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Israel secretly attacks US lawmakers with influence campaign in Gaza war| GuyWhoKnowsThings

Last year, Israel organized and paid for an influence campaign targeting lawmakers and the American public with pro-Israel messages, aiming to build support for its actions in the war with gazaaccording to officials involved in the effort and documents related to the operation.

The covert campaign was commissioned by Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, a government body that connects Jews around the world to the State of Israel, four Israeli officials said. The ministry allocated about $2 million to the operation and hired Stoic, a political marketing company in Tel Aviv, to carry it out, according to officials and documents.

The campaign began in October and remains active on platform X. At its peak, it used hundreds of fake accounts posing as real Americans on X, Facebook and Instagram to post pro-Israel comments. The stories focused on American lawmakers, particularly those who are black and Democrats, such as Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader of New York, and Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, with posts urging them to continue funding to the army of Israel.

ChatGPT, the AI-powered chatbot, was used to generate many of the posts. The campaign also created three fake news sites in English with pro-Israel articles.

The Israeli government's connection to the influence operation, which The New York Times verified with four current and former members of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and documents about the campaign, had not been previously reported. FakeReporter, an Israeli disinformation watchdog, identified the effort in March. Last week, Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, and Open AIwhich makes ChatGPT, said they had also found and stopped the operation.

The secret campaign indicates the lengths to which Israel was willing to go to influence American opinion on the war in Gaza. The United States has long been one of Israel's strongest allies, and President Biden recently signed a $15 billion military aid package For the country. But the conflict has been unpopular with many Americanswho have called on Biden to withdraw his support for Israel in the face of increasing civilian deaths in Gaza.

The operation is the first documented case of the Israeli government mounting a campaign to influence the U.S. government, social media experts said. While coordinated, government-backed campaigns are not uncommon, they are often difficult to prove. IranNorth Korea, Porcelain, Russia and the United States They are widely believed to support similar efforts around the world, but often mask their involvement by outsourcing work to private companies or running them through a third country.

“Israel's role in this is reckless and likely ineffective,” said Achiya Schatz, CEO of FakeReporter. That Israel “would conduct an operation that interferes in American politics is extremely irresponsible.”

Israel's Diaspora Affairs Ministry denied involvement in the campaign and said it had no connection to Stoic. Stoic did not respond to requests for comment.

The campaign did not have widespread impact, Meta and OpenAI said last week. The fake accounts amassed more than 40,000 followers on X, Facebook and Instagram, FakeReporter found. But many of those followers may have been robots and did not generate a large audience, Meta said.

The operation began just weeks into the war in October, according to Israeli officials and documents about the effort. Dozens of Israeli tech startups that month received emails and WhatsApp messages inviting them to join urgent meetings to become Israel's “digital soldiers” during the war, according to messages seen by The Times. Some of the emails and messages were sent by Israeli government officials, while others came from incubators and tech startups.

The first meeting was held in Tel Aviv in mid-October. It appeared to be an informal meeting where Israelis could volunteer their technical skills to help the country's war effort, three attendees said. Members of various government ministries also participated, they said.

Participants were told they could be “Israel warriors” and that “digital campaigns” could be run on behalf of the country, according to recordings of the meetings.

The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs commissioned a campaign targeting the United States, Israeli officials said. A budget was set at about $2 million, according to a message seen by The Times.

Stoic was hired to run the campaign. On his website and on LinkedIn, Stoic says it was founded in 2017 by a team of political and business strategists and calls itself a political marketing and business intelligence company. Other companies may have been hired to run additional campaigns, an Israeli official said.

Many of the campaign's fake accounts on X, Instagram, and Facebook posed as fictitious American students, concerned citizens, and local voters. The accounts shared articles and statistics supporting Israel's position in the war.

The operation targeted more than a dozen members of Congress, many of whom are Black and Democrats, according to a FakeReporter analysis. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat who He is outspoken about his pro-Israel viewswas attacked in addition to Mr. Jeffries and Mr. Warnock.

Some of the fake accounts responded to posts by Mr. Torres on X commenting on anti-Semitism on college campuses and in major cities across the United States. In response to a Dec. 8 post on X by Mr. Torres about fire safety, a fake account responded: “Hamas is perpetrating the conflict,” referring to the Islamist militant group. The post included a hashtag that said Jews were being persecuted.

On Facebook, the fake accounts posted on Mr. Jeffries' public page asking him if he had seen a report about the United Nations' employment of Hamas members in Gaza.

Torres, Jeffries and Warnock did not respond to requests for comment.

The campaign also created three fake news sites with names like Non-Agenda and UnFold Magazine, which stole and rewritten material from outlets like CNN and The Wall Street Journal to promote Israel's stance during the war, according to FakeReporter's analysis. The fake accounts on Reddit would then link to articles on so-called news sites to help promote them.

The effort was botched. The profile images used on some accounts sometimes did not match the fictional personas they cultivated and the language used in the posts was stilted.

In at least two cases, accounts with profile photos of black men posted that they were a “middle-aged Jewish woman.” In 118 posts where fake accounts shared pro-Israel articles, the same phrase appeared: “I have to reevaluate my opinions due to this new information.”

Last week, Meta and OpenAI published reports attributing the influence campaign to Stoic. Goal saying had deleted 510 Facebook accounts, 11 Facebook pages, 32 Instagram accounts and a Facebook group linked to the operation. Open AI saying Stoic had created fictional characters and biographies intended to replace real people on social media services used in Israel, Canada and the United States to post anti-Islamic messages. Many of the posts remain on X.

X did not respond to a request for comment.

On its LinkedIn page, Stoic has touted its ability to run AI-backed campaigns. “As we look to the future, it is clear that the role of AI in political campaigns is set to take a transformative leap, reshaping the way campaigns are strategized, executed and evaluated.” wrote.

By Friday, Stoic had removed those posts from LinkedIn.

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