(JTA) — Roughly twice as many people have viewed a single instance of Eylon Levy raising his eyebrows as there are citizens of the country he was defending when he did it.
“Does Israel not think that Palestinian lives are valued as highly as Israeli lives?” Sky News journalist Kay Burley asked Levy, a spokesperson for the Israeli government, on live TV in late November, as Israel was in the process of releasing three Palestinian prisoners for each Israeli hostage freed from Gaza.
“That is an astonishing accusation,” Levy responded, his expressive eyebrows shooting up in disbelief. “If we could release one prisoner for every one hostage we would obviously do that,” he retorted.
He shared the clip in a tweet that went viral and has now been seen more than 16 million times. It was, he wrote, “the first question that left me speechless (but only for a second).”
It was also a breakout moment for the British-accented Oxbridge graduate who has been called “Israel’s prince of public diplomacy,” known in Hebrew as hasbara. Tens of thousands of people flooded to watch him on social media, increasing his follower count on X, formerly Twitter, by more than sevenfold, to 175,000; he has another 178,000 on Instagram. He began to draw attention on the street. And his social media antics gave Israel a powerful weapon in the bruising social media battles that have become ever more intense since Oct. 7.
Now, in a sign of how Israel’s wartime unity is fraying, Levy is finding himself embattled — by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly holds it against Levy that he criticized her husband’s leadership before Oct. 7. An initial report that he would be pushed out of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate has been batted back, but rumors are still swirling that he could face consequences because of Sara Netanyahu’s famous ire.
Levy’s exit, if it comes, would strip the prime minister’s office of one of its savviest public defenders at a time when international opinion is turning more strongly against the Israeli war effort.
“He’s a very smart guy and well spoken and it was something that was incredibly lacking in the beginning of the war,” Israeli policy analyst and pro-Israel influencer Eli Kowaz said about Levy. “He was able to talk to all these international news outlets and make a lot of important points.”
Levy declined to comment on Monday, instead referring questions to the prime minister’s office. The office denied reports that he could be penalized for his politics, saying, “The directorate works according to professional standards.”
Levy’s biography and import are well established at this point, as he has become a familiar face for anyone consuming news or social media about Israel.
Born in London to Israeli parents, Levy studied first at Oxford University, where he was involved in debate. (A far-left member of Parliament famously walked out rather than debate Levy, saying he did not debate Israelis.) He then earned a graduate degree in international relations from Cambridge, researching the impact of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, including his own grandparents, on Israel’s development.
From there, he moved to Israel, arriving at the end of the 2014 Gaza War. Enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces, he was assigned to the unit responsible for implementing Israeli civil policy in the West Bank and Gaza in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and other international groups. After his service, he spent several years as a news anchor on Israeli television before joining the office of Israeli President Isaac Herzog as its international media advisor. (On the side, he translated Israeli books into English, including a 2021 memoir that made him a finalist for a prestigious translation prize.)
In the middle of 2023, Levy quit his job in Herzog’s office. The country had been torn apart by a proposal from Netanyahu’s right-wing government to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. Proponents of the changes said they were necessary to bring the judiciary more in line with the will of the people. Critics — including a wide array of international legal scholars — said they would erode Israeli democracy. Weekly protests had come to define the country.
As Herzog sought to broker a compromise, Levy sided with the critics, becoming an even more outspoken pro-democracy protester after leaving his government post, regularly appearing at rallies and passionately expressing his opposition to the current government on social media.
“The government’s plan to effectively abolish judicial review and give the executive the power to appoint all judges would eliminate any separation of powers, remove a major check and balance, and effectively deny judicial independence,” he tweeted on July 1, as the first elements of the plan neared a vote.
His personal criticism of Netanyahu continued into the first days of the war. “This will be Netanyahu’s legacy,” he tweeted on Oct. 8, the day after the attack. “Not the COVID vaccines. Not the Abraham Accords. Not the judicial reform or the protests. The history books will open with one of the deadliest terror attacks in world history, on his watch, after nearly 15 years in charge of our security.”
