The Foreign Ministry is said to be investigating Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon after claims surfaced that he purchased positive media coverage of his public diplomacy efforts from the popular Walla news website earlier this month.
Danon has denied the claims, but the ministry review of the incident is underway after inquiries by the Haaretz daily, which alleged the former Likud Knesset member bought a puff piece in violation of official regulations.
According to the report, following a conference to counter Israel boycotters that Danon organized at the UN headquarters in New York earlier this month featuring several prominent American Jewish organizations, Walla published an article that heaped praise on Danon and his diplomacy work.
The November 17 article had no byline, and instead was initially attributed to “Walla News in cooperation with the embassy in New York.”
Following a Haaretz inquiry submitted to the Foreign Ministry and the Israeli UN mission, the byline was changed to read “Walla News in cooperation with organizations fighting BDS.”
The piece was an almost word-for-word repetition of a press release sent out by Danon’s office a day earlier, and featured photographs issued by his office.
The conference was attended by a number of major American Jewish groups including the World Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith, CAMERA, Hillel, StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America and the Israeli-American Council.
Noticeably absent however, were New York-based Foreign Ministry staffers, who reportedly thought that Danon organized the conference primarily to promote his own personal and political interests.
Shortly after, Danon’s spokesperson Elie Bennett issued a response to the daily, denying the article had been paid for.
“The Israeli delegation to the UN didn’t commission any paid-for content,” the statement read. “The entire event was in cooperation with several pro-Israel organizations that fight BDS in various ways.”
Still, the Foreign Ministry’s Media and Public Affairs Division decided to launch an investigation into Danon and his office to determine if ministry procedures were violated.
According to official regulations, embassies must publish a tender and obtain approval from the Foreign Ministry before any sponsored content can run in Israeli media. Additionally, public diplomacy on behalf of Israel sponsored by Jewish organizations must also be pre-approved the ministry officials.
But a preliminary investigation into the incident determined that neither Danon nor his office requested permission to buy content on Walla, or accept funding from a partner organization to do so.
Danon denies his office paid for the article, and says he does not know who is responsible for publishing the piece.
According to Haaretz, the Foreign Ministry found Danon’s explanations to be insufficient, and its acting director general, Yuval Rotem, and inspector general, Orna Sagiv, ordered the investigation to continue.
A senior ministry official was quoted as saying that “additional steps” were under consideration to determine whether Danon directly or indirectly purchased the piece from Walla.
Walla declined Haaretz’s requests for comment on the allegations.