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Israelis and Palestinians Launch Online Campaigns Ahead of Obama's Visit

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, March 19 2013

Logo for Operation Unbreakable Alliance on the Israeli government's Facebook page.

With Barack Obama set to land in Israel tomorrow for his first official visit as president, Israelis and Palestinians have taken to the Internet to campaign for their causes and to express approval or disapproval of what the Israeli government has dubbed Operation Unbreakable Alliance.

On its official Facebook page, the government invited citizens to participate in branding the Unbreakable Alliance by voting for one out of three possible logos to symbolize the friendship between the two countries. Yesterday, the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., uploaded a YouTube clip to celebrate the president's visit — and the unbreakable alliance. Look carefully at 00:37 and you might catch the smiling animated cartoon leaders offering each other a fist bump to the accompaniment of a woman's voice singing "Thank You for Being a Friend," the theme song of the popular American sitcom The Golden Girls.

The government also launched an iPhone app that allows users to follow President Obama's visit in real time.

The Netanyahu government's warmth and enthusiasm for President Obama comes just a few months after the recently re-elected Israeli prime minister was widely perceived to be openly campaigning for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race.

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens both Palestinian and Israeli have launched a number of campaigns directed at the president and his visit.

There is an online petition for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987. As of this writing, just over 190,000 people have signed.

Meanwhile, Israeli students at the recently accredited Ariel University, located in Israel's largest West Bank settlement, are upset that no student delegation from their institution was invited to attend the president's speech in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon. Ariel's campus is the only Israeli university located in a West Bank settlement (the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Mt. Scopus Campus is located in East Jerusalem, which under international law is also considered occupied territory, but since the university also has a campus in the western part of the city its status is a bit more complex). Given that students from all of the country's other universities were invited to the speech, the Ariel students feel they were deliberately passed over. In response, the student union posted a banner expressing their feelings on their Facebook page. "Yes we can?" reads the banner in English. "No we can't!" It continues in Hebrew, "We won't allow Obama to snub us. A student in Ariel is a student in Israel."

Screenshot from the Ariel University Student Union's banner on their Facebook page.

Mairav Zonszein of +972 Magazine* spotted and took a screenshot of the original banner with a major spelling error, before it was corrected. "No We Cen't," read the original. The broken English inspired some mocking memes, which Zonszein summarizes in her post.

In another Israeli citizen initiative, more than 23,000 people have "liked" a Facebook page that calls for the president to give a speech at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. Proponents of the campaign, which was launched by the NGO Peace Now, claim that it will reignite the peace process. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at the square, then called Kings of Israel, at a November 1995 peace rally.

West Bank Palestinians, meanwhile, are unenthusiastic about the president's visit to their de facto administrative capital city of Ramallah, telling journalists that the president is unwelcome because he will bring no benefit to the Palestinian people.

The Facebook page for Al Quds News, a Palestinian media outlet, displays a photo of someone holding a poster of the president, dressed in an Israeli army uniform. The person holding the poster, which is titled "No Hope," also clutches a plastic shoe; showing one's shoe is an insult in the Arab world.

Palestinian holding a poster to protest President Obama's visit to Ramallah (credit: Fadi Arouri/used with permission)

Another photo that is making the rounds on Facebook shows a billboard in Ramallah that warns the president not to bother bringing his smartphone to their city. Because Israel does not allow the Palestinian Authority access to 3G networks, he won't be able to access the Internet.

"President Obama, don't bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won't have access to Internet. We have no 3G in Palestine!" (credit: Amber Fares/Facebook)

*The writer is a contributing editor for +972 Magazine.

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