Rights group condemns Israel’s campaign against BDS

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the United Kingdom (AOHR UK) has condemned the Israeli government for its efforts to launch an online propaganda war espousing pro-Israeli sentiment and hatred towards the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement through a mobile phone app.

In a press statement released yesterday, AOHR UK revealed that the app named Act.IL – which describes itself as the online community for Israel – has been designed and created to fight what Israel perceives as an “online war” against any information and opinion that is pro-Palestinian, in particular targeting its attacks against groups and activists linked to the BDS movement.

The app, founded in 2015 and having gone live 2017, was revealed to be a joint project of a private Israeli university named IDC Herzliya which possesses links to the country’s intelligence agency, and the Israeli-American Council based in the US. Costing $1.3 million to create, the app is headed by former Israeli intelligence agent Yarden Ben Yosef who manages a team of consisting mostly of former security agents.

AOHR UK also found that the app is partly funded by the Israeli government and receives significant large donations from right-wing lobbyists for the Jewish state in the US. Sheldon Adelson, who was the largest donor of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was particularly identified as a figure who funded both the Israeli-American Council and the Act.IL app.

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According to AOHR UK, the app “closely watches online activity, in particular public opinion surrounding news and social media, using highly sophisticated monitoring software. The App is designed to appear as a grassroots platform for activists, but in reality it is a state backed, designed and funded platform with the sole intention of spreading pro-Israeli propaganda to sway international public opinion against Palestinian rights, and attempts to distract attention from the vast violations of human rights that the occupation state inflicts on the people of Palestine.”

Act.IL regularly assigns “missions” to its followers around the world – the vast majority of whom are American students – in exchange for points, and directs thousands of troll accounts to harass a variety of social media platforms and news organisations, the rights group said. Twitter is cited as being a primary target of the app, which aims to block pro-Palestinian content through a sophisticated method of spamming and mass-targeting. Troll accounts which are used by the app also target petitions on the internet and run campaigns to smear and defame politicians around the world who have expressed pro-Palestinian sentiment, such as the UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar.

In the damning report, the app is also linked back to Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs which is headed by Gilad Erdan who has been found to have conducted meetings with leaders of notable intelligence agencies and with the chief of Israel’s Mossad, Yossi Cohen, to come up with strategies to combat the BDS movement.

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The AOHR UK concluded by calling “on the world’s decision makers to do more to legislate against state funded and orchestrated online propaganda platforms,” namely the technology companies Apple and Android, as well as the online media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google.

BDS is a Palestinian-led campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law.