Former army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — the man who helped persuade Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid to unite into a single party for Israel’s upcoming elections — has become a major target of fake news in recent days, a media company said Thursday.
Ashkenazi, number four on the Blue and White party list, hit the (real) news earlier this month when transcripts from a police investigation several years ago revealed that he had called Gantz a “jackass.”
In its weekly report on fake news, covering March 6 to 12, Vocativ — owned by Israeli tech investor Motti Kochavi — said the leading lie spread about the former general was that he had acted against the interests of Israel’s security in conjunction with the administration of former US president Barack Obama.
The fake post declared that the former IDF chief of staff had once told the head of the US army that Israel was not capable of hitting Iran, and that in so doing he had betrayed his country’s security.
This disinformation and others false posts about Ashkenazi were spread by 150 people in thousands of online posts, with a potential audience of up to 350,000 viewers.
Fake posts accounted for around 11 percent of all online discussion in Israel — a three percent drop on the previous week, Vocativ reported.
Among the leading fake claims was one that said a hall that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited in the southern city of Beersheba was full, when it was not — footage of a full hall was actually taken from a conference in a different southern city in October — and another that said Yair Lapid was left back a year in middle school because his grades were low.
Much use was made of fabricated visual material over the past seven days.
A fake video depicting Gantz as confused and lacking in experience, which did the rounds last week, continued to circulate this week, reaching up to 60,000 viewers.
Bots (computer code that looks like a person) and trolls (people who are usually paid to post inflammatory material) this week targeted model, actress and TV presenter Rotem Sela, who criticized the Likud Party’s anti-Arab rhetoric.
That was after Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev repeated a frequent Likud campaign slogan on TV that Benny Gantz would try to form a government with Arab parties.
The 35-year-old, mentioned 926 times by bots and trolls, wrote on Instagram, “What is the problem with the Arabs???
“Dear god, there are also Arab citizens in this country. When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal, and that even the Arabs and the Druze and the LGBTs and — shock — the leftists are human,” she said.
Netanyahu waded into the fray to stress that Israel was “not a nation-state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
One fake visual depicted Sela sitting on the knee of Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, leader of the Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al).
Tibi has become the subject of another anti-Arab Likud campaign slogan, which claims that the election — which is really between Blue and White and Likud — is actually “Bibi or Tibi.”
Moshe Feiglin — a religiously observant Jew, whose support has been strengthening in the polls thanks to his backing for the legalization of marijuana — was cited 510 times by bots and trolls with claims that he would legalize the sale of pork, which is forbidden in Jewish law.
Benny Gantz — the first leader in a decade to seriously threaten Netanyahu’s hegemony — maintains his seven-week lead as the chief target of fake news, with a potential audience of nearly a million people.
That said, lies about Gantz were down by a third compared to last week, marking the third week of a downward trend.