Report: Israel Targets 128 US Lawmakers With Trolls

'NYT' exposes alleged covert campaign to influence US government on Gaza war
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2024 10:20 AM CDT
Report: Israel Targets 128 US Lawmakers With Trolls
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a Cabinet meeting at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on Wednesday.   (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel has spent millions on a covert and still-active influence campaign targeting the US public and lawmakers in an effort to boost support for its war in Gaza, according to reporting by the New York Times. Commissioned by Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, the $2 million campaign allegedly involved Tel Aviv political marketing firm Stoic and dozens of tech startups, which were tasked with spreading pro-Israel messages. Starting in October, hundreds of fake accounts across X, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit began trying to rally support for the war in the US and Canada while dismissing claims of human rights abuses. The accounts were made to appear as if they were controlled by North Americans when, in fact, they were linked to Israel's own government.

Public support for Israel's war in Gaza has been falling steadily with reports of widespread bombing and civilian deaths. The operation, "the first documented case of the Israeli government's organizing a campaign to influence the US government," shows "the lengths Israel was willing to go to sway American opinion," per the Times. It was an "irresponsible, reckless, and anti-democratic act," says Achiya Schatz, executive director of FakeReporter, an Israeli watchdog group that first identified the campaign in March, per Politico. At least 128 members of Congress were targeted, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Politico reports, citing data from FakeReporter.

FakeReporter found the campaign had limited reach, with fake accounts gaining more than 40,000 followers. In a statement last week announcing it had disrupted the effort, Meta also claimed the campaign hadn't reached a large audience. Many of the posts were crafted using ChatGPT. Some referred to antisemitism on college campuses and suggested Jewish people were being persecuted. Some included Islamophobic content, per Haaretz. The statement "I gotta reevaluate my opinions due to this new information" appeared across 118 posts. Some linked to fake news sites that shared material to promote Israel's stance on the war, the Times reports. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs has denied involvement. (Israel may have also sought to influence the International Criminal Court.)

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