IDF Spokesperson's Unit

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.






The IDF Spokesperson's Unit is a brigade within the Operations Branch of the Israel Defence Forces. Its mission is "to report on the accomplishments and activities of the IDF to the Israeli and international public, to nurture public confidence in the IDF, and to serve as the IDF's primary professional authority on matters of public relations and distribution of information to the public."[1]

Operation Cast Lead

During Operation Cast Lead, Israel's invasion of Gaza in December 2008/January 2009, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit created a dedicated IDF blog and Youtube channel.

"The blogosphere and new media are another war zone," said Foreign Press Branch head Maj. Avital Leibovich. "We have to be relevant there," she said.
Her sentiment reflects a growing awareness in the Israeli government that part of the failure of the 2006 Lebanon campaign was Israel's lack of readiness for the intense media debate surrounding its operations. Since the beginning of the Gaza air strikes, Israeli politicians have been appearing regularly on the largest international news networks to defend the IDF.[2]

Samur workshop air strike footage

On 29 December 2008, the unit posted a youtube clip of an air strike on what it said was a Hamas truck carrying short range missiles.[3]

However, a Gaza resident, Ahmed Samur, subsequently claimed that the truck was his and had been moving oxygen cylinders from a workshop.[4]

Samur told the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem:

I was very surprised that the Israeli army claimed that it had bombed a truck loaded with rockets. I invite any weapons expert in the world to prove this. That is a lie. My son and I had no connection to that issue. I engage in ironworks, and nothing else, in my metal workshop. I never had any ties with a political organization and I worked my whole life as a metalworker inside Israel. Since the closures began, I have worked as a metalworker in Gaza.[5]

Nine people were killed in the attack, according to Human Rights Watch, which carried out an investigation that supported Ahmed Samur's account:

The family showed Human Rights Watch some of the oxygen canisters that it said it had moved that day before the Israeli strike. The canisters measured 1.62 meters long-shorter than the average adult man-and 20 cm in diameter. Grad rockets are 2.87 meters long, nearly twice the length.
Jabalya is in the northern Gaza Strip, which has been the origin of many of the Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel. Whatever suspicions that raised, however, the drone's advanced imaging equipment should have enabled the drone operator to determine the nature of the objects under surveillance. The video posted online by the IDF indicates that this was the case: two of the cylindrical objects the men were loading onto the truck are visible, and both are clearly shorter than Grad rockets, which, at nearly three meters are taller than any grown man and longer than the width of the Mercedes-Benz 410 flatbed truck onto which the cylinders were being loaded crossways.[6]

Gaza Flotilla

On 31 May 2010, an IDF operation to intercept an aid flotilla on its way to the Gaza strip resulted in the deaths of at least 9 activists.[7]

Dagger Photo

IDF Spokesperson's Unit photo carried by Haaretz, 31 May 2010

On the day the flotilla was seized, the Haaretz website carried a photo of a man with a dagger with the following caption:

An activist on board the Gaza flotilla holding a knife after Israel Navy commandos boarded their ship on May 31, 2010.
Photo by: Provided by IDF Spokesperson's Office[8]

The photo appears to be of Muhammad Al-Hazmi, a Yemeni parliamentarian and flotilla participant, holding a traditional Janbiyah dagger.[9] However, Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah pointed to a number of discrepancies, including the presence of daylight in the photo, which suggested that it was unlikely to have been taken after the flotilla had been boarded.[10]

On 8 June, IDF spokesman Sgt Chen Arad told journalist Max Blumenthal that he did not know whether the photo had been taken before or after the boarding of the Mavi Marmara.[11]

“It could be that the claim was made by commandos in the interview,” he maintained. I reminded him that Haaretz’s source for the photo was not the commandos, but the IDF Spokesman’s Office. After confirming that his office released the photo, Arad said, “It is reasonable that it was before the actual takeover but I’m not sure what was claimed with Haaretz.”[12]

The Haaretz caption was subsequently amended to state:

An activist holding a knife aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship on May 31, 2010.[13]

Other Yemeni MPs taking part in the flotilla said that the picture was taken when Al-Hazmi was showing his Janbiyah to reporters some time before the Israelis intercepted the flotilla, and that he did not have it on him at the time of the attack.[14][15]

