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Like America’s enemies, Israel’s ‘digital soldiers’ launched clandestine influence campaign

June 5, 2024 at 2:33 pm

Computer hackers on December 28, 2012 [Patrick Lux/Getty Images]

In a startling revelation, the New York Times has exposed a secretive Israeli influence campaign aimed at swaying US lawmakers and public opinion in favour of the actions of the occupation state during its military offensive in Gaza.

The $2 million operation is said to have been commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. The campaign sought to mobilise what it termed “digital soldiers” to promote pro-Israel messaging on social media platforms, targeting black Democrat lawmakers.

The campaign, which began following the 7 October attack, remains active on the platform X. It employed hundreds of fake accounts posing as real Americans to post pro-Israel comments. Such campaigns are often described as astro-turfing, the practice of creating a false appearance of grassroots support or opposition for a political cause or policy.

These accounts primarily targeted US lawmakers, particularly black and Democratic representatives such as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Raphael Warnock, urging them to continue funding Israel’s military. The fake online accounts and websites also promote Islamophobic content.

According to leading experts on Islamophobia, Israel and Zionist networks are one of the five pillars of anti-Muslim hate which have been on the rise. The four other pillars are made up of the far-right network, neo-conservative think tanks, state apparatuses and liberal commentators.

Israel’s influence campaign also utilised ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot, to generate many of the posts and created three fake English-language news sites featuring pro-Israel articles. The Israeli government’s connection to the influence operation was verified by four current and former members of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and documents related to the campaign.

Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from New York known for his pro-Israel views and who receives donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was among the lawmakers targeted by the campaign. Fake accounts responded to Torres’ posts on X, commenting on the rise of anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews.

While it is well-known that America’s adversaries, such as Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, often target US citizens and lawmakers through influence campaigns, the revelation that Israel, one of America’s closest allies, has engaged in similar tactics has raised eyebrows.

The campaign’s exposure underscores the lengths to which Israel is willing to go to sway American opinion on its Gaza offensive, which has been unpopular with many Americans who have called for President Joe Biden to withdraw support for Israel in light of the mounting civilian death toll. Over 36,000 Palestinians have been killed, the vast majority of whom are women and children. Israel is also being investigated by the International Court of Justice for genocide.

The Israeli government’s involvement in this influence operation has been met with criticism, with experts cited in the Times calling it “reckless” and “irresponsible”. The incident has raised questions about the nature of the US-Israel relationship and the extent to which foreign governments can influence American politics through covert means.

As the story continues to unfold, it remains to be seen how the US government and the American public will respond to this revelation and what impact it may have on the future of US-Israel relations.

The news comes a day after the US Congress passed a controversial bill to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) for seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

READ: Israel’s decade-long secret ‘war’ against ICC exposed