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Pro-Israel online influencers preach subtlety at Austin conference

The online stars were overwhelmingly optimistic about digital communication’s capacity to educate.

The Israeli-American Council (IAC) conference in Austin. Credit: IAC via Facebook.
The Israeli-American Council (IAC) conference in Austin. Credit: IAC via Facebook.

One social media influencer recommended doing “little things” to educate the public about Zionism. Another preached subtlety—like “tricking” someone into watching an advertisement—to promote Israel. And yet another spoke in biblical terms about creating a new generation of pro-Israel leaders who would be “a light unto the nations.”

These were some of the most prominent voices of influencers who shared stages at the 8th National Summit of the Israeli-American Council in Austin, where panelists agreed their platforms were essential for countering false narratives about Israel amid rising antisemitism.

Emily Austin, who begins filming the NBA show Hoop Chat with Emily Austin this week, has a TikTok following of nearly half a million and a 1 million following on Instagram. She feels a responsibility to try to change the narrative about Israel, the sports journalist and Israeli-American social media superstar said at the annual summit, which drew more than 3,000 people, including more than 200 teenagers from across the country.

Austin told JNS that the show will include interviews with the “Jewish Jordan”—Tamir Goodman—and will also educate the public about Israel. “We will be doing little things to bring Zionism to the public,” she said.

Other panelists shared Austin’s subtle online advocacy touch.

London Lazerson knew little about Israel before he visited last year. He now shares what he knows with his 9.4 million TikTok followers. “You need to do it in such a way, like tricking them into watching an ad,” he said at the summit.

Beyond presenting Israel in a positive light, Rudy Rochman, a Jewish and Israeli rights activist, stressed the importance of creating conditions for the next generation of pro-Israel leaders to, as prescribed in Isaiah 42:6, be a “light unto the nations.”

Top-down pro-Israel advocacy approaches don’t cultivate future generations of leaders, Rochman cautioned.

Proactively fighting antisemitism

Nadav Shoval, CEO and co-founder of OpenWeb, noted that the dramatic rise in antisemitism is particularly pronounced in sports forums. That follows prominent figures, including rapper Ye (né Kanye West) and Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, promoting and mainstreaming antisemitism.

“We are no longer defenseless against antisemitism,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of StandWithUs. A daughter of Holocaust survivors, Rothstein emphasized the importance of detecting and fighting antisemitism quickly.

Rothstein’s organization filed a recent complaint against George Washington University for alleged violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lara Sheehi, a facilitator of the psychology program’s mandatory diversity course, targeted Jewish and Israeli students in a pattern of persistent, discriminatory and retaliatory acts, per the complaint.

“We have 250 pro-bono attorneys in the U.S. just waiting for assignments,” Rothstein said.

“I am not ashamed to say it, but we are loud and proud Jews,” said Rothstein’s co-panelist Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism. Rez took credit for several firings and suspensions of antisemites–and even one woman who divorced her “Nazi-loving husband.”

Vlogging Israel

Israeli-Arab vlogger Nusair Yassin, who also answers to Nas Daily, shared the stage at the end of the summit with Waze co-founder Uri Levine.

“I was born and raised in Israel, studied in America, and that’s where I started making videos,” Yassin said. His audience today numbers 21 million Facebook followers, 3.9 million Instagram followers and 10.7 million Youtube subscribers. The Israeli-Arab vlogger attributes his success to viewers’ strong desires to learn about different cultures worldwide.

“What motivates me is to be able to lift other people up and be their voice,” he said. “Take the specific example of Israel. Not a single person in Pakistan has ever met an Israeli. They only hear about them through state media from somewhere else. I think if you tell the stories of Israelis, you humanize them.”

Social media can unite even in divisive times, according to Yassin.

“Over the last two days, I have seen so many people here amongst Jews call for unity and I think that’s a great message,” he said. “Similarly, Nas Daily’s message is to call for unity amongst everybody. Jews and non-Jews. That’s the point of media, and that’s the responsibility of media.”

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