Youtube screencap from Gaza Flotillia - The Love Boat

A larger version of the photo, showing that Hazmi was actually seated in the original picture, appeared in an anti-flotilla satirical video uploaded to Youtube on 2 June.[16]

The emergence of this version prompted Abunimah to raise a number of questions:

Who keeps the original photo? The IDF Spokesperson's office. If the IDF distributed a cropped version of the photo and only they have the original, does that suggest that they also put out this crude propaganda video? If they did does that mean Sheikh Raed Salah and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are now declared as enemies for Israel? If the IDF didn't crop the photo itself, are Israeli media cropping it in a deliberately manipulative manner to conceal the context and boost the claim that the man himself or others were lunging at Israeli soldiers with knives?[17]

Al Qaeda press release

On 2 June 2010, the IDF spokesperson issued a press release headlined “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries.” It stated:

In a special meeting of the Security Cabinet it was disclosed that a group of 40 people on board the Mavi Marmara with no identification papers belong to Al Qaeda. The terrorists were equipped with bullet-proof vests, night vision goggles and weapons.[18]

A later revised version of the press release, headlined "Attackers of the IDF Soldiers Found Without Identification Papers" made no mention of the Al Qaeda claim.[19]

Purported Mavi Marmara radio exchange

On 4 June 2010, the unit released a purported recording of a radio exchange between the Israeli Navy and the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship taking part in a flotilla attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The audio featured an Israeli radio operator being told "Shut up, go back to Auschwitz."[20]

Supporters of the Flotilla alleged a number of discrepancies in the audio, suggesting a female voice heard in the clip may have come from a woman who was not aboard the Mavi Marmara, and that the audio of the IDF officer as similar to that featured in an earlier, innocuous, video.[21][22]

The IDF spokesperson's blog carried a correction on 5 June 2010:

So to clarify: the audio was edited down to cut out periods of silence over the radio as well as incomprehensible comments so as to make it easier for people to listen to the exchange. We have now uploaded the entire segment of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in which the exchange took place and the comments were made.
This transmission had originally cited the Mavi Marmara ship as being the source of these remarks, however, due to an open channel, the specific ship or ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified. During radio transmissions between Israeli Navy and the ships of the “Free Gaza” Flotilla on 31 May 2010, the Israeli Navy ship attempts to make contact with the ‘Defne Y’ on channel 1-6. Other ships from the flotilla respond on the channel, without identifying themselves. At some point during the radio exchange the Israeli Navy is told by one of the ships to “shut up, go back to Auschwitz” (2:05) and “don’t forget 9-11″ (5:42).[23]

However, Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza movement, identified herself as the female voice heard in the clip, and said the conversation did not take place on 31 May as stated by the IDF:

Reacting early Saturday afternoon, Arraf remarked, "I was by the radio the whole time there was any communication. Mine was the only boat in which I answered and not the captain and they all answered in a very professional manner." Arraf told Ma'an that while she might have spoken of having permission from the Gaza Port Authority on a previous attempt to break the blockade, she is certain that she did not say it on Monday morning. "When they radioed us, we were still 100 miles away," she explained.[24]

The recently formed new media desk of the spokesperson's unit under Aliza Landes played a key role in producing IDF videos during the Mavi Marmara incident.[25]

Pink-washing

The Spokesperson's Unit staged a misleading photograph of two Israeli soldiers holding hands during Gay Pride month, according to the Times of Israel:

The newly hip, multimedia-savvy IDF Spokesperson’s Office posted Monday on its Facebook page a photo of two ostensibly gay soldiers, one seeming to belong to the Givati Brigade and the other to the Artillery Corps, holding hands and walking on a city street.
In fact, the two soldiers in the photo are not a couple, only one of the two is gay, and both the soldiers serve in the IDF Spokesperson’s Office.[26]

Pillar of Cloud

As with Cast Lead almost four years earlier, the Spokesperson's Unit was particularly active during the Operation Pillar of Cloud offensive against Gaza.

