see how Arabs live in Israel and to experience what they claim is “The apartheid wall”.

Israel? Dangerous and mysterious

Sun Jinyi from China, that blogs for the site "Sina", doesn’t write about politics. She studies cultural communications and is very intrigued by the cultural aspects of life in Israel – the tourist attractions, landscapes and food.

“The first thing my friends thought of when I mentioned my trip to Israel was danger, but the next thing was mystery. My friends think I am brave”, tells Junyi.

Jinyi says that the news she watched mainly focuses on the danger in Israel and does not tell stories of the culture and people in Israel. She wants to bring these aspects of life in Israel to her followers and to tell them stories of lives of youngsters in Israel as well as to give future tourist tips about travelling in Israel.

As for the Chinese censorship, Jinyi and Redford explain that there are ways to bypass this, including spelling problematic words differently in order to miss the filters as well as using various servers to avoid the censorship. The two explain that in any case, whoever wants to access censored information finds the way to do so.

Advantage over the media? A personal angle

The bloggers believe that they deliver a personal point of view that is signed by them personally and is not backed by a big media organization. They tell personal stories of people they have met. According to them, their advantage over the traditional media is that they are accessible and they conduct a dialogue with their readers.

“It doesn’t matter if they have 1,000, 20,000 or 30,000 followers” says Cohen, “we looked for people that care and that have a connection with their readers” she explains.

“We are beginning a process that is still in the making. Our interaction with them will bring them new experiences and our aim is to give them a glimpse of our personal experiences as students – we are going to be their friends – friends that will show them Israel from a different angle. 

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