The official Facebook page of Israel's embassy to Ireland this morning posted, and then abruptly deleted, a provocative message arguing that "hostile Palestinians" would "lynch" Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, if they lived in today's Bethlehem. The town of Jesus's birth is today part of the Palestinian West Bank. The Facebook message, which begins "A thought for Christmas," included an image of Jesus and Mary. It was live for about two hours before being deleted.
A spokesperson for the embassy told me in an e-mail that "the image and the caption were posted without our consent. It has been removed; in its place now is the following:"
To whom it may concern: An image of Jesus and Mary with a derogatory comment about Palestinians was posted without the consent of the administrator of the Facebook page. We have removed the post in question immediately. Apologies to anyone who may have been offended.
The spokesperson did not answer an inquiry to whether there are plans to change how the page is run. This is not the first time that this Facebook page has posted something controversial and on a medium that suggests it's on behalf of the Israeli government.
The official government Web site of the Israeli embassy in Ireland links to the IsraelinIreland Facebook page under its "Visit Us" section, suggesting that it is an official outlet. The Facebook page's "about us" section explains, "The State of Israel - Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created this semi-official Facebook page as a resource of information on the Embassy of Israel in the Republic of Ireland and to provide updates on the Mission's activities to the general public." The spokesperson explains that the "semi-official" designation is "for security reasons because the Administrator cannot monitor the page 24/7, and so that we can delete posts if misfortunate events like this happen."
Most of the page's posts use an informal tone and advocate fiercely on sensitive political issues. Some of the Facebook page's recent posts, of which there are many, cite the "Palestinian Industry of Lies," argue that "Pro Palestinianism is often just a politically correct cover for antisemitism," for example, and that children in Gaza "play how to launch a missile in order to hit innocent Israeli children, woman and men! The apple does not fall far from the tree!"
Social media diplomacy is not always easy. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter demand an informal tone and a regular stream of updates. But international diplomacy requires restraint and calculation. Neither is particularly well served by incendiary, racially tinged messages like those on IsraelinIreland Facebook page.
Still, the page's tone and writing style (long ellipses, frequent first-name-only references to friends who have shared links) does not exactly suggest that its messages are written by a senior diplomat or government official. That doesn't make the messages any less provocative. But the controversy here seems to raise more questions about how the Israeli embassy in Dublin staffs out its social media (why empower someone with these views to speak freely to the entire online world for your embassy?) than, as some critics are already implying, about the views of Israel's government or society as a whole.