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Israel Directs ‘Sophisticated Campaign’ of Anti-BDS Astroturfing via Shady Front Group

CC0 / / Cyber space
Cyber space - Sputnik International
Asa Winstanley, an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, told Sputnik that Israel spends $1 million a year on an online influence campaign aimed at slowing the momentum of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement through a front group directed by Israeli ex-intelligence officers.

According to an investigative report published by Winstanley on June 12, an organization called Act.IL, funded by the Israeli government, aims to create “an online community that will act to promote a positive influence on the international public opinion towards the state of Israel via social media platforms.” The organization is a joint venture between the Israeli American Council (IAC) and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC).


According to the group’s website, Act.IL aims to “positively inform and influence foreign publics and create an efficient and effective battle against the growing trend of the boycott movement (BDS) and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.” 

Omar Barghouti listens during an interview with the Associated Press in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, May 10, 2016. Barghouti, a Qatari-born Palestinian who is married to an Israeli woman and leader of the international boycott movement against Israel, on Tuesday accused Israeli authorities of imposing a travel ban on him as retribution for his political activities. - Sputnik International
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Winstanley told Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary hosts Sean Blackmon and Eugene Puryear that Act.IL “is funded to the tune of more than a million dollars in its 2017 budget, and a large part of its funding comes from the Israeli government. It speaks to influence foreign publics online, primarily, as my investigation established.”

According to Winstanley’s investigative piece, the campaign funded by the Israeli government had a $1.1 million budget last year. In addition, it has offices in three countries and an online group of more than 15,000 people. Through its app, Act.IL “directs comments towards news websites in support of Isaeli wars and racism, while attacking Palesinians and solidarity campaigners,” he wrote.

“These users are posing as regular internet users, and they do things like propagnize for Israel, basically, and they try and float the comments to the top of the pile by doing things like Facebook Lives and so forth. It’s a pretty sophisticated campaign, all in all,” Winstanley explained. 

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“Some of the funding comes from private donors,” he added, noting that the campaign, which was developed by former Israeli intelligence officers, receives financial aid from conservative American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. In addition, the Electronic Intifada also obtained access to disclosures from an Israeli ministry revealing that it is funding both Act.IL and its app.

“This Israeli ministry is called the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and essentially it is Israel’s anti-BDS ministry. The CEO of this organization [Act.IL], Yarden Ben Yosef, is actually a former military intelligence officer for the Israeli government. It’s not an exaggeration to call him a spy,” Winstanley explained. “[The organization] has strong links to Israeli intelligence officers, and it seems that some of its most prominent and active users are employees, or at least they do work for it in some fashion. Within the app, it has rankings of the most active users, and I went through those rankings. I found that a great number of these active users were employees of Act.IL.”

In fact, screenshots from the app’s rankings in June obtained by The Electronic Intifada reveal that four of the top 11 “activists” in the app are current or former Act.IL staff. The staff members include Lior Sirkis, a former Israeli army spokesperson, and Daniel Gavriel, who worked as a security officer for Israel’s Public Security Ministry. 

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“I would argue that Israel is not unique in using this strategy, but I suppose it uses it to a unique degree in the modern world. I would argue that this is because Israel relies so much on support from the American government. It’s losing so much of the battle in Europe that it has to employ these kind of tactics. With BDS, specifically, just the fact that they have an entire ministry dedicated to combating is kind of an indication of how much they are dedicated to working against it,” the journalist told Sputnik.

“We’re talking about an organization that is supposed to be a military organization that is dedicated to fighting terrorists, and [instead it] is being deployed against a grassroots activist movement for Palestinian human rights, a nonviolent movement,” Winstanley explained. 

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Last month, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs released a report called “The Big Scam,” which claimed that “bots” and “fake accounts” were used by Palestinians during the boycott campaign against the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, The Electronic Intifada reported.

“They blamed bots for essentially running the BDS campaign against the Eurovision that took place in Tel Aviv. It was ridiculous, really. I read their report, and it was really preposterous. Their definition of ‘bot’ was so broad that it could be applied to anybody … They’re projecting what they do onto their opponents, essentially. They’re really kind of telling on themselves,” Winstanley added.

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