For the first time, Israelis went out to protest on Saturday night against an attack on Iran. About a thousand people turned up for the demonstration in Tel Aviv. Intentionally or not, the event got a boost from a couple who launched an anti-war campaign on Facebook a little over a week ago.
Israeli teacher and graphic designer, Rony Edry, 41, says he didn't plan on launching a movement of any kind. But one thing just led to another. Edry designed a poster, picturing himself standing in a white shirt, holding his 4 year-old daughter with an Israeli flag in her hand. Written below them in big print is the message: "Iranians. We will never bomb your country. We love you."
"At the beginning," Edry told me the other day in Tel Aviv, "the response [was] negative." He said people were put off. They thought he was trying to speak for all Israelis. But that was not the intention, he said. It was meant to be simple person-to-person online outreach. And in any case, a flood of positive responses began pouring in soon enough. And it hasn't stopped.
Edry said Israeli friends saw his poster on Facebook and asked him to make one with their pictures on it. The idea caught on. Dozens and then, hundreds and then, thousands of people connected with the Facebook group. Soon, Iranians even started to notice.
Edry talked with me on a busy pedestrian path, as a few of his design students shot some video nearby. Edry's partner, Michal Tamir, 35, and their toddler, were there too. The couple seems to be embracing the idea of being part of genuine anti-war campaign that started with a simple, even naÃ¯ve, question.
"Just talk with the other side," Edry said while holding his sleepy son on his hip. "Like, 'you sure we're gonna do this?'"
The craziest thing happened, Edry said. Iranians responded by saying things like, "we don't want to do it either."
Edry said, if you had asked a week ago whether an online anti-war campaign could prevent a war, he would have had his doubts. "But now," he said. "It's so refreshing, you know, just to say, 'I love you. I don't want war with you.'"
"Maybe, it changed [some] minds."
The truth is, Israelis are not of one mind when it comes to the question of using military force against Iran's nuclear program. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has talked about it in terms of preventing another Holocaust. But some prominent Israelis, including high-level former intelligence officials, are against a unilateral Israeli attack. They warn that it could set off a dangerous regional conflict.
The public is divided too. One new poll found 60 percent of respondents saying they believed only military action could stop Iran's nuclear progress. But in another survey of Jewish Israelis, 60 percent said they opposed an Israeli attack without US cooperation.
In such a contentious atmosphere, and with the stakes so high, an anti-war campaign on Facebook and Youtube is not likely to be a game-changer, said Meir Javedanfar. He is an Iranian-born Israeli citizen, and an Iran expert based in Tel Aviv. But Javedanfar has followed Edry's campaign and applauds what he and his colleagues are doing.
"I think these guys show that we have a lot of intelligent people in Israel who don't accept everything at face value," Javedanfar said. "They, much like other Israelis, don't want a nuclear Iran, are against the regime's policies toward Israel, but don't want to make 73 million enemies in Iran. They want to make 73 million friends in Iran."
Besides, Javadanfar said the last thing the Iranian regime wants is for its public to begin to question three decades of propaganda that has demonized Israelis.
Rony Edry is an Israeli teacher and father who started the Facebook page to reach out to Iranians. (Photo: Matthew Bell)
"We will never bomb your country" (Photo: Pushpin Mehina/Facebook)