Israeli bloggers and commentators voiced suspicion that a widely circulated fabricated image of Finance Minister Yair Lapid in Nazi uniform was created by public relations powerhouse Ran Rahav, possibly as an attempt to tarnish the reputations of Lapid’s critics. Rahav denied the claim.
Haaretz’s Jonny Silver (Hebrew) and others reported that Rahav used his influence as the head of a leading PR firm to spread the image through the web by sending the photo link to dozens of journalists and public figures. He also posted the image on his Facebook wall.
According to the allegations, the picture was uploaded via a fictitious Facebook account on Tuesday a few hours before it was shared widely by Rahav, the implication being that Rahav or an associate were responsible for creating the widely condemned picture.
“This picture, uploaded to Facebook today, it is shocking!!!” Rahav wrote of the image, which depicts Lapid in a Hitler-like (more Chaplin-esque, actually) mustache next to dollar signs along with the caption, “Enemy of the Israeli economy.”
“I’m sorry that not everyone in the country has internalized what happened here 18 years ago, when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated,” Rahav added. The picture was reminiscent of a similar placard that depicted Rabin as a Nazi at a rally shortly before his assassination. That poster was part of a general anti-Rabin atmosphere that, some allege, helped create the climate in which Yigal Amir assassinated the prime minister.
“There were those who during those dark days before the murder held aloft a picture of Rabin dressed as Hitler,” Rahav said. “I hope the Israel Police will immediately arrest the person who uploaded this terrible post against Finance Minister Yair Lapid. I call on each and every citizen in Israel that values democracy to immediately condemn this post!”
But, as a number of Israeli bloggers pointed out, the photo only received public attention after it was shared on Facebook by Rahav himself.
The original image was uploaded to Facebook by a user named Israela Levi Agron. Levi Agron, who has a suspiciously generic-sounding Israeli name, launched her Facebook profile less than three months ago and has since been friended by a mere 55 people. Many of those “friends” happen to be hair product and perfume companies; none of them are friends with Rahav.
Even now, only six people have “shared” the original photo from Levy Agron’s Facebook wall — hardly a viral mass, which diminishes the likelihood that Rahav encountered the image on Facebook.
Furthermore, the photo shared on Rahav’s profile was uploaded from his personal computer rather than “shared” via Levi Agron’s profile. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Facebook could point out that it would have been far easier for Rahav to “share” the image rather than download and re-upload it. Therefore, bloggers pointed out, it was probable that Rahav had access to the photo prior to its original posting by Levi Agron.
In addition to posting on his Facebook page, Rahav also circulated the image in a mass email to Israeli journalists.
Bloggers pointed out that although Levi Agron’s Facebook profile is represented by a picture of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, images in one of her albums titled “JUST ME” depict a woman named Linda Levi, a math teacher from Chicago. Levi Agron’s Facebook page says that she is a research assistant for Channel 2 News.
“This matter has been brought to my attention and I have filed a formal complaint with Facebook,” said Linda Levi. “I do not know the person who used my photo — I messaged her myself but I don’t expect that this will have a positive result. It goes without saying that I do not support this photo. I don’t know Isreala Levi Agron — the photo she used is one that I use for professional purposes as well as for my Facebook profile picture”.
Yisraela Levi Agron did not respond to requests for comment.
The picture was roundly condemned by politicians, and police launched an investigation into its origins.
Rahav, meanwhile, firmly denied the accusations and claimed that he was only a concerned citizen who demanded that the photo’s creator be brought to justice.
“I understand that there are some disturbed people out there, whom I would have hospitalized immediately, trying to claim that the whole story of Yair Lapid as Hitler is spin,” Rahav said. “Come on.”
Rahav went on to explain how he had come across the image.
“It all started when Libby, a vice president at our company, entered a meeting and said, ‘look what they’re doing to Yair.'”
“I was shocked!” Rahav continued. “She received a link from Danny Sidis who wrote that he was usually not inclined to share posts but that this one was different.”
“I felt like the days of murder were back,” he concluded.
Rahav represents and serves as a consultant to many leading Israeli business figures and companies, such as El Al, Cellcom and Bank Hapoalim. Aong those figures is Yitzhak Tshuva, who has recently been the target of criticism over his business dealings. Tshuva holds drilling rights for much of the natural gas found off Israel’s shores and has been fighting initiatives to reduce the amount of gas slated for export. Lapid was instrumental in determining how much of the gas will be used to generate power for Israelis and how much will be sold, primarily to Russia.
Lapid has also been the target of much public criticism over the past several months for proposing and pushing through an austerity budget that includes painful tax hikes and cuts in child allowances and government spending. The Knesset voted the budget through on Monday night in the first reading — with 58 votes for, and 44 against.