Avichay Adraee, the Israeli spokesman irritating Arabs

While Israel praises Adraee as a figure dedicated to “building bridges” with neighboring nations, the Arab world expresses unease over his intentions to “influence minds.”

Avichay Adraee, the Israeli spokesman irritating Arabs

Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army's Arabic speaking spokesman. (Credit: AFP)

Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army’s Arabic-speaking spokesperson, is known for his ability to seamlessly transition between different tones.

While communicating Israeli military updates, he ensures a dry and precise delivery. Yet, when addressing enemy camps or Arab personalities, his statements are infused with scathing derision.

Adraee has gained recognition throughout the Arab-Muslim world, with his frequently provocative statements causing a stir among Arabs online.

Engaging in verbal sparring on social media platforms has become his distinctive style.

In media appearances, Adraee regularly attacks figures such as Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and Yahia Sinouar, a prominent Hamas leader, often through videos and sometimes using cartoons.

Regional newspapers have voiced concern regarding his intentions to “influence Arab consciences” and have taken note of Israel’s emerging “more professional and sophisticated” propaganda approach.

In contrast, Israeli headlines praise Adraee for his efforts in “building bridges between Israel and its neighbors.”

Prominent news channels, particularly in the Gulf, frequently invite him for commentary.

Al-Jazeera unofficially designates Adraee its “correspondent in the Israeli army” — a title that changed to “the spokesperson for the Israeli occupation army,” after Oct. 7.

Throughout the various conflicts between Israel and Hamas, Andrae has appeared on Gazans’ screens, urging them to dissociate themselves from the Islamist group, or to direct them to “safe” neighborhoods where they can “take refuge.”

Iraqi origins

Adraee made his first media appearance during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

A few years earlier, the Israeli Foreign Ministry aimed to sway Arab public opinion by appointing Arabic-speaking spokespersons capable of engaging with both local and international Arabic-language media.

In a 2004 article, Haaretz detailed the shift in communication strategy at a time when the prevailing sentiment was “not to communicate with the enemy.”

The initial Israeli army spokesman faced criticism as being perceived as too “Western.”

In contrast, Adraee appears to have the ideal profile for the role.

He was born in Haifa in 1982. His maternal grandparents are from Iraq and his paternal grandparents are from Turkey and Syria.

Adraee's physical appearance and accent are such that he could easily blend in on the streets of Cairo as much as in Baghdad.

“I speak Arabic all day long, and I dream in Arabic from time to time,” he shared with the Israeli online media Mako in 2021, revealing that his father had encouraged him to study the language.

Boasting over 554,000 followers on X, previously Twitter, with a slightly larger audience on TikTok, and 2.5 million on Facebook, “Sheikh Avichay,” as he is recognized among Palestinians, is more of an influencer than a conventional official spokesman.

His enduring tenure in the role, spanning over 18 years, is attributed to his mastery of the Arabic language and a nuanced understanding of the cultural intricacies of each country. This includes a deep understanding of mindsets, idioms, and even humor.

Pushing the boundaries of provocation, he playfully taps into Lebanon’s cultural heritage by reinterpreting the lyrics of the renowned Fairuz song “Bhebak ya Lebnan” (I love you, oh Lebanon) into “bhebik ya Israel” (I love you, oh Israel) in a video filmed in 2021 on the border of “beautiful Lebanon,” as he mentioned.

Social networks are his primary battleground. Perhaps in a spirit of defiance, Ardaee often references hadiths (the prophet’s sayings) and happily quotes verses from the Quran, a choice that subjects him to torrents of insults and Egyptian cartoons depicting him, humorously, dancing in his underwear to Haga Navila one of the first modern Jewish folk songs in the Hebrew language.

During the Adha holiday, Ardaee shared videos of himself at a well-stocked table, alongside young Israeli soldiers whom he introduces as “Muslims” and “Druze” to highlight the “diversity” within the army’s ranks.

‘A virile stance’

While the Israeli army and Hezbollah have been engaging in a border battle for the past two months, Adraee has also been playfully teasing the Lebanese online.

On Dec. 4, he posed a question on X: “Which country do the Lebanese prefer: the Hamas emirate, which is part of Iranian soil, or the free and independent Lebanese state?”

On the same day, Adraee did not spare Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Gebran Bassil.

Bassil had vehemently rejected the creation of a Hamas unit named “The Al-Aqsa Flood Vanguards.” He argued that “any armed action from Lebanon is an attack on national sovereignty,” and stressed that “Lebanon has the right to strengthen itself through national resistance to defend against Israel.”

Bassil also criticized the creation of the so-called “Hamasland,” or a Hamas military presence in the border area, in the South of Lebanon.

Adraee saluted Bassil’s stance, saying “it was a virile position in Lebanon who has come under the yoke of Iran,” making sure to convey a message that “Hamas and Hezbollah are two sides of the same coin.”

This was not the first instance of Adraee scrutinizing Bassil.

In October 2018, during his diplomatic tour with several ambassadors, Bassil, then serving as the foreign minister, refuted Israeli claims about secret Hezbollah weapons sites.

In reaction, Adraee shared a series of tweets, featuring an altered photo of Nasrallah and Bassil, his Christian ally, during a meeting. The photo depicted Nasrallah saying, “we will clean up for you the sites that Netanyahu mentioned, but the rest is not your responsibility.”

Unlike Lebanese citizens, who face the risk of prosecution due to Lebanese law which criminalizes any contact with Israelis, prominent Egyptian figures can engage in debate with Adraee on social media without any security concerns.

Lebanese journalist Layal Alekhtiar from the al-Arabiya channel is currently the subject of a search warrant for interviewing Adraee a few days after the war that broke out on Oct. 7.

Critics argue that she allowed the Israeli narrative to unfold without presenting a Palestinian counterweight.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri faced backlash in January 2012 when he responded with a simple “hello” to a tweet from Adraee. Hariri later claimed that he did not know who Adraee was and stated that he would not have responded if he had known, citing “Israel is our enemy.”

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.

Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army’s Arabic-speaking spokesperson, is known for his ability to seamlessly transition between different tones.While communicating Israeli military updates, he ensures a dry and precise delivery. Yet, when addressing enemy camps or Arab personalities, his statements are infused with scathing derision.Adraee has gained recognition throughout the Arab-Muslim world,...