On the 17th of February 2021, the UAE’s Ambassador to Israel took to Twitter for the first time. In a tweet published in both English, Hebrew and Arabic, the Ambassador promised to strengthen ties between Israel and Emirates by ‘fostering peace, understanding and prosperity among our people and across the region’. Within 48 hours of this tweet, the Ambassador amassed 22 thousand followers, an astounding achievement given that Twitter is not used by most Israelis. Rather, it is used primarily by the diplomatic community in Israel, local politicians and the media. Yet a review of the comments posted in response to the Ambassador’s tweets demonstrate the enthusiasm with which he was greeted by average Israelis.
Some urged the Ambassador to acquire local football teams, referencing the Emirates acquisition of football giants in the UK. Others wondered if the Ambassadors was single while still others prayed for a peaceful future. Of the 1.4K comments posted in response to the Ambassador’s tweet, the vast majority were positive with only a handful of users referencing the elephant in the chat room- the Palestinian people and the UAE’ supposed support of Palestinian statehood. Indeed, Israelis flooded twitter with a windfall of hope and optimism, once not seen since Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in the 1970s.
Even die hard supporters of right wing parties expressed their joy at the arrival of the UAE’s Ambassador to Israel. Truth be told, the UAE’s Ambassador will find it more easy to engage with Israelis when compared to his Egyptian and Jordan counterparts. Unlike Jordan and Egypt, both of which have Embassies in Israel, there is no historic animosity between Israel and the UAE. The two states have never gone to war or exchanged war prisoners, the UAE does not share a tense border with Israel nor is there any territorial dispute between Israel and the UAE. Even more importantly, Israelis are fascinated by the UAE as they were previously unable to visit the Gulf States. Many Israelis wonder how the blend of Islamic tradition, financial affluence and a proclivity towards trade work? It is this curiosity that led tens of thousands of Israelis to visit Dubai as soon as the Abraham Accords were signed.
To date, the UAE Ambassador has employed a hopeful tone online, one rarely heard by Arab representatives in Israel who focus on the Palestinian conflict and Israel’s violation of human rights in the occupied territories. In contrast, the UAE’s Ambassador has focused on publicizing bilateral meetings with Israeli officials, discussing collaborations between Israel and the UAE (e.g., vaccine rollout programs) and a commitment to promote understanding between the two people.
These positive tweets may all help explain the UAE Ambassadors’ meteoric rise to digital fame. Indeed, within 48 hours the UAE Ambassador became one of the most followed foreign Ambassadors in Israel, as shown below. Only the Argentinian, American and Polish Ambassadors attract more followers, yet these have been active on Israel’s Twitter network for a longer period of time.
The UAE’s Ambassador has become especially popular among Israeli journalists. Using a sample of 201 Israeli news outlets, newspapers, radio stations, news shows, journalists and editors, I found that the UAE’s Ambassador was the second most followed Ambassador in Israel. This is a true digital asset as journalists may re-tweet the Ambassador’s statements dramatically extending his online reach, while also addressing the Ambassadors comments and narratives in the offline media.
The Ambassador’s twitter account has also attracted influential Twitter users. These can be separated into four distinct clusters. The first is the diplomatic cluster. The UAE Ambassador is now followed by a host of Israeli diplomats spread across the world; numerous delegations and Ambassadors to Israel; the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the Arab media and the Israeli MFA’s Arab language spokesperson; UAE state ministers; UAE embassies from various capitals as well as the charge de affairs of foreign states to Palestine. These may have followed the Ambassador in order to understand if, and how, he will address the issue of Palestinian statehood to which the UAE officially remains committed.
The second cluster includes journalists. Notably, the Ambassador has attracted a global media following including, but not limited to the Israeli press. Influential Arab papers published both in the region and abroad follow the Ambassador as do US new agencies such as CNN and Forbes. Other journalists hail from as far as Canada and Eastern Europe. As the following images below demonstrate, the Ambassador’s current following is global in nature as he has Twitter follower hubs in the US, Western Europe, India and South-East Asia. It is possible that all such followers are eager to see what warm bi-lateral ties between Israel and an Arab State may look like.
(Images generated using Twitonomy)
The third cluster includes local opinion makers. One of the first Israelis to comment on the Ambassadors’ tweets was Israeli Minister Eli Ohana, a right wing hawk and popular commentator on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Moreover, several members of parliament have followed the Ambassador including opposition and coalition members. Another influencer is the Prime Minister’s son. Over the past years, Yair Netanyahu has morphed into an online persona given his unique blunt and offensive online rhetoric and his affinity for conspiracy theories. Despite the tone of his content, being followed by the young Netanyahu is the equivalent of being followed by Jared Kushner in 2016.
The fourth and final cluster includes Israeli and American think tanks and NGOs. For instance, the UAE Ambassadors is followed by ‘Christians for Israel’, the ‘New Israel Fund’, and the ‘American Jewish Committee’. All of these are lobbyists who seek to promote their political visions in Israel and the US, be it dialogue between Arab and Jews or the US’s need to bolster Israel’s security. The peace agreement with the UAE will in-fact bolster Israel’s security as more and more nations come to recognize Israel’s continued presence in the Middle East and replace boycotts with dialogue.
To summarize, the UAE Ambassador has made an excellent first, digital impression attracting the gaze of average Israelis, policy makers, journalists and a global audience. However, the Ambassador cannot afford to rest on his laurels. As the graph below demonstrates, the number of comments garnered by the Ambassador’s tweets had declined sharply over the past two weeks. While these comments remain positive, they may suggest that followers wish to learn from the Ambassador about actual policy priorities and policy collaborations, rather than continuous calls for peace and understanding.
How will the UAE Ambassador help shape a new Middle East? Where does the road of the Abraham Accord lead too? Will we soon see ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia? And what is the UAE’s stance on Israel’s unwillingness to supply Gaza with Covid vaccines? If his impression is to last, the UAE Ambassador must use Twitter to do what Ambassadors do best- help Israeli Twitter users make sense of the world around them, and events shaping their world.