Israel has embarked on a massive recruitment drive to support the country’s online propaganda campaign one day after its companies were exposed for spreading disinformation and meddling in the elections of several African, Asian and Latin American countries.
The new initiative, which would see the government funding pro-Israel groups overseas, was unveiled by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a government arm set up to combat the global rise of pro-Palestinian activism and Israel’s poor global image.
Launching the initiative, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also the public security minister, was quoted by the Times of Israel saying: “I’m proud to launch the first [government] program to support pro-Israel organizations and activists around the world.”
The plan will “encourage grassroots events and online initiatives against the BDS [boycott] movement and in support of Israel. I’m certain that this program will give a significant boost to all our supporters around the world who are battling this anti-Semitism and the boycott activists,” added Erdan.
Details of the tendering process for recruiting pro-Israeli activists was published in the Jewish Chronicle on 17 May a day after Israeli firms were kicked out by social media giant, Facebook, for spreading disinformation by posing as local journalists and influencers working in several African, Asian and Latin American countries.
“The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy has announced the opening of submission process for application for grants in 2019 in relation to the topics listed below,” an ad in the Jewish Chronicle said.
The two areas in which the Israeli government was seeking new recruits were in “support for pro-Israeli activities abroad” and “support for pro-Israeli activities on the internet aimed at target audiences abroad.”
$1.6 million was being offered to successful candidates for creating online campaigns battling BDS and supporting pro-Israel events abroad.
Questions over the legality of such a programme were raised by the Times of Israel. “Many of the advocacy organizations that may be a good fit for support from the initiative are registered nonprofits in the United States and other Western nations, thus facing tight restrictions on receiving funds from foreign states.”
These concerns came to light in the UK last summer at the height of the anti-Semitism row within the Labour party when a pro-Israeli British charity, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), was found to be leading a fierce campaign against the party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The group was formed during “Operation Protective Edge” in the summer of 2014 when over 2,000 Palestinians, including 551 children were killed by Israeli missile attacks and shelling of civilian areas.
The group’s activities prompted the Charity Commission and police to launch an investigation into its behaviour.
In addition to Britain advertisement for the program are said to have been placed in a number of other countries, including the United States, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.
The initiative is likely to fuel concerns over Israel’s nefarious online activities which have caught the attention of Facebook. It will also raise speculations in the UK where “infowar techniques” are said to have been deployed by pro-Israel groups to fuel the anti-Semitism crises.
An investigation by The Electronic Intifada documented 10 fake Twitter profiles posing as Corbyn supporters posting virulent anti-Semitism. The accounts are said to share sufficient similarities to indicate that the same person – or group – is running them.