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Israeli advocacy project attempts to change Iranian public opinion about Israel

With over 750 Farsi-speaking volunteers, wartime founded project appeals to Iranians world over in their language to explain Israel's position and present it through accessible information despite living in enemy state
Against the backdrop of growing antisemitism in the world, more than 750 Farsi-speaking volunteers worldwide joined the efforts of Israeli advocacy, in order to raise awareness of the October 7 events and strengthen the legitimacy of Israel among the speakers of the language. They do this within the framework of the new Hasbara initiative of the Merage Foundation that’s aimed at Iranian audiences all over the world.
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"Since I was born in Iran and speak the language, I was attracted to news in the Persian language, as I wanted to understand how the war is portrayed there, and I quickly found myself responding to the growing number of expressions of hatred, especially in Iranian Telegram groups”, says Sigal Aferiat Cohen, a project manager at the Merage Foundation, who identified the potential and need to take action on social networks.
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סיגל אפריאט כהן עם שר החוץ ישראל כץ
סיגל אפריאט כהן עם שר החוץ ישראל כץ
Sigal Efriat Cohen with Foreign Minister Israel Katz
(Photo: Merage Foundation)
"I quickly realized that I alone wouldn’t be able to make an impact, and I thought about how to explain the Israeli narrative indirectly, in order to get the message through. I concluded that using Farsi would be an unorthodox way through which we could explain the Israeli side."
According to her, "Persian-speaking Iranians are not used to receiving positive messages about Israel in their native language, and here we use the language that connects them to their homeland, feelings and family, which makes the viewer more receptive, as opposed to conveying messages in English or Hebrew, which seems less objective from their point of view."
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שריפת דגל ישראל באיראן
שריפת דגל ישראל באיראן
Burning Israeli flag in Iran
(Photo: Vahid Salemi, AP)
After approaching Nicole Hod Stroh, Merage Foundations’ CEO, we decided to move forward with the idea. The foundation has a long-term relationship with the Israeli-Iranian community, which has organized various community programs for the past 25 years. As such, the foundation reached out to the Persian-speaking community, and over 750 volunteers were mobilized in less than a week. Later on, those volunteers were given specific training on international outreach, in cooperation with the Stand With Us organization.
“I’m a social activist and engaged with outreach in Farsi for some time now”, says Sahar Saidian, a volunteer in the initiative. “As the war started, my colleagues and I realized that we cannot remain indifferent to the situation, and we reached out to our community to recruit volunteers in order to shape a positive and sympathetic mindset towards the State of Israel. We each felt an obligation towards the Jewish state, and believed that this is our way of giving back”.

Blocked twice on TikTok

As part of the initiative, official accounts in Persian were opened on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok, Instagram, and Telegram, that share translated outreach content. The volunteers also created their own content, which is specifically adapted for the Iranian audience.
It became clear that the group has a wide range of professional and knowledge-based human resources, so it was decided to divide the volunteers into various professional fields: translators, video editors, content managers, social media managers and a group responsible for distributing content to Iranian communities throughout the world as well as in Iran proper.
“We set up account pages on all platforms, to which we upload our self-created content, which is adjusted for our audience”, explains Aferiat Cohen.“ Beyond that, we translate various advocacy video clips that we think Persian speakers would relate to. I can proudly say that the Israeli-Persian community is one of the strongest communities in Israel.
"The community is influential and contributing, not only in times of war but also on an everyday basis. I’m glad that in these times we were able to create a successful platform in which the members of the community can use their native language to contribute to the Israeli national advocacy efforts."
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צוות המיזם ההסברתי מטעם קרן מיראז', בעת ביקור במשרד החוץ
צוות המיזם ההסברתי מטעם קרן מיראז', בעת ביקור במשרד החוץ
Merage Foundation advocacy team during visit to Foreign Ministry
(Photo: Former Foreign Minister Eli Cohen's Facebook)
The purpose of the initiative is to convey the Israeli message to Persian speakers in Europe and America as well, with the assumption that there’s a possibility of changing public opinion by having them face facts and truth. Targeting the Persian-speaking ex-Iranian audience increases the chances of making a difference. The content is also aimed towards Iranians living in Iran, and accessible to them as part of the ongoing effort of the foundation, as well as the State of Israel, to combat antisemitism in the world.
The ultimate goal of the initiative is to change how people view Israel, by having information and advocacy material available and accessible. One of the goals set at the beginning, and which is being formulated nowadays, is expanding the model of this initiative to European countries, using the connections made by members of the project with the Iranian communities there. The hope is that leaders of these communities implement the project in their countries, just like in Israel, in order to create a greater impact in those countries.
According to Aferiat Cohen, there wasn’t a significant risk in creating this initiative. The only risk that she and her colleagues are wary of, is that of Iranian followers who side with the content and may be caught and harassed by the Iranian regime: “We take into account this risk and weigh it against the great odds of the success of this initiative and our wide influence. I believe in the importance of this project and its contribution to the legitimacy of Israel to defend itself," she says.

Many supporting comments from Iranians

All the videos and content reach tens of thousands of viewers all over the world. As a result, there are responses from many Iranians who support the efforts to expose the truth and make it available in their own language - sometimes with an honest admission that if they weren’t exposed to this content, they wouldn't have been aware of the real situation and what was actually happening in the war.
"The wide impact is also measured by the fact that our TikTok page was blocked twice due to constant reports on the pages", says Aferiat Cohen. "This indicates that we are out there and we’ve reached a significantly large number of viewers, also some who are less favorable of us”.
This initiative works in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and IDF Spokesperson's Persian Department. So far, several joint conferences have been held and there is a desire to continuously create content jointly. Aferiat Cohen says that “the powerful advocacy content that we translate, makes a real impact on social media. So it’s imperative that we upload them them based on what’s being discussed around the world, so the content is as relevant and relates to current events as much as possible.
It is also very important for us to convey the message that Israel is a strong country, an economic powerhouse with top-of-the-line high-tech and innovation industries. This along with the message that it is a country with emphasis on Israeli Arabs, who are our brethren and integrated within Israeli society - all this in order to refute the stigma that Israel upholds an apartheid policy, as some people around the world think.
“The Merage Foundation has been working for over two decades with various Iranian communities outside of Iran. It’s important for these communities to preserve their culture and heritage of the land where so many Jews lived for over 2,000 years”, adds Nicole Hod Stroh, CEO of the Merage Israel Foundation.
I am proud to see how these communities came together in such a short time to volunteer in this important initiative, which gives me hope that it is possible to reach thousands of Iranians around the world, bringing them closer and changing their stance towards Jews and Israelis alike."
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