Haaretz reported:

To streamline the process, IDF Spokesman set up a special war-room that quickly receives that surveillance footage from air-force and intelligence units and immediately begins editing. Information security officers and military censors are there to authorize the material's release to the Israeli and foreign press and simultaneously it is posted on the IDF website and Youtube with links to the army's Facebook page and Twitter account.[27]

Ahmed Jabari killing

The unit placed aerial footage of the assassination of Hamas official Ahmed Jabari on Youtube within hours of the killing.[27]

Shortly after the killing the unit used twitter to announce the commencement of a military operation against Gaza to be known in English as "Pillar of Defense" although the most literal translation of the Hebrew, and the one closest to the original Biblical reference would be "Pillar of Cloud".[28]

UN Complaint

In a statement on 20 November 2012, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency stated:

On 17 November 2012 at 22:16, the Israeli Defense Forces tweeted from their official Twitter account (@IDFSpokesperson) a link to a video hosted on their official YouTube channel, featuring an animated film that depicts militants firing rockets from a school clearly marked with the UNRWA insignia.
UNRWA is concerned about the creation and use of footage that wrongly suggests that UNRWA is allowing its premises to be used for terrorist activities in the current conflict and the unauthorised use of its logo in computer-generated material.[29]

Structure and Personnel

IDF Spokesperson

Deputy Spokesperson

Foreign media branch

North American desk

Latin America and Asia desk

Europe and the Pacific Desk

Russian desk

New Media desk

The New Media desk grew out of operations undertaken informally by Aliza Landes during Operation Cast Lead, and received a dedicated budget in August 2009.[25] Interactive media was reportedly upgraded to a full branch of the unit in around September 2012, with Avital Leibovich planning to lead the branch full-time in 2013.[42][43]

Activities include regular conference calls for pro-Israel bloggers.[42]

Local Media

Jewish and Governmental Organizations Desk

Film Unit

The IDF Spokesperson Film Unit is responsible for the production of military public relations material. The unit is made up of seven departments: IDF Website, Still Photography, Video Photography, Video Editing, Video Archives, Production and Post-Production. [45]

