A recent addition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s social media team is internet-savvy, full of youthful charisma, and a Jewish believer in Yeshua: Hananya Naftali.
If you don’t know his name, you might know his face.
The 22-year-old Israeli Jew is on a path that many young people dream of—cultivating a social media personality into a lucrative career. Naftali is one of the most prolific and highly viewed pro-Israel influencers on social media. His videos get thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of views and consistently advocate for Israel.
As a soldier, the Israeli-born Naftali filmed videos about the reality of army life and the human side of the IDF. As these went viral, he was featured in Israeli news, and the IDF highlighted his work. Since then, he has routinely produced new content, continuously seeking to tell the truth about Israel that has been noticed at the highest levels of government.
In fact, one year ago Naftali was invited to do a video interview with Netanyahu himself, which likely laid the groundwork for his current job.
More surprising than Naftali’s fast-track to Netanyahu’s team, however, is that he achieved his popularity and success despite openly identifying as a Christian and follower of Yeshua in a country that is notoriously unfriendly to Jewish believers.
Naftali launched his YouTube channel in 2012, but it was after serving on a tank crew in the IDF during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza that he began making videos that went viral, and it’s not hard to see why. They are to the point, calmly presented, and short.
His presentation and perpetual advocacy work were enough to convince Topaz Luk, Netanyahu’s social media manager who said he “hired a superstar,” according to the Jerusalem Post. While working for Netanyahu, Naftali has continued to post his own videos to his popular channel; it would be a mistake to let that audience drop. Just last week he uploaded a video back in his IDF uniform where he says he is on reserve duty near the Gaza border and talks about the IDF’s operations at the border protests.
“The fact that there are any casualties in Gaza means that Hamas has no value to life because it keeps pushing its own people to die,” Naftali says in his latest video.
Naftali first came onto FFOZ’s radar a year ago as his videos spread across social media. His faith has given him publicity in some Christian and Messianic circles but has not gone unchallenged. For example, an opinion article from Jewish Press savagely attacks Naftali and accuses him of being a Christian missionary, calling him a “little creep.”
“We did not survive the Holocaust and create the State of Israel in order to let some sneaky dweeb kill our connection to our Jewishness; our connection to God and His Holy Torah,” the author writes.
Naftali has denied the accusation that he is a Christian missionary. He is just a Jew who believes in Jesus, he says. Although many of his videos don’t focus exclusively on his personal beliefs, Naftali doesn’t shy away from the topic either, as seen in one of his videos where he responds to questions of his faith:
Most people don’t understand [how it can be that] I am Jewish and a believer in Jesus; to me, it makes perfect sense. After all, Jesus was a Jew. The short answer for explaining my faith is I believe in Jesus, I follow Jesus, and it does not make me less of a Jew; the opposite is true! I never doubted if I should be open about my faith or not. I am not ashamed of it, and if people don’t like this about me—they don’t have to follow my work for Israel. But this is part of me with or without them. People did write articles against me, attacked me on social media — but never physically. I called them out on social media, asked them to leave the religion part behind, and requested that we unify for the sake of Israel and not attack one another.
Naftali has called himself a Christian, but he certainly holds onto his Jewish identity, as seen in his videos. One thing he has not called himself is a Messianic Jew. Perhaps out of personal preference or to avoid misperceptions of his faith and mission, Naftali has specifically avoided that term, opting for Christian or simply a Jew who believes in Yeshua.
“I’m not part of the Messianic Judaism denomination,” he said in a video. “In fact, I am not part of any denomination. I am just a normal guy who made his own decision to follow Jesus.”
Part of the accusation that Naftali sought to convert fellow IDF soldiers comes from his story of keeping a Bible with him in the tank during military service leading to conversations with his crewmates about Yeshua. In this video Naftali explains that he was not there to convert Jews, and he understands and sympathizes with the hostile reaction. “I decided not to talk about Jesus, but to show Jesus through my actions,” he said.
For the most part, it seems that Naftali has deftly evaded being dragged into religious debate. Like all his videos, he is simple and to the point. And it’s an issue that certainly doesn’t seem to bother his boss, according to the Jerusalem Post:
Luk described Naftali as “a full Jew on both sides, who respects Christians who love Israel and do so much to strengthen Israel.”
For someone who has managed to turn his passion into a job impacting millions of people while facing unique religious challenges, Naftali is humble in describing himself:
I'm that guy who talks to the camera about Israel and the Middle East conflict.