The popular social media guru has thousands of followers on different platforms.
By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News
Each day, notifications blow up Hananya Naftali’s phone. Likes to comments – both positive and negative about Israel – are part of a new dialogue surrounding the Jewish state.
Naftali has been video blogging for several years, getting the facts out about Israel, the country’s interfaith efforts, peace efforts with Palestinians and more. But in 2018, his advocacy reached a new high when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hired Naftali to be a deputy social media adviser.
The popular social media guru has thousands of followers on different platforms, while also helping Netanyahu get his message across on the official accounts of the prime minister. Since Naftali took on this role, Netanyahu’s popularity on social media has soared, and the prime minister has starred in creative videos to get his messages across.
Naftali tells World Israel News it’s “an absolute honor to serve the modern-day Winston Churchill, a leader that will not be forgotten.” He is quite open in discussing his journey to his role, why he advocates for Israel via social media, its importance and more.
Q: How did you start out as a social media influencer?
“I basically started when I participated in the Gaza war in 2014. I was in the Armored Corps. Being a young soldier sent to the Gaza Strip to fight Hamas, it was a really interesting experience. I was angry that, while we were treating Palestinians humanely, whenever there was a ceasefire or we were told to stop fighting, Hamas would fire rockets at Israel. They would target us.
“When I came back from the Gaza Strip, I noticed CNN, BBC and a lot of other media outlets were spreading complete lies about how we were fighting there. They said we were killing Palestinian civilians and we were committing atrocities.
“To me, as an IDF soldier who was there, we were strictly commanded to make sure that no civilians were hurt in the middle of the battle, and it was irritating to see these headlines. I told myself I’m going to change that when I come back from Gaza – hopefully, alive – and start to change the way Israel is portrayed.”
Q: How scary was the experience for you during the Gaza war?
“Every soldier has thoughts that when you cross the fence and enter the Gaza Strip to fight Hamas that you might come back in a bag or something. But then again, I’m a man that believes in God. I knew that there is a greater purpose than to not come back alive. I had a feeling I’m going to stay alive because Israel is fighting terrorists and we know how to do this best.
“The Israeli leadership was making smart decisions, and we on the field were also cautious about making wise decisions. You’ll always have these thoughts, but I had a feeling I was going to come back alive.”
Q: Fast forward to 2020 and you have a massive following on social media. What does it mean to you to know you’re one of the top Israeli influencers?
“I’m very happy about it because I’m speaking my mind. It’s a great privilege to speak to people around the world as an individual. People know when it’s real and coming from the heart. I’m happy to converse with people because I never dreamed of reaching millions of people every week through posts and videos.
“I used to be a shy and introverted person. From being an introvert, I found myself at the forefront of fighting for Israel because there’s an ongoing battle on social media.”
Q: As you continue to do this, what drives you to continue to spread Israel’s messages of peace with its neighbors?
“What drives me to push peace, alongside truth, is that this is what we believe as Israelis. When we grow up, we are taught to seek peace and we sing about peace. We wish each other shalom, which means peace. Peace is a desire of all of us Israelis. It’s a dream I hope to see in my lifetime – to see peace between Israelis and our Arab neighbors. It’s really a drive and it’s important to me, personally, to seek peace. A lot of people think that because we have conflict that we don’t want peace, but wars, and it’s quite the opposite. We have no other choice but to fight for our survival.”
Q: What do you want to accomplish?
“My goal is to secure Israel’s future by spreading the truth. It feels like a lot of people are misled by activists who are spreading lies. The other goal is to achieve peace. We in Israel are tired of conflict and wars. We want peace.”
Q: What advice do you have for people in America who are dealing with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?
“Knowledge is strength. I encourage people to find out more about the situation. A lot of friends of Israel who are in universities are oftentimes asking me how to counter questions and attacks. It’s important to keep in mind that most of the people that are attacking Israel have never been to Israel. It’s important for them to see the truth themselves, just like I invited Ilhan Omar to visit here. They don’t know the truth, and I can’t blame them because they speak out of ignorance and not out of knowledge.
“I sent an invitation to Linda Sarsour and she blocked me. You have to remain real and to remember Israel is not perfect, but no country is perfect. But the fact Israel is treated as the biggest problem in the world, while considering it’s the size of New Jersey, this is anti-Semitism and it’s a huge problem that we have to counter. We have to educate people.”