Pro-Israel group secretly ran misleading Facebook ads

(photo: Nikki Casey, Forward)
The smear campaign targeted a Palestinian poet, and stalked him as he toured the US.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis and Justin Elliott | Forward and ProPublica | Sepe 12, 2018

Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) ‘coordinate’ or ‘communicate’ with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, an Israeli government department that has become the hub of the Israeli government’s overt and covert efforts against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in the US and around the world.

In 2016, as 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, painting 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 Washington DC political operatives who work for a group called the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC), according to promotional materials obtained by ProPublica and the Forward.

In the materials, which the ICC distributed to its donors, the group describes each of the Facebook pages as an “anonymous digital campaign.” The group 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 cause online. The ICC launched these campaigns during the 2016 election season, at the same time that entities linked to the Russian government bought misleading Facebook ads on a range of political issues.

The ICC didn’t respond to requests for comment. The group had a budget of $9 million in its fiscal year ending in June 2017, according to federal tax filings. Its funders include the foundations of billionaire Republican donor Paul Singer and philanthropist Lynn Schusterman.

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