Danny Seaman is my former commander in the Israel Defense Forces, and, despite the fact that we hold sharply divergent political views, one of my closest friends. He is also a senior official in the Israeli government’s hasbara infrastructure, commended for his innovative use of social media to get official messages across in an unmediated and effective way. The very same aptitude, may be his downfall: This week, following a series of articles in Haaretz, Seaman was suspended due to having posted strongly worded messages on his own personal Facebook page.
To be sure, nothing Seaman posted would register as truly remarkable by Facebook’s seismographic needle, accustomed as it is to far more offensive stuff. But neither were the posts the stuff of high diplomacy: in one, for example, Seaman took issue with Japan’s commemoration of the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, arguing that the Japanese were aggressors and therefore reaped what they had sowed; in another he wondered whether the commencement of Ramadan meant “that Muslims will stop eating each other during the day time,” a clear reference to the violence in Egypt. He also sprinkled his posts with four-letter words, although toned down by symbols replacing key letters for decorum’s sake.
You can argue, as Haaretz did, that Seaman’s behavior is unbecoming of a public servant. But that would be missing the point: as the official who has skillfully navigated Israel’s social media policy, Seaman clearly understands this new and ascendant medium, and he knows that measured words and guarded sentiments aren’t the lingua franca of Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms that now command so much of our attention. His suspension—again, for statements made on his own personal account—is more than merely questionable. It sends a clear message to Seaman, his colleagues, and whoever may succeed him in his job that nothing but the old and rigid rules of conduct—rules fashioned in an era in which the media comprised of nothing more than a handful of television channels and a smattering of daily newspapers—will be tolerated.
If Israel, so enamored with its perception of itself as the Start-Up Nation, wishes to communicate effectively in the coming decades, it must realize that the centers of gravity, as well as tones used and freedoms afforded, have all shifted dramatically. And it must never penalize its public servants for astutely and intuitively understanding which way the wind blows.
Related: The ‘Kids’ Behind IDF’s Media