Nasty, brutish and (mercifully) short: 8 things to know for April 1
Israel media review

Nasty, brutish and (mercifully) short: 8 things to know for April 1

From an underhanded social media campaign to leaks about flip-flopping to everything else, an election season marked for being unseemly hits fever pitch before drawing to a close

A Blue and White campaign poster in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
A Blue and White campaign poster in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

1. Fakebook campaign: A report by The New York Times and Yedioth Ahronoth shines light on a large social network campaign by Likud that reportedly uses fake profiles to artificially push the party’s message.

  • The report is based on a study set to come out by a group policing questionable social media behavior ahead of the election.
  • Ronen Bergman, reporting for The Times and Yedioth, writes that “154 of the accounts [on Facebook and Twitter] use fake names and another 400 accounts are suspected of being fake. The accounts appear to be operated by people, not bots, making them much harder to detect, according to the report.”
  • Among those pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Facebook followers is someone named Moshe, whose picture is actually that of Greek model Theo Theodoridis.
  • Netanyahu’s son Yair, who seems to spend much of his time online arguing with people, has retweeted members of the fake network 154 times. “Similarly, the network ‘liked’ and replied to his messages 1,481 times, and shared his messages 429 times.”
  • The report traces the network of fake accounts to a man in Ashdod named Yitzhak Haddad, who apparently posted a YouTube video offering to pay people to spread political messages online, though he refuses to speak to Bergman about his involvement.

2. Secret activist: Yedioth, which goes into far more detail about the campaign, also has more info on Haddad, including a conversation in which he calls himself a “secret activist” and talks about the funding for the initiative.

  • “I don’t want to say [it costs] tens of millions, but they are investing a ton of money. It costs a lot. Nobody here is volunteering,” he says.
  • Jonathan Urich, who runs social media for Likud, at first tells Bergman he knows Haddad, but later says he only knows him through Facebook.
  • Haddad does not say who is funding the campaign, but says he is well connected to the party, which could be accused of campaign fraud if investigators are able to tie the network to it. Under current rules, paid campaign material has to be clearly marked.
  • As for funding, parties do not have to file on that until well after the election.
  • The report itself is funded by the Israeli Alliance, an Israeli liberal-leaning organization, and was funded through Drove, an Israeli online crowdfunding site. According to the Israeli Alliance’s website, the group receives its own funding from US-based Tides Foundation, a US charity fund that currently lists as its only Israeli partner the left-wing NGO Adalah-The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
  • Last week, The Times of Israel reported that Facebook had removed 30 accounts suspected of being fake by Israel Internet Association head Prof. Karine Nahon, with hundreds more being looked into. The lion’s share of the accounts belonged to Likud, though a few others were associated with backing Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s centrist Blue and White party, Moshe Feiglin’s right-wing Zehut and general right-wing ideology.

3. Friends in low places: Gantz seemingly has enough to worry about with real news, let alone the fake stuff. A new batch of leaked recordings aired by Channel 13 Sunday night features the party leader saying he’s “not sure” about a single member of his party’s senior leadership.

  • The recordings also feature Gantz saying he could sit in a Netanyahu government in order to keep it from being pulled to the right, despite him saying he would not do such a thing.
  • “Let’s say that he wins the election, a week later (US President Donald) Trump puts forward a (peace) plan and the people of Israel look at Benny Gantz and say, ‘Come, let’s shield Netanyahu,’ because otherwise (far-right MK Bezalel) Smotrich will kill the last option (we have) to do something.”
  • Likud-backing Israel Hayom plays up the comments, noting that they aired just minutes after Gantz repeated his promise not to sit in a Netanyahu government and plays up his comments as “shooting inside the APC.”

4. Benny live: Gantz will have a chance to clarify himself, in English, Tuesday night.

  • Gantz will be interviewed by ToI’s editor David Horovitz at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Dan Panorama Hotel, 10 Kaufman Street, Tel Aviv. Register here.
  • On Sunday, Labor Party head Avi Gabbay told ToI at another English-language event that “I don’t believe lawyers in America can make peace between us and Palestinians.”
  • Gabbay: “Peace should be made by us, talking face to face with them. Americans are great guys, but they never brought peace to Israel.”

5. States of play: Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer goes through Netanyahu’s mostly off and sometimes on relationship with US-backed peace plans for the region.

  • Despite being the first Israeli leader to explicitly endorse a two-state solution, Netanyahu has spent most of his career actively working to undermine it.
  • “Netanyahu’s attempts to block a Palestinian state go back even further, to more than 40 years ago, before he began his diplomatic and political career,” he writes, referring to a clip of Netanyahu, who then went by Ben Nitay, arguing against a state in a panel on Boston television.
  • “It doesn’t seem as if Trump will be offering the Palestinians the kind of state they have in mind. Much likelier it will be the kind of quasi-state-minus that Netanyahu envisages,” he writes, noting the close coordination between Balfour Street and the White House.

6. Fishing for calm, or bass ackwards? At the same time as Netanyahu has failed to make progress with the PA, his government has seemingly negotiated a deal with the Hamas terror group, with Israel easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip Sunday and Monday despite sporadic rocket fire continuing.

  • That includes Israel expanding the fishing zone to the largest it’s been since 2007, though Al-Jazeera reports that many fisherman were being forced back to shore by stormy weather Monday.
  • “It’s cloudy and it’s been raining heavily here in Gaza … The people who assembled here say they need to go back into the water,” the station’s correspondent says. “This is one of the few viable industries here, this is one of the few ways which people in Gaza are able to make money.”
  • Netanyahu takes heat both from the far-right, which stages a protest outside the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing, and from centrists who accuse him of hypocrisy.
  • “Netanyahu can negotiate with the same terror group he promised to destroy, to give them assurances in exchange for a calm that’s partial and temporary, and continue to tout his claim of being Mr. Security,” writes Nahum Barnea in Yedioth.
  • “What Gaza needs is a rehabilitation plan, backed by the PA, Arab states and internationally … Only Netanyahu can do it, if only he had the courage.”

7. Ugliest ever: One thing pretty much everyone can agree on is how dirty the election season has been, between the Kahanists, the mental health claims against Gantz, the various claims against Netanyahu from the right and left, and everything else.

  • Amid claims about Gantz’s mental health, the Ruderman foundation, which advocates for people with disabilities, releases a statement calling the election cycle “ the ugliest we have ever seen.”
  • “Just in recent days, following comments about the mental capacities of prime ministerial candidates, there has been total loss of restraint and a complete loss of shame, using attack-filled statements riddled with prejudice and offensive language.”
  • Israel Hayom’s Haim Shine describes the campaign season as “strange,” urging a ceasefire between Likud and parties on the right, and describing polls showing Blue and White leading as “fake.”

8. Don’t leave the Arabs behind: And then there are both Likud and Blue and White refusing to break bread with the Arab parties, which Haaretz’s lead editorial describes a “serious mistake,” leading to low turnout in the Arab community.

  • “If Kahol Lavan wants to gain power, it needs to come to its senses and extend a hand to the Arab community. The opposition has both a moral and a political responsibility to give the Arabs good reason to head to the polls in droves.”
  • Despite the nation-state law and overt race baiting, ToI’s Adam Rasgon reports that Arab al-Naim, a small Bedouin hamlet on a Galilee hillside, is remaining staunchly Likud.
  • The village is gradually is changing from a collection of tin shacks into an organized and planned development, something residents credit to Likud and specifically Netanyahu.
  • “Of course, I am going to vote for Netanyahu,”one resident says. “He was the first politician to care about Arab al-Naim.”
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