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Israel using fake social media accounts to target UNRWA, report reveals

March 20, 2024 at 7:04 pm

A right-wing Israeli protester holds an Israeli flag and a sign while standing with others gathering outside the West Bank field office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Jerusalem on March 20, 2024. [Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images]

An online Israeli influencing campaign employing fake social media accounts has been attacking the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), according to a recent report by a disinformation watchdog cited by Haaretz.

Israeli watchdog group, Fake Reporter, discovered that these accounts echoed Israel’s allegation that 12 UNRWA employees – out of 13,000 in Gaza – had participated in Hamas’ infiltration of Israel on 7 October.

According to Haaretz, the report, published in Hebrew, outlines how the campaign used a  network of hundreds of social media accounts and three newly established “news websites” to propagate pro-Israel narratives.

Moreover, the report revealed that these fraudulent accounts have been actively engaging with posts from US lawmakers and Western media platforms, sharing screenshots of a Wall Street Journal article alleging ties between the UN agency and Hamas.

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“The people targeted the most with such comments by the campaign’s avatars were American politicians, specifically the social media accounts of Democratic lawmakers, and accounts considered pro-Israel,” reported Haaretz.

“An analysis of the campaign’s content over the span of the war reveals that UNRWA has been the single most popular topic.”

The Wall Street Journal article regarding UNRWA, which relied on unverified accusations from Israel, was co-authored by a former Israeli soldier.

Marc Owen Jones, an associate professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, also observed the same network of fraudulent accounts last month.

He wrote on Twitter: “Discovered hundreds of sock puppets promoting Israeli propaganda on X, Threads, FB & Insta. It also includes ‘fake’ websites. Recently, it has been spreading anti-UNRWA #disinformation, & trying to undermine solidarity between Palestinians & Black people.”

The fake accounts, which Jones described as a “massive cross platform pro-Israel deception operation”, come at a time when Israel is aggressively pushing to end the mandate of UNRWA.

Eighteen countries and the EU suspended donations for UNRWA at the end of January. The move followed Israel’s allegation that 12 UNRWA employees — out of 13,000 in Gaza — had participated in the Hamas attack on 7 October. Israel has, to date, provided no proof of the allegation. Furthermore, it has killed at least 154 UNRWA employees since October.

A number of countries have now reinstated funding after seeing no evidence of the claims.

The apartheid state has long accused UNRWA personnel of being Hamas members as part of its efforts to discredit the agency. While providing no proof of its claims, it is lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees.

If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

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