How a Pro-Is­rael Group Tar­geted a Pales­tinian Poet

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Josh Nathan-Kazis and Justin El­liott/ProPublica ●

In , as the Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can poet Remi Kanazi per­formed at col­lege cam­puses around the United States, his ap­pear­ances seemed to spark stu­dent protests.

Be­fore his visit to John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, in New York City, a page called “John Jay Stu­dents Against Hate” ap­peared on Face­book with Kanazi’s face next to a uni­formed cop, de­pict­ing Kanazi as anti-po­lice. When Kanazi crossed the coun­try a few days later to visit San Jose State, a nearly iden­ti­cal Face­book page popped up, this one called “SJSU Stu­dents Against Hate,” with Kanazi’s face su­per­im­posed over an image of mil­i­tary graves. Paid Face­book cam­paigns pro­moted both pages.

De­spite their names, the Face­book cam­paigns were run by pro­fes­sional po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives who work for a group called the Is­rael on Cam­pus Coali­tion, ac­cord­ing to pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als ob­tained by ProPublica and the For­ward.

In the ma­te­ri­als, which ICC dis­trib­uted to its donors, the group de­scribes each of the Face­book pages as an “anony­mous dig­i­tal cam­paign” and says it paid to pro­mote the cam­paign, which reached tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

The so­cial me­dia cam­paigns pro­vide an­other ex­am­ple of how well-funded ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions are us­ing de­cep­tive strate­gies to pro­mote their causes on­line. ICC launched these cam­paigns dur­ing the Š‹ŒŽ elec­tion sea­son at the same time that en­ti­ties linked to the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment bought mislead­ing Face­book ads on a range of po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

ICC didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. The group had a bud­get of $“ mil­lion in its fis­cal year end­ing in June Š‹Œ•, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral tax fil­ings. Its fun­ders in­clude the foun­da­tions of bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can donor Paul Singer and phi­lan­thropist Lynn Schus­ter­man.

Asked about the ICC pages, a Face­book spokesman said they “vi­o­late our poli­cies against mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and they have been re­moved.”

In re­sponse to crit­i­cism of Rus­sia-linked ads, Face­book re­cently cre­ated new rules re­quir­ing dis­clo­sure of who is pay­ing for po­lit­i­cal ads on the site. How the com­pany de­fines what is po­lit­i­cal re­mains murky.

Anony­mous dig­i­tal cam­paigns ap­pear to be a cen­tral part of ICC’s e™orts to com­bat pro-Pales­tinian ac­tivism on cam­puses. This past spring, ICC ap­pears to have set up at least one anony­mous web­site to op­pose a Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity stu­dent gov­ern­ment res­o­lu­tion that called on the school to di­vest its en­dow­ment from cer­tain com­pa­nies that stu­dents said were prof­it­ing from Is­raeli

vi­o­la­tions of Pales­tinian right.

ICC’s lead­ers dis­cussed their covert so­cial me­dia tac­tics in an un­aired AlJazeera doc­u­men­tary fea­tur­ing hid­den cam­era footage of Wash­ing­ton pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy o cials.

“With the anti-Is­rael peo­ple, what’s most eec­tive, what we found at least in the last year, is you do the op­po­si­tion re­search, put up some anony­mous web­site, and then put up tar­geted Face­book ads,” ICC’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Ja­cob Baime, said in the doc­u­men­tary, which was filmed in „…†‡ and viewed by ProPublica and the For­ward.

Baime also said in the doc­u­men­tary that his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s work is based on a doc­trine used to fight Al Qaeda and the Tal­iban. “It’s mod­eled on Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal’s coun­terin­sur­gency strat­egy,” Baime said. “We’ve copied a lot from that strat­egy that has been work­ing re­ally well for us, ac­tu­ally.”

McChrys­tal, who led the U.S. mil­i­tary’s spe­cial forces and the NATO war eort in Afghanistan in „……“ and „…†…, em­pha­sized so-called “oen­sive in­for­ma­tion op­er­a­tions” to em­bar­rass and dis­credit vi­o­lent in­sur­gents.

The Al-Jazeera doc­u­men­tary, in which a jour­nal­ist went un­der­cover as an in­tern for a pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy group in Wash­ing­ton, has been the sub­ject of months of in­ter­na­tional in­trigue and has never been aired by the net­work. De­cry­ing the un­der­cover tac­tics, pro-Is­rael groups and mem­bers of Congress have pushed back against the doc­u­men­tary se­ries and Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera. The net­work, which has faced pub­lic crit­i­cism from its own jour­nal­ists for not air­ing the doc­u­men­tary, said in April it did not buckle un­der pres­sure from a pro-Is­rael group in de­cid­ing not to broad­cast the pro­gram. A spokesman didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Footage in the doc­u­men­tary also shows ICC o cials de­scrib­ing their work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment.

Baime says in the doc­u­men­tary that ICC o cials “co­or­di­nate” or “com­mu­ni­cate” with Is­rael’s Min­istry of Strate­gic Aairs, an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment de­part­ment that has be­come the hub of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment’s overt and covert eorts against the boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions move­ment in the United States and around the world. A spokesman for the agency didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

In the same hid­den cam­era footage, Ian Hersh, ICC’s di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions, said that the Min­istry of Strate­gic Aairs par­tic­i­pates in the group’s “Op­er­a­tions and In­tel­li­gence Brief,” a reg­u­lar strat­egy meet­ing.

In re­cent days, some as­pects of the AlJazeera doc­u­men­tary, as well as a short clip, have been posted on the web­site Elec­tronic In­tifada, a pro-Pales­tinian news site, with the site’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Ali Abunimah, ap­pear­ing as an in­ter­vie­wee in the film.

Baime and Hersh didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment about the footage of them in the doc­u­men­tary.

ICC’s on­line eorts against Kanazi be­gan in Novem­ber „…†‡ while he was tour­ing col­lege cam­puses to pro­mote his book, “Be­fore the Next Bomb Drops: Ris­ing Up From Brook­lyn to Pales­tine.”

Ac­cord­ing to ICC’s donor ma­te­ri­als, the group iden­ti­fied and worked with a non-Jew­ish mil­i­tary vet­eran and San Jose State Univer­sity stu­dent to write a blog post crit­i­cal of Kanazi. The pre­cise na­ture of the group’s work with the

Ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions are us­ing de­cep­tive strate­gies.

stu­dent is un­clear from the donor ma­te­ri­als, and the stu­dent did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

ICC then cre­ated and paid to pro­mote the “SJSU Stu­dents Against Hate” page, which linked to the blog post.

“Kanazi preaches hate on the cam­puses he visits,” the stu­dent wrote in the post, which ap­peared on the web­site Medium and has since been deleted.

Kanazi said that he does not re­call be­ing aware of the anony­mous Face­book pages at the time. “These in­sid­i­ous tac­tics are part of a larger cam­paign to smear stu­dents, pro­fes­sors, and any­one who dares speak up for Pales­tinian hu­man rights at uni­ver­si­ties,” he said in an email.

WIKIMEDIA

CAM­PUS TAR­GET: On­line ad cam­paigns pro­moted by the Is­rael on Cam­pus Coali­tion por­trayed poet Remi Kanazi as be­ing hos­tile to po­lice.

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