A New Political Imagination

Eran Nissan - Mehazkim

Eran protest

The Morning of October 7th

At 6:30am on October 7, Eran Nissan, 33, and his wife awoke in a tent deep in the Negev Desert to the sound of sirens and explosions in the distance. Scanning online for information Eran, the Director of Mehazkim, an organization that promotes progressive political content in Israeli social media, came across a video of a Hamas pick-up truck inside Israel.

“I remember telling my wife Shir, this is something different. This is not an escalation. This is an invasion,” he says.

They quickly drove to the nearest city, Beersheva, to Shir’s grandmother’s home and soon got a phone call from a cousin, a soldier in special forces, that he’d been shot and was on his way to Soroka Hospital. Eran, himself a medic with a degree in disaster and crisis management, quickly went to find him there. What he saw upon arrival was a mass casualty event and immediately started helping in the emergency room, treating soldiers and young party goers from the now infamous desert rave that Hamas attacked so brutally, hints of the party seen in glittery clothes and feathers.

“I saw Arabs and Jews working together to save lives, the lives of Arabs and Jews,” he says. “I saw Arabs and Jews taking shelter together because all those five hours [that he was there] we had sirens, and we heard Iron Dome intercept missiles right on top of the hospital. And it was a shared experience.”

The Contrast

It would contrast sharply with the vitriol he would later read online – a brew of hatred, racism and nationalism being stirred by Israeli government ministers and coalition members, painting everything he says, “about Arabs against Jews, or Muslims against Jews.”

That vision of Arabs and Jews working together on the worst day in Israeli history would stay with him. The morning of October 8 he woke up in an entirely changed country and decided what he needed to do next. “It wasn’t with emergency medicine,” he says. “It was with my peace activism.”

With Mehazkim, he had been working hard to mainstream progressive values in Israel by creating and promoting viral political content. In recent months he and his team had been consumed with the unprecedented pro-democracy protest movement.

Now it was time to tap his organizing skills further, zoning in on where he and his team have expertise: the production and distribution of political content online, and digital organizing, meaning building political power through WhatsApp groups, and cultivating political communities.

“So we had an emergency meeting, and we asked ourselves, what is our role right now? … We tried to foresee and to anticipate what’s the conversation is going to be and what is the messaging?” he said. 

They decided early on to focus in part on debunking conspiracy theories, fake news, disinformation, and countering hate speech. Another emphasis has been keeping the focus on the hostages, knowing there is a need to amplify their stories amid the war on Hamas in Gaza. Another subject they amplified was the volunteerism that swept Israel, including examples of Jewish-Arab cooperation, and also calling out the government for not providing many of those basic services themselves. 

Shaping the Conversation Online

Eran says key to their mission is to talk about what others are not talking about. That means, not just the failure of October 7, “But to talk about the policies that brought us to this moment.” Citing as an example a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 2019 in which he says that maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza is what allows Israel to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Helping shape the conversation means using the digital content out there in the most effective ways possible. For Mehazkim staff that means packaging and producing it. For example, if someone gives a speech in a protest, they might transcribe it together with an edited cut of the video. They also produce their own content including videos and infographics, as well as amplify the work of other influencers and activists.

Promoting progressive discourse in a country with a strong right-wing is not easy, but Eran sees Mehazkim’s mission as laying the tracks for change. He also notes that when it comes to many progressive issues, there is actually broader consensus on many topics, whether its public transportation on Shabbat, access to abortion, same sex marriage or public welfare policies.

Political Imagination

“People need to know that they can create change… that their story matters, that together, we can really change things for the better. And this is about promoting political imagination.”

It’s political imagination, he notes and the demand for it, that Eran sees as essential in the face and aftermath of this war.

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine