newsU.S.-Israel Relations

J’lem pans ‘NYT’ story accusing it of covert campaign to influence Congress

The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs denies it operated a fake social media campaign to influence U.S. congresspeople.

The campaign allegedly focused on more than a dozen congresspeople, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, seen here in 2020. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.
The campaign allegedly focused on more than a dozen congresspeople, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, seen here in 2020. Photo by Lev Radin/Shutterstock.

Israel vigorously denied as “false” a New York Times report on Wednesday alleging it is running a covert influence campaign on social media targeting U.S. lawmakers and the American public.

The goal of the alleged campaign is supposedly to gain support for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza. Begun in October, the campaign is ongoing on X, the Times claimed.

According to the report, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, allocated $2 million for the effort, hired Tel Aviv-based political marketing firm Stoic.

At its height, the campaign generated hundreds of fake accounts posing “as real Americans on X, Facebook and Instagram,” the paper said. The fictional Americans, including students, concerned citizens and local constituents, allegedly posted pro-Israel comments.

The ministry flatly denied the “false publication in The New York Times.”

“The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism does not engage in disinformation campaigns,” a spokesman told JNS. “Any claim about a connection between the firm and the Stoic company is without foundation.”

The Times said the campaign targeted more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers, particularly black Democrats. Legislators named in the report were House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Sen. Raphael Warnock, (D-Ga.) and Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).

Some pro-Israel messages were generated using ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, the paper said.

The campaign also allegedly generated three fake news sites, which took and rewrote material from CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

The Times based its story on four anonymous sources who are current and former members of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, and on documentation it said it obtained about the campaign.

Citing social media observers, the Times said the operation was the “first documented case” of an Israeli government-organized influence campaign to influence the U.S. government.

It then lumped Israel in with some of the world’s most malicious actors known to run such campaigns, including China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

The Times characterized the campaign as “sloppy” and ineffective, citing incongruent messaging and posts mismatched to fake accounts, such as ones purporting to belong to black men, who then posted about being middle-aged Jewish women.

Meta and OpenAI issued reports corroborating that Stoic was behind a fake social media campaign, with Meta saying it had removed hundreds of phony Facebook accounts. It said the campaign didn’t have much impact.

Meta announced it had banned Stoic from its platforms and had issued a cease-and-desist letter “demanding that they immediately stop activity that violates Meta’s policies,” NBC News reported last week.

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