Facebook has uncovered a major Israeli campaign to influence politics and elections in countries around the world.
The social media giant announced on Thursday that it had removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts with a combined following of 2.8 million users for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
“This activity originated in Israel and focused on Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia,” Facebook stated.
Those operating the network falsely “represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians” as well as about “elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.”
Facebook said that the “individuals behind this network attempted to conceal their identities,” but the company’s investigation linked some back to “an Israeli commercial entity” called the Archimedes Group.
The Archimedes Group is a Tel Aviv-based consultancy that boasts on its website of “winning campaigns worldwide” but reveals little other information about itself.
Interestingly, one of the visuals on its website appears to show a demonstration in Venezuela, suggesting a covert Israeli role in the US-led effort to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
The Times of Israel identifies the CEO of the Archimedes Group as Elinadav Heymann, citing Swiss consultancy Negotiations.CH which listed him as a consultant.
“A biography posted to the company’s website describes him as the former director of the Brussels-based European Friends of Israel lobbying group, a former political adviser in Israel’s parliament and an ex-intelligence agent for the Israeli air force.”
However since that reporting, Negotiations.CH appears to have removed Heymann’s biography from its website.
Heymann appears to be making efforts to cover his tracks:
— Raphael Satter (@razhael) May 16, 2019
Heymann was one of the key pro-Israel lobbyists in Brussels earlier this decade. The organization he headed, European Friends of Israel, was a cross-party alliance for politicians hostile to Palestinian rights.
Apparently inactive at the moment, European Friends of Israel was modeled on similar groups operating in Washington. Heymann has also worked as a foreign policy adviser to Britain’s Conservative Party representatives in the European Parliament.
Bigger than Russiagate
According to Facebook, the Israeli influence campaign spent more than $800,000 on fake ads since 2012 – eight times more than what a Russian troll farm is said to have spent on social media ads, mostly after the 2016 US election, an insignificant intervention that US politicians and pundits who supported Hillary Clinton hyped as equivalent to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This one Israeli firm spent $800,000 on Facebook ads for its influence campaign, compared to the Russian firm IRA’s $100,000. So this Israeli campaign amounts to eight Pearl Harbors. https://t.co/soioEBqwr0
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) May 16, 2019
Yet it is certain that the latest evidence of subterfuge originating from Israel will attract a fraction of the attention of the fruitless search for supposed Russian interference and collusion that has obsessed US media and political elites for the last three years.
But this operation is far from the only covert Israeli effort to influence and sabotage politics and activism around the world.
Facebook’s announcement that it shut down the Archimedes operation comes just days after Facebook-owned WhatsApp revealed that it had patched a critical vulnerability that Israeli espionage firm NSO Group was using to install spyware on people’s smartphones.
The undercover Al Jazeera documentary on the Israel lobby, released last year by The Electronic Intifada in spite of efforts to censor it, revealed how several US-based lobby groups are working secretly in coordination with Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs to spy on and monitor US citizens engaged in lawful advocacy.
The documentary exposed how one of those lobby groups, The Israel Project, has been running a major covert influence campaign on Facebook.
But in contrast to its swift action in shutting down the Archimedes operation, Facebook told The Electronic Intifada that it saw no violation in how The Israel Project was covertly using its platform.