Harvard hoax site claims former Mossad chief called Liberman a Russian agent

Website designed to look like university department falsely claims Tamir Pardo, who actually did give a talk there last week, predicted Netanyahu would fire the defense minister

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Head of the Mossad Tamir Pardo speaks during a ceremony marking 50 years since the death of Mossad agent Eli Cohen, at the President's residence on May 18, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Head of the Mossad Tamir Pardo speaks during a ceremony marking 50 years since the death of Mossad agent Eli Cohen, at the President's residence on May 18, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

A mysterious website designed to fool readers into thinking it belonged to Harvard University on Wednesday falsely claimed that former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo had predicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would dismiss Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for being a “Russian agent.”

Pardo made no such comment. Liberman resigned from his post Wednesday to protest a truce with the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

The website that posted the false Pardo quotes appeared to be an elaborate hoax, recreating the appearance of the Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ page.

It was not immediately clear who created the fake site, which was registered Monday and was updated Wednesday, according to registration information available online.

The site and its false headline were disseminated by a fake Twitter account with numerous followers which according to Haaretz were also mostly fake.

A representative from the Belfer Center said the organization was aware of the hoax and working to track down who created it.

“This content has no connection with the real Belfer Center. It is false information on a fake website,” the center said in a statement.

Avigdor Liberman enters a Jerusalem press conference to announce his resignation as defense minister, November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The fake press release was published Wednesday, apparently to coincide with Liberman’s announcement that he was resigning from his position as defense minister over disagreements with the government’s approach to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and other issues.

The false site was in the form of a press release from an event that actually occurred last Thursday at the Belfer Center, in which Pardo discussed “developments in the Middle East.”

However, while the event was real, the quotes in the press release were fictitious.

The site claimed Pardo had predicted — nearly a week before Liberman’s resignation that “Netanyahu will change the cabinet and dismiss [him] in the coming days.”

It also said the spy chief claimed, among other things, that he had “confidential information from different sources that Liberman is a Russian agent and what he is doing would not be tolerated by Israel.”

Pardo never made such remarks during the November 8 event, according to the Belfer Center.

A fake press release published on a hoax website designed to look like that of Harvard University’s Belfer Center, on November 14, 2018. (Screen capture)

Though the appearance of the website seamlessly matched that of the real Belfer Center’s site, its URL was “www.belfercenter.net,” while the actual domain is “www.belfercenter.org.”

The false site was hosted through Namecheap, a US-based company that also sells domain names.

All links on the fake site led back to the real Belfer Center’s webpage, giving it a greater appearance of authenticity.

However, the content also included a number of obvious errors and apparent typos.

For instance, Pardo, who served as Israel’s spy chief from 2011 to 2016, was referred to as the “former Mossad President.”

Pardo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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