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5 Jun, 2024 15:27

Israel ordered secret campaign to influence US lawmakers - NYT

The country allegedly paid $2 million to target American legislators in order to foster support for its war in Gaza
Israel ordered secret campaign to influence US lawmakers - NYT

Israel allegedly organized and funded an influence campaign last year targeting the US to drum up support for its ongoing Gaza offensive, the New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed Israeli officials and documents related to the operation.

The outlet claims that the country’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, which is responsible for connecting Jews across the world with the State of Israel, commissioned the covert campaign and allocated some $2 million for the operation, hiring the Tel Aviv political marketing firm Stoic.

The campaign was apparently launched sometime in October, when the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) launched its war in Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and another 250 were taken hostage. 

Israel’s subsequent war on Hamas and relentless siege of Gaza has drawn international criticism, including threats of sanctions, as the IDF is estimated to have caused the death of over 36,000 Palestinians, according to the enclave’s health authorities.

At its peak, Israel’s influence campaign used hundreds of fake accounts that posed as US students, concerned citizens and local constituents on various social media platforms, including X, Facebook and Instagram, the New York Times reports.

These accounts were allegedly used to post pro-Israel comments and articles backing West Jerusalem's position on the war, and were mainly focused on attracting the attention of US lawmakers, primarily Black Democrats, urging them to continue funding the country's military.

Many of the posts were reportedly generated using the artificial intelligence-powered chatbot ChatGPT. Stoic, which was in charge of the campaign, also reportedly created three fake English-language news sites that predominantly featured pro-Israel articles, often stolen from outlets such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

In March, the Israeli government’s campaign was noted by FakeReporter - an Israeli misinformation watchdog. Last week, it was also reported on by Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as ChatGPT’s owner OpenAI; both said they had found and disrupted the influence operation.

“Israel’s role in this is reckless and probably ineffective,” Achiya Schatz, the executive director of FakeReporter, was quoted as saying by NYT, noting that the fact that Israel “ran an operation that interferes in US politics is extremely irresponsible.”

In a statement to the New York Times, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs has denied any involvement in the operation and insisted it has no connection to Stoic.

Meanwhile, FakeReporter has estimated that the fake accounts created through the campaign have accumulated just over 40,000 followers across X, Facebook and Instagram. Meta and OpenAI concluded that Israel’s influence operation ultimately failed to have a widespread impact, noting that most of the followers of these fake accounts were likely bots.

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