IDF Website

Post-Production

Regional Spokesman

Other Personnel

Contact

External resources

Notes

  1. IDF Spokesperson's Unit, Israel Defence Forces, accessed 27 June 2009.
  2. Max Socol, IDF launches YouTube Gaza channel, jpost.com, 30 December 2008.
  3. Israeli Air Force Strikes Rockets in Transit 28 Dec. 2008, idfnadesk, youtube, 29 December 2010.
  4. Paul Reynolds, Propaganda war: trusting what we see?, BBC News, 5 January 2009.
  5. Testimony: Eight young men killed when army bombs truck of metal workshop in Gaza City, Dec. '08, B'Tselem, 31 December 2008.
  6. Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles - III. Drone-launched Attacks on Civilians in Gaza, Human Rights Watch, 30 June 2009.
  7. IDF video shows flotilla passengers tell Israel Navy to 'go back to Auschwitz', Haaretz, 4 June 2006.
  8. Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Anshel Pfeffer and News Agencies, Israel Navy commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us, Haaretz, 31 May 2010
  9. Israel Still Detains Yemeni Lawmaker; Releases Two, Yemen Post, 2 June 2010.
  10. Ali Abunimah, Israeli propaganda photo in Haaretz of man with knife make no sense #FreedomFlotilla, Posterous, 31 May 2010.
  11. Max Blumenthal, (Updated) Nailed Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It Distributed Is Retracted, maxblumenthal.com, 8 June 2010.
  12. Max Blumenthal, (Updated) Nailed Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It Distributed Is Retracted, maxblumenthal.com, 8 June 2010.
  13. Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Anshel Pfeffer and News Agencies, Israel Navy commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us, Haaretz, 31 May 2010, accessed 9 June 2010.
  14. Max Blumenthal, (Updated) Nailed Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It Distributed Is Retracted, maxblumenthal.com, 8 June 2010.
  15. Hazmi did not use Junbith still unaccounted for and perhaps moved to Istanbul, Marib Press, 2 June 2010(in Arabic).
  16. gazaflotilliatruth, Gaza Flotillia - The Love Boat, Youtube, 2 June 2010.
  17. Ali Abunimah, Hasbara comedy video further exposes IDF "knife-attacker" photo fraud. #flotilla, posterous, 6 June 2010.
  18. Jonathan Urich, Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries, IDF Spokesperson, 2 June 2010. Screeenshot of original version at Max Blumenthal, Under Scrutiny, IDF Retracts Claims About Flotilla’s Al Qaeda Links, maxblumenthal.com, 3 June 2010.
  19. Jonathan Urich, Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries, IDF Spokesperson, 2 June 2010.
  20. IDF video shows flotilla passengers tell Israel Navy to 'go back to Auschwitz', Haaretz, 4 June 2006.
  21. Ali Abunimah, Proof emerges IDF audio of radio communication with Mavi Marmara is fabricated. #flotilla, Posterous, 4 June 2010.
  22. Max Blumenthal, IDF Releases Apparently Doctored Flotilla Audio; Press Reports As Fact, maxblumenthal.com, 6 June 2010.
  23. Clarification/Correction Regarding Audio Transmission Between Israeli Navy and Flotilla on 31 May 2010, Posted on 5 June 2010, Israel Defense Force Spokesperson, IDF Blog, 5 June 2010.
  24. Mya Guarneri, Israel under fire for doctoring flotilla recordings, Ma'an News Agency, 5 June 2010.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Allison Hoffman, The ‘Kids’ Behind IDF’s Media, Tablet, 20 November 2012.
  26. Mitch Ginsburg, Army’s ‘gay soldiers’ photo was staged, is misleading, The Times of Israel, 12 June 2012.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Anshel Pfeffer, The PR policy – 'civilizing' the operation, Haaretz, 16 November 2012.
  28. Lisa Goldman, Israel Announces Military Operation Against Gaza -- on Twitter (UPDATED), TechPresident, 14 November 2012.
  29. False social media allegations about UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, 20 November 2012.
  30. http://archive.jta.org/article/1986/04/07/3003903/moshe-pearlman-dead-at-75 Moshe Pearlman Dead at 75], Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 7 April 1986.
  31. Robert Hotz, Israel Revisited, Aviation Week & Space Technology, March 10, 1975.
  32. In Brief: General; New IDF spokesman, BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1 October 1979.
  33. Administration of Council, Council for Peace and Security, accessed 17 July 2012.
  34. Col.Amos Gilad appointed new spokesman for IDF, Jerusalem Post, 30 June 1994.
  35. About the host- Oded Ben Ami, The Israeli Network, 17 July 2012.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Amotz Asa-El, Middle Israel: The IDF's PR: What went wrong?, Jerusalem Post, 15 February 2007.
  37. "The Challenges of Advocating for Israel among the Nations", IDC Herzliya, accessed 17 July 2012.
  38. Appointment of new IDF Spokesperson, Israel Defence Forces, 7 August 2007, archived at the Internet Archive, 31 May 2008.
  39. Brig. Gen. Yoav “Poli‏”‏ Mordechai Appointed New IDF Spokesperson, IDF Blog, 10 April 2011.
  40. Tibbi Singer, Netanyahu’s Son Court-Martialed for Going AWOL, jewishpress.com, 21 March 2012.
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 The Israel Project's Israel @ 60 Reporter's Expert Sourcebook, Israel Project, p.7, accessed 28 November 2012.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Neal Ungerleider, Inside The Israeli Military's Social Media Squad, Fast Company, 20 November 2012.
  43. Lauren E. Bohn, Israel 'Media Bunker' Peppers Internet With Propaganda Tweets And Facebook Posts, Huffington Post, 21 November 2012.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Avital Prokopef, LinkedIn, accessed 23 November 2012.
  45. Film Unit in Action, IDF, accessed 28 November 2012.
  46. Class of 2008, IDC Herzliya, accessed 28 November 2012.
  47. Tal Shuv, LinkedIn, accessed 28 November 2012.
  48. Merav Lapidot, LinkedIn, 28 November 2012.
  49. Joel Leyden Israel PR Public Relations Directory Israel News Agency Jerusalem, Israel, May 18, 2007
  50. Ian White 'Opening Pandora's box' Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2011 Friday Pg. 28.