Israeli influencer Hananya: “The truth about Israel is different”

Hananya Naftali
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I am at Tel Aviv’s central bus station – the second largest in the world after New Delhi. In the crowd I’m looking for the restaurant where I’ve arranged to meet Hananya Naftali. I’m a little nervous, because just like hundreds of thousands of others, I’ve been following this enthusiastic Israeli on social media for years.

When I arrive at the appointed place, I see Hananya already seated. I slide over, we both order a cappuccino and start chatting.

Hananya, for the people who don’t know you yet: can you briefly explain what you do?
To keep it simple: every week I make a video about Israel. In it I tell what daily life is like in Israel and explain the background to the situation here. I regularly interview interesting people, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu or Palestinian Christians. My mission is to bring news that the media doesn’t tell you. The truth is often different than what the media shows.

Besides my YouTube channel, I am also active on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. There, I also let out a positive message about Israel. My followers come from all over the world.’

Many Dutch people know very little about Israel. Why is that, do you think?
‘The Middle East conflict is one of the most complicated conflicts in the world. Many world leaders have tried to solve it, but no one has succeeded yet. The media make it even more difficult to understand the conflict. They often highlight only one side of the situation, distorting the truth. Often people react with surprise to my videos and other posts, because they have heard very different things from the mainstream media. That’s a shame, because I think Europe can actually learn a lot from the way we deal with refugees and terror threats in Israel, for example.’

What other reactions do you get through social media?
‘Because of the media’s misrepresentation of Israel, many people think negatively of us. That’s why they don’t like what I do. I also get quite a few hate reactions. I’m actually happy about that, because it means I’m reaching the right people with my posts. Still, I try to focus on the positive reactions and ignore the negative ones, unless they are so funny that I want to share them in my video.’

How can we support Israel from the Netherlands?
‘Nice question, because I once made a video about that. The most important way is to pray for Israel. Maybe you don’t notice it in the Netherlands, but we in Israel feel supported by your prayers. In addition, it is important to make yourself heard when it comes to Israel. Get informed about Israel, for example by watching my videos, so that you can stand up for Israel if necessary. Don’t go along too easily with the lies that are spread about Israel, but show that you stand for the truth. You can do that on social media too! And third, join the growing movement of young people who are active for Israel. Bring Israel to the attention in your church, join organizations that stand up for Israel, or visit our hospitable country. There is so much you can do, so you don’t have to sit still.’

How did you actually get started on this?
‘In 2014 I was on duty, just like all the other young people here in Israel. After Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli families from the Gaza Strip, we decided to invade Gaza. I was in a tank unit, so I experienced the situation very closely. As a result, I found out that many foreign media outlets were writing nonsense about Israel. I started making short videos to show the real situation. In my first video, I stammered in poor English: Hi, I am Jewish and a follower of Jesus. I am an Israeli soldier and I want to show you what I have seen with my own eyes. The video didn’t represent much, but it quickly went viral. That’s how I started my YouTube channel.

What other reactions do you get through social media?
‘Because of the media’s misrepresentation of Israel, many people think negatively of us. That’s why they don’t like what I do. I also get quite a few hate reactions. I’m actually happy about that, because it means I’m reaching the right people with my posts. Still, I try to focus on the positive reactions and ignore the negative ones, unless they are so funny that I want to share them in my video.’

How can we support Israel from the Netherlands?
‘Nice question, because I once made a video about that. The most important way is to pray for Israel. Maybe you don’t notice it in the Netherlands, but we in Israel feel supported by your prayers. In addition, it is important to make yourself heard when it comes to Israel. Get informed about Israel, for example by watching my videos, so that you can stand up for Israel if necessary. Don’t go along too easily with the lies that are spread about Israel, but show that you stand for the truth. You can do that on social media too! And third, join the growing movement of young people who are active for Israel. Bring Israel to the attention in your church, join organizations that stand up for Israel, or visit our hospitable country. There is so much you can do, so you don’t have to sit still.’

How did you actually get started on this?
You mention that you were in the army. What was that like?
In Israel all young people have to do military service. When you are eighteen years old it starts. For girls it lasts two years and for boys three. I also did my military service from the age of eighteen. I learned a lot from that. It shaped me.’

How?
‘In different ways. It makes me proud to defend my country. But before you learn how to handle a weapon in the army, they first teach you how to be human. That has changed my outlook on life. Not only my own, but also that of others. In the military, I literally learned to love my enemy. I worked as a combat medic. Most of the patients I helped were wounded Syrians and terrorists. I saved the lives of people that Western media tells me are my enemies. That whole period taught me to take more responsibility in my life.’

‘It seems intense to go through that at such a young age…’
‘Yes, but I try to see the positive in it. I remember well how a Syrian woman said toda raba (‘thank you’ in Hebrew, ed.) when she had to go back to Syria. She and her infant daughter had been in Israel for medical treatment after being injured in the Syrian civil war. There are many like her. Injured Syrians who come to Israel desperately and secretly, without decent clothing, money or food. The Israeli army helps these people, but you never hear about it in the media.’

You are Jewish, live in Israel and believe in Jesus. How do you like that combo?
‘It’s fun! There are not many people here who believe in Him, but we are respected. That’s because people here accept each other as they are. There are many groups of people here with different religious and cultural backgrounds, and they live peacefully next to each other. Of course I sometimes get questions about how I, as a Jew, can believe in Jesus. Then I answer that this does not make me any less Jewish than they are. After all, Jesus was a Jew too.’

Finally, is there anything important you would like to share with our readers?
‘I would like to mention two things. The first is: don’t believe everything you hear in the media. And the second: today people can do great things!’

After the interview we walk back to the bus platform. Hananya tells me where to find the bus back to Jerusalem. When I ask him how he is going to get back home he replies, ‘At least not by car, because I don’t have a driver’s license.’ Pretty strange for someone who worked in the Israeli army as a tank driver.