MidEastTruth.com is celebrating its Bar Mitzvah this month. In honor of this milestone, I decided to write the story of its foundation and some significant moments in its history. It's a bit odd for me to write about the site I founded. Despite all the years that the site has existed, many who know me and even some of my friends are unaware of my connection to the site, but this is a special occasion.
Update: After being online for almost 3.5 years and viewed over 1.6 million times, our video, titled "Where is the REAL Apartheid in the Middle East?" was removed recently from our YouTube channel. YouTube management did it arbitrarily, without explanation, without allowing dialogue with a real person. You can read more about it here.
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A brief history:
It all began in 2001. Those were the days of the second intifada, which began as the 2000 Camp David talks fell apart. Yassir Arafat rejected President Clinton's offer, but despite this, Israel was harshly criticized in the international press and blamed for the failure of the talks and even for the intifada.
A year earlier I had arrived in Montreal with my wife Nina, for her diplomatic posting there on behalf of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The summer of 2000 was full of optimism. I hoped, as an Israeli left-winger who believed in a two-state solution, that we were reaching the longed-for solution. Ehud Barak was the first Israeli Prime Minister who agreed to a Palestinian state on most of the territory Israel took control over in 1967. At Camp David, Israel was represented by the "dream team" of the Israeli left: Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Shimon Peres, and others. It is hard to think of a more moderate or compromising delegation.
As we know, Arafat rejected Clinton’s offers, without proposing a counter-offer, and launched a murderous intifada in the streets of Israel. Subsequently it became clear that the intifada was planned in advance, way before the talks failed.
In the following months I saw, first hand, how effective the Arab and Palestinian propaganda was, in press and college campuses, in the U.S. and Canada, and how absolute lies, as well as half-truths, were accepted by many audiences as fact. On the web, the situation was even worse. Dozens of websites, videos and presentations began to appear, presenting only the Palestinian side and blaming Israel for the failed negotiations and for the violence. Israel’s perspective was barely represented on the web.
I felt like I needed to do something small to help my country be heard and created a PowerPoint presentation showing Israel's position and the historical background to the conflict (a version of the presentation that was updated after September 11, 2001, is located here.) I sent this to my modest list of email contacts and hoped that someone would be interested and share it. The result amazed me: within two weeks I had received over 800 emails from 30 countries – remember, this was years before social networking. The main message I received was: "Finally, there's material showing Israel's side in this conflict, and the facts, as they truly are," along with the question, "Where can I find other material, is there a website which collects this all in one place?"
I decided to step up to the challenge. Being a programmer and a system manager by profession, I had the know-how. Being wheelchair-bound back then, and working only part-time, I had the hours needed for the task. I contacted professors who are experts on the Middle East conflict, students in Jewish organizations, journalists and caricaturists from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Israel. I began organizing the material sent by volunteers and in September 2001, the MidEastTruth website was born - about one week before the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and the infamous Durban conference in South Africa.
The site had thousands of visitors each day, from around the world, including Arab countries, and I began to publish additional presentations, videos, caricatures and articles on a regular basis. The active mailing list of the site included thousands of subscribers, who received articles and material directly to their email. All was done by word of mouth, without any publicity. Volunteers from around the world translated the presentations from English into other languages, including French, Spanish and Russian.
Since I had no budget and all the work was done voluntarily, during its early days the site was hosted on a free server (the now defunct Geocities site.) A few months later, after a person by the name of Moshe Sambol was kind enough to offer us free hosting, the site received its own domain and a bit later I moved it to a paid hosting provider. Thanks to the contributions of readers, I managed to establish the site, and I am proud that it exists for all these years.
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Throughout the years, MidEastTruth.com, with the help of volunteers, subscribers and readers, has enjoyed success in various campaigns against sites and companies which discriminated against Israel.
Our first campaign was against the Arab site of MSNBC, which included “Palestine” on a list of Arab countries, while Israel was not on the list. We called on our subscribers, asking them to write to MSNBC. The channel ombudsman subsequently indicated that he had received several dozen requests from MidEastTruth.com readers, and made the correction. Of course, the mention by MSNBC (the original post by the ombudsman was on MSNBC's website) brought us a tremendous new audience.
A similar campaign was launched against Samsung, which declined to include Israel on its map of the Middle East on its website -- despite the fact that its products are sold in Israel and Samsung even has an R&D center in Israel. We put out a call to our subscribers, and the story was covered on the "Jerusalem Post" website by Michael Freund. Samsung received hundreds of mails from MidEastTruth subscribers and published a new map.
Another example was the 2004 Olympics, held in Greece, which listed Israel without a capital city, and Jerusalem as the capital of "Palestine." We asked our readers to take action, in our newsletter and website, and the campaign was picked up by several newspapers and sites, who shared it, eventually bringing to the correction of the Olympic website to include mention of Israel's capital city.
