Until Thursday, the Ministry of Absorption and Immigration’s Twitter page was filled with pictures of grinning immigrants talking about how they’ve successfully established a life in Israel, despite the hardships of the move.
The only problem: They are not real. Not only are the photographs stock images, but the purported immigrants and their quotes were made up.
The ministry on Thursday confirmed that all of the supposed immigrants quoted on its social media account were invented — save for one person who is not an immigrant — and that the stories had been removed following The Times of Israel’s inquiry.
The Absorption Ministry sets aside NIS 500,000 ($141,000) for programs to “encourage immigration and absorption,” according to its publicly available budget.
The social media campaign would likely have been paid for from that sum.
Since the start of the year, the ministry has published at least 10 photographs on its Facebook and Twitter pages that claim to show immigrants with their names and quotations about their experiences moving to Israel.
Those posts are accompanied by the hashtag Aliya Story, using the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel, literally “going up.”
Save for one, each included a stock image, apparently downloaded by the ministry.
The one exception was a post from April, which featured a photograph taken — with permission — from Instagram.
However, in that case, the ministry appeared to quote the photographer, Lior Golbary, as saying, “I came to fulfill the Jewish dream! Making #Aliyah, serving in the army & living on Lillybloom [Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv] has made me the person I am today. Israel is my home and always will be.”
The only problem is that Golbary never said that, he confirmed to The Times of Israel.
Golbary, a copywriter, also confirmed that he had not immigrated to Israel, but was born and raised in a town in the center of the country.
"I came to fulfill the #Jewish dream! ????????️ Making #Aliyah, serving in the army & living on Lillybloom has made me the person I am today. #Israel is my home and always will be." ???? Lior Golbary ✨???????? #MisradHaklita pic.twitter.com/CJTj709MZi
— Misrad Haklita (@MisradHaklita) April 7, 2019
Experts in the field of public relations confirmed that the whole-cloth invention of names and quotations is not an accepted practice in the field, especially in today’s media climate of authenticity and transparency.
“If it is the case that this is a genuine ministry account, and the photos and names are fabricated, it is nothing short of horrendous. To use stock images to illustrate classrooms or meetings is one thing, but at a time when Israel’s credibility is constantly attacked on social media, to make people up is nothing short of idiotic,” Jason Pearlman, a former spokesperson for both President Reuven Rivlin and former Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett, told The Times of Israel.
According to the ministry’s Twitter feed, in January, a Tanya Lipworth from Chicago, USA, gushed: “I grew up in a Jewish home, Jewish school, but could never imagine that I would fulfill the Zionist dream. I realized after spending a year in Israel after studying that making Aliyah could become a reality.”
However, there is no record on the internet of a Tanya Lipworth existing before the ministry’s post, nor is there of a Tyler Chaplinski from Brooklyn, who was quoted by the ministry in August.
#AliyahStory: ???????? "I grew up in a Jewish home, Jewish school, but could never imagine that I would fulfill the #Zionist dream. I realized after spending a year in #Israel after studying that making Aliyah could become a reality," says Tanya Lipworth from Chicago, USA. pic.twitter.com/oFzBw41z3h
— Misrad Haklita (@MisradHaklita) January 6, 2019
Most of the other names do appear on Facebook but do not appear to belong to anyone living in Israel.
For instance, a Martine Kaplan — quoted in a post in April — does appear to exist, though she does not live in Israel and does not appear to be from Perth, Australia, as the ministry wrote, but is rather from Sommerville, Massachusetts, in the United States.
Several immigrants — or in Hebrew, olim — took exception to the ministry’s use of apparently invented people for its campaign, especially as there are literally “millions of immigrants, including me,” one Twitter user noted.
“For the many of us who have made the difficult step, and built our homes in Israel. For those who are far from family and face daily obstacles to adapt and adjust, this is truly insulting,” said Pearlman, who immigrated to Israel from England.
David Aaronson, an immigrant and chief of staff for former Israeli ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, also joked on Twitter that the ministry would likely be unable to find willing volunteers due to the often difficult and frustrating process of moving to Israel.
“After the bureaucratic nonsense they put us through when we made aliyah, why would any actual olim want to help advertise for them?” he wrote.
Of course not.
After the bureaucratic nonsense they put us through when we made aliyah, why would any actual olim want to help advertise for them?
And henceforth: https://t.co/UKgf1hwQhs
— David Aaronson (@Aaronson_David) October 31, 2019
In a statement in response to The Times of Israel report, a spokeswoman for the ministry noted that “from the beginning of the year, more than 28,000 new olim have immigrated from around the world — an increase, compared to the past year.”
The ministry said it devotes “all its energy” to assisting immigrants as they settle into their new lives in Israel, including through its social media platforms.
“We thank the reporter for bringing the matter to our attention. From an initial check on the matter, it appears that this was an error by an external vendor who is involved in managing some of the ministry’s foreign-language Facebook pages,” the statement said.
“Once informed of the matter, the pictures in question were removed and the vendor was called in for a clarification with the relevant officials in the ministry.”