But he soon drafted himself to the government’s defense, joining the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who set aside their objections to the government in favor of a unified, powerful response to Hamas’ attack, which left about 1,200 dead and 240 in captivity.
Levy explained his decision to join the government he once excoriated in an interview with Globes, an Israeli magazine. “Like many, I participated in the protests against the reform. It’s no secret,” he said. “There was Israel before October 7 and there is Israel after. Nothing will return to what it was before. There is now only one task: to win the war, and for that we must put the wars of the Jews aside and unite.”
Levy’s addition to the government’s public advocacy team came at a crucial time, with the National Public Diplomacy Directorate in a state of disarray. Its leader, Likud Knesset member Galit Distel Atbaryan, resigned on Oct. 13 after being criticized for speaking English poorly.
In contrast, Levy’s flawless native English made him a successful sparring partner on news programs around the world. In another sharp viral exchange, Levy took aim at Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Nov. 26.
Varadkar had tweeted about the release from captivity of a 9-year-old Israeli girl whose father is Irish. “This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family,” he wrote. “An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered.”
Levy tore into Varadkar, a longtime critic of Israel. “Emily Hand wasn’t ‘lost,’” he wrote, his disdain dripping from the screen. “She was brutally abducted by the death squads that massacred her neighbors. She wasn’t ‘found.’ Hamas knew where she was all along and cynically held her as a hostage. And Hamas didn’t answer your prayers. It answered Israel’s military pressure.”
Not all of Levy’s viral moments have reflected in-the-moment anger. On TikTok, where he posts videos with the help of a social media team, he has tapped into trends, joking about what’s out for 2024 (“Calling to globalize the intifada and a ceasefire at the same time; the math isn’t mathing,” he said) and producing a riff on a famous scene from the movie “Love Actually” for Christmas.
His posts — and eyebrows — have won him admirers. A Reddit post from last week titled “Eylon Levy appreciation post” has more than 100 comments, including from both men and women expressing romantic interest in him. “He[‘s] super hot and super smart. He’s also really brave and resilient, and has a very Jewish ethos,” one wrote. “He’s total fantasy crush material.”
Levy has fans in the Knesset, too. On Sunday, after the report first emerged that he could be pushed out, Zeev Elkin, the National Unity Party member who heads the subcommittee of external affairs and advocacy, addressed a letter to the head of the public diplomacy office.
“The importance of hasbara for the State of Israel in light of the war is self-evident. In our subcommittee meetings, the name of Eylon Levy was raised, a spokesperson for the National Public Diplomacy Directorate, several times in positive contexts,” Elkin wrote before asking for clarification on Levy’s future employment and if “pressure from outside forces” was being used to end his government tenure.
Sara Netanyahu looms large in Israeli politics, where she is seen as taking extreme measures behind the scenes to protect her husband, sometimes in seeming oppposition to his interests. She recently made headlines for reportedly accusing hostages’ families of bolstering Hamas by pressuring Netanyahu to seek an immediate hostage-for-prisoner deal no matter the cost. She is also famous for holding grudges.
While Levy’s role appears to be safe for now, the controversy and the fact that it surprised no one remains meaningful, Kowaz said.
“What is most problematic is the entire functioning of the government being driven by the political and personal interests of Netanyahu,” he said. A damning survey by Israel’s Channel 13 found this week that 53% of respondents believe the prime minister’s wartime decision-making is primarily motivated by personal interest, while 33% said he is acting for the good of the country.
As for Levy, he returned this week from a quick trip to England where he helped mark 100 days since Oct. 7 by speaking in Trafalgar Square. He has continued posting without interruption — or acknowledgment of the tumult reported about his role. And on Tuesday morning, he was in front of the TV cameras for the Israeli government’s daily English-language press briefing for the first time in a week.
Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
The post UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.