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As I look back on 13 years of activity, there are many stories and anecdotes to tell. In order to demonstrate how the online arena had been so open to one-sided Palestinian propaganda and how the Israel advocacy work was taking its first footsteps, I would like to share three examples:
Number One. The important Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs was also founded in 2001. Its founder, Roz Rothstein, established it because she saw how one-sided the press in the U.S. was, and how crucial it was to establish an organization which would present the Israeli side. In those days, StandWithUs was a young organization, with a static website, including information pages about the organization and its goals. When Mrs. Rothstein wanted to show a violently anti-Semitic video that was aired on the official television channel of Abu Dhabi, showing the late Ariel Sharon “drinking Arab blood,” she sent it to me, on a VHS videotape, and we uploaded it to our site. In those days, MidEastTruth.com was the only site featuring videos to promote Israel’s perspective -- four years before YouTube, years before the important Palestinian Media Watch (which was founded much earlier) started to publish videos online. In addition, we distributed material for StandWithUs and asked our members and readers to support it. When I see today what a strong and important organization StandWithUs has become, under Mrs. Rothstein's leadership, I can only be proud of the modest help which MidEastTruth provided in its early days.
Number Two. Another important site is MEMRI, which brings the world English translations from the Arab and Iranian media. The importance of MEMRI's materials cannot be underestimated. In the first years of its existence, the MEMRI site only had translations of texts from the written press. When they decided to publish videos from the Arab media, they asked us for advice. Today, the YouTube channel of MEMRI includes over 1,000 videos, tens of thousands of subscribers and is a crucial source of information to anyone who wants to understand what is discussed in the Arab and Iranian world.
Number Three. About a year after I founded the site, we were looking for new material. We knew that the Hasbara department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry had begun to send video clips and presentations on CDs to embassies and organizations around the world. Since the bandwidth of the internet connection of most people at the time was not great, the Ministry decided not to put presentations and videos on the net, and with tremendous financial investment, burned thousands of CDs, with beautiful, high quality printed covers. We waited for the first one to arrive in the mail, and when it did, what a surprise, to find three videos and four presentations -- two of them ours! On the one hand, this was a source of great pride, the Foreign Ministry liked the presentations we created and thought they were effective and useful, to the point that they were sending them around the world and giving us full credit. On the other hand, there was some disappointment that Israel’s Foreign Ministry had not yet fully entered the cyber scene with all its force, abilities and resources.
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MidEastTruth.com has been mentioned in Israeli and U.S. media outlets like MSNBC, Maariv, INN and the “Jerusalem Post” and by, amongst others, U.S. host Glenn Beck and Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini. In 2003, the “Canadian Jewish Tribune” weekly published an interview with me, about the website and its activities. The article described MidEastTruth as "One of the leading pro-Israeli websites on the net."
A presentation which we published on the United Nations in 2004 was very popular, and received media coverage as well as being published on Professor Ann Bayefsky’s “Human Rights Voices” site. Bayefsy has perhaps done the most to present the double standard and built-in hypocrisy of the U.N. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israeli embassies around the world, as well as Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC.) published our presentations and posts.
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Over the last decade, tens of pro-Israeli organizations and sites have been founded. The web is no longer filled overwhelmingly with one-sided pro-Palestinian propaganda, there are many great pro-Israeli sites and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Defense Forces spokespeople are doing excellent work. However, much remains to be done against those who attempt to discredit Israel, especially BDS activists. I continue, with the help of volunteers and writers, to present the Israeli perspective, to bring facts and fight lies and manipulations. Our newsletter has over 7,000 subscribers, and our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube items generate great interest.
If you are interested in what we send and publish, please consider contributing. I hope to continue running the site for many years to come, but I can certainly use all the help I can get. We rely solely on donations from individual supporters.
Finally, I would like to thank all those who help and support the site, from its inception through today. Thanks to all the wonderful people who agreed that I could publish their work: Professor Gil Troy; Israeli journalist and publicist Ben-Dror Yemini, Professor Ann Bayefsky, Professor Daniel Pipes, Michael Freund of the "Jerusalem Post", Gerald Honigman, Naomi Ragen, Barry Shaw, caricaturists Yaakov Kirshen, Jeff Koterba, Robert Ariail, Cox and Forkum, Bob Gorrell, Chris Britt, Edward Margolis and Noah Crissey, David Barrett who moderated our online forum for years, as well as many others.
13 years is a long time. Since MidEastTruth.com was founded, my wife and I have had three sweet daughters, who have changed our lives significantly. We have also moved to 4 different countries (in 4 different continents) and changed jobs. How time flies…
Last but not least, I would like to thank my much better half, my amazing wife Nina, for all her help and patience. Nina is the new ambassador of Israel to Uruguay and I’m extremely proud of her.