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Israel’s "pretty face": How National Union of Israeli Students does government’s propaganda dirty work

Ali Abunimah

January 5, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about a program run by the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS) to pay Israeli college students $2,000 to spread hasbara – propaganda favorable to Israel – on social networking sites.

This raised a further question: who pays for this and what role do Israel’s government and other organizations play in this use of students to deliver propaganda?

When asked by Jillian C. York and Joseph Dana about these issues via Twitter, Avi Mayer, the head of social media for the quasi-state Jewish Agency played innocent. As can be seen from their conversations Mayer downplayed the possibility of government involvement:

Avi Mayer’s Twitter
avimayerAvi Mayer
jilliancyorkJillian C. York
in reply to @jilliancyork

@jilliancyork Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see anything to suggest the government has anything to do with it.
Jan 04 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

He also dismissed the notion that students involved in this paid propaganda effort would be encouraged to promote a specific viewpoint:

Avi Mayer’s Twitter
avimayerAvi Mayer
jilliancyorkJillian C. York
in reply to @jilliancyork

@jilliancyork Oh, I sincerely doubt that would fly. You know the saying "two Jews, three opinions"? Add "oh, and students" to the mix.
Jan 04 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

But in fact, contrary to the suggestions of Mayer, the NUIS is deeply committed specifically to spreading the propaganda of, and training students to spread the propaganda of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Hasbara and the US-based anti-Palestinian organization StandWithUs (which recently used fabricated quotes to try to smear me and others as anti-Semites).

Moreover, NUIS receives funding from these ministries and from Mayer’s Jewish Agency to carry out many of these activities. How do we know all this? Because it is openly stated in NUIS’s 2011-2012 workplan and budget – albeit in Hebrew.

Dena Shunra translated for The Electronic Intifada the sections of these documents relating to the NUIS’ Foreign Relations Department. The translation is attached at the end of this post, and what follows is some analysis of key parts demonstrating the deep involvement of the NUIS in government propaganda efforts.

The Foreign relations Department of NUIS: A hasbara auxiliary force

Starting on Page 77 of the NUIS work plan the Foreign Relations Department sets out its vision:

The Foreign Relations Department will act to strengthen the link between the student population in Israel and students around the world, and to develop their dialog. The Department will represent the union with international organizations and will be a partner in the general national effort of explaining [hasbara] Israel around the world.

Under "targets," the document further specifies:

The Department will harness itself to the national effort to explain [hasbara] the position of Israel in the world.

Goal: the Department will act, in cooperation with government ministries and additional organizations, to improve the explanation [hasbara] of Israel’s position around the world.

Using students as Israel’s "pretty face"

The NUIS Foreign Relations Department is not content merely to "harness" itself to national propaganda efforts but is determined to take a leading role, with funding and support from government ministries, as the work plan explains:

Plan: In the face of the multiplicity of organizations in Israel that do hasbara and the lack of any real coordination and cooperation among them, the Union will act to form "a round table" where the various organizations will take part. The cooperation is meant to empower the methods of hasbara and to pool resources. Additionally, it is the goal of the Union to expand the hasbara done by Israeli students, and through them present the pretty face of Israel. It is the Department’s aspiration that through this cooperation, the number of delegations and events in which the student population takes place will expand, and that the support by government ministries will also expand, in future, in sending NUIS delegations abroad and subsidizing them.

Compulsory training by government propaganda officials

The work plan sets as a target, "expanding the number of ambassadors who explain Israel’s policy around the world."

And specifies:

Plan: using students who go on delegations abroad on behalf of the Union (approximately 250 students a year) for hasbara purposes. Before each delegation the students will undergo a hasbara workshop on behalf of the Ministry of Hasbara, which will give them the tools and information to contend with the questions and the critical salvos and the ability to present in their stead "a different Israel."

Training by government propaganda officials at the Ministry of Hasbara is moreover compulsory:

After selecting the students for a delegation, the students will undergo a hasbara workshop given on behalf of the Ministry of Hasbara, where the logistics are coordinated by the Department head. This training will be a condition for the student’s going on any delegation this year.

Remember that Jewish Agency propaganda official Avi Mayer dismissed the notion that students working in NUIS hasbara initiatives would be expected to present a specific – governmental – viewpoint. It could not be plainer that this is precisely what the NUIS does.

Relying on information from government ministries and StandWithUs

In its workplan, the NUIS Foreign Relations Department sets as a target: "Explaining Israeli policy in the European Student Union" (ESU). It will do this by:

Sending a quarterly report to the ESU about the situation in Israel, relying on reports issued by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Hasbara, the SWU [StandWithUs] organization, and others.

Using "humanitarian" aid for propaganda purposes

Perhaps one of the most cynical aspects of the NUIS workplan is the blatant use of humanitarianism for state propaganda purposes – known as "bluewashing." The target set is "sending out a humanitarian delegation":

Plan: "Tikkun Olam" [repairing the world] - a delegation of Israeli students will go on a humanitarian task in the world.

Operational organization: Foreign Relations Department head & and Nefesh Yehudi [Jewish Soul] organization.

What’s interesting however is that in order to implement this the workplan calls for:

Approaching the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Hasbara and the Nefesh Yehudi [Jewish Soul] organization with the goal of obtaining financing for the humanitarian delegation.

One might fairly ask what the Ministry of Hasbara (propaganda) has to do with humanitarian missions? It is clear of course that the main purpose – as can be seen in the rest of the work plan – is not humanitarianism, but presenting Israel in a sympathetic light.

What is also notable is the sectarian and exclusive nature of these plans. The NUIS purports to represent all students in Israel, presumably including Palestinian citizens of Israel. Yet the Foreign Relations Department plan makes no effort to include or represent such students, and by choosing the "Jewish Soul" organization as one of its main partners effectively excludes them.

"Entrenching" Israel in international student organizations

Under the heading "The Department will act to entrench the Union’s position in the international arena" the workplan states that NUIS will work to increase:

the number of Israeli representatives at the various committees of the ESU and its managing committee (EC) for the purpose of increasing the scope of influence on the ESU & especially the EC. This will be supported by the SWU [Stand With Us?] [sic].

The role of StandWithUs is particularly troubling here since among its other activities StandWithUs works with the Israeli government to harass and silence students who advocate for Palestinian rights on US college campuses.


According to its budget, NUIS receives the following grants:

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarship project: NIS 180,000 ($47,000)
  • Jewish Agency scholarship project: NIS 100,000 ($26,000)
  • Nefesh Yehudi org: NIS 300,000 ($78,000)

On the expenditure side, the Foreign Relations Department budget includes a payment of NIS 5000 ($1300) to StandWithUs.

Translated segments of NUIS 2011-2012 workplan and budget

NUIS Budget and Plans

Workplan of the National Union of Israeli Students (Hebrew original)


:: Article nr. 84544 sent on 05-jan-2012 17:46 ECT


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