Israeli influence operation aimed at US Democrats smears UNRWA

Israeli influence operation aimed at US Democrats smears UNRWA
The operation targeting Democrat lawmakers comes amid increasing criticism from the party lawmakers over Israeli conduct in its war on Gaza
3 min read
20 March, 2024
US lawmakers in congress were targeted as part of the Israeli information operation [Getty]

An Israeli influence operation has been actively targeting Democrat members of Congress in a bid to advance "Israeli interests", including the discrediting of the UN Palestine refugee agency UNRWA, according to reports.

Israeli online watchdog Fake Reporter, alongside Haaretz, revealed that over 600 avatars pushed content from three websites, purporting to be news sites, on social media to forward Israel's narrative of the war on Gaza.

The 600 fake avatars are accounts that attempt to mimic human behavior, while the three "news sites" were part of an operation set up after the outbreak of Israel's war in Gaza.

Haaretz noted in its report on the operation that an Israeli body had created an online influence system to support the war effort.

This operation was later transferred to a civilian body and functions alongside "hasbara" initiatives. However, Haaretz mentioned it cannot confirm whether the operation uncovered by Fake Reporter is connected to the online influence system it previously reported on.

In the campaign, which spanned Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter), the social media avatars pushed content from the news sites, namely The Moral Alliance, UnFold Magazine, and Non-Agenda, which collectively hold 40,000 followers across social media platforms.

These fake news sites would copy reports from genuine news outlets on a range of topics, including subjects not related to Israel's war on Gaza, as well as producing original reporting.

This would then be picked up by the avatars who would share the articles on social media, including on the pages of congressional members.

Initially, the campaign republished more politically progressive and less politically charged content. By January, it had shifted its focus to Israel's allegations against UNRWA and its staff, making this topic the most amplified issue in the operation

According to the report, 85 percent of US politicians targeted were Democrats, with 90 percent of those being African Americans. This includes Ritchie Torres who was targeted the most, although others include Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Lucy McBath and Hakeem Jeffries, to name a few.

In addition to aiming the content at said lawmakers, the campaign also targeted their audiences on social media.

According to Haaretz, the campaign has shifted its focus away from UNRWA and towards amplifying other information about Iran and its non-state allies, as well as Russia and China.

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The campaign comes amid shifts within Democrat support for Israel, with an increasing number of lawmakers criticising Israel’s conduct in the war on Gaza.

This includes Senator Chris Van Hollen, who called Israel’s accusations against UNRWA "flat-out lies" and accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of fabricating the claims to eliminate the agency. 

On Thursday, Chuck Schumer, Democrat Senate Majority Leader, also called for Israel to hold new elections, while slamming Netanyahu's leadership and the massive civilian death toll in Gaza, which has now reached 32,000.