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Israeli Government Has Spent $8.6M on Campaign to Influence US, European Policy

A former Israeli minister imagined the campaign as a military unit that conducts PR missions abroad.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs of Israel Amichai Chikli speaks during The Jerusalem Post New York conference on June 3, 2024, in New York City.

Since October, Israeli government officials have spent millions of dollars on a widespread campaign to target people who are opposed to Israel’s genocide in Gaza and advance Zionist policies in the U.S. and Europe, a sprawling new investigation finds.

A report by The Guardian released Monday reveals that the same group behind a covert Israeli social media campaign to influence U.S. politicians has also spent months coordinating with dark money groups, Israel advocacy organizations and lawmakers to spread pro-Israel sentiment between 80 different ongoing programs. The campaign is organized under Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, headed by Minister Amichai Chikli.

Between October and May, the investigation found, officials have spent the equivalent of $8.6 million on the campaign, which includes a program known as Voices of Israel, which officials are resurfacing specifically to spread propaganda attempting to justify Israel’s genocide in Gaza. In the U.S., the campaign has influenced political discourse about college protests and has even seemingly had a role in passing pro-Israel bills at the state and federal level.

This includes at least one incident in which Florida state Sen. Lori Berman (D) exchanged correspondence with an Israeli foreign ministry official, Kennedy Starnes, about a bill that would adopt an expansive definition of antisemitism that includes any criticisms of Israel — a move that advocates for Palestinian rights have said is a dangerous attempt to quash pro-Palestinian speech. Berman sponsored the bill in the Florida Senate, which has passed the legislature and is awaiting a signature by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The passage of the Florida bill, as well as similar legislation in other states, followed a January meeting of an Israeli Knesset committee in which participants discussed the need for an adoption of the expanded definition of antisemitism, created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

The meeting included the participation of two leaders of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), an American advocacy group whose stated mission is “fighting antisemitism on the battlefield of ideas.” ISGAP is one of the largest recipients of funding from Voices of Israel.

“This is a historic moment in which we must increase our power in historical proportions in terms of the history of the Jewish people,” ISGAP Executive Director Charles Small reportedly said at the hearing. “And the state of Israel, we need all the tools that the state has.”

ISGAP has been influential in multiple debates on Israel in American politics.

In a December hearing in the House aimed at attacking pro-Palestinian campus protesters, Republican politicians repeatedly cited research by ISGAP. That hearing would later contribute to the resignation of Harvard University President Claudine Gay. Lawmakers have also held private meetings with ISGAP leaders in recent months.

Voices of Israel has existed since at least 2017, first conceived under the name “Concert,” the report found. Former minister of strategic affairs Gilad Erdan, under whom the campaign was born, aimed for the campaign to be a “PR commando unit” for Israel’s reputation abroad; previous iterations have worked on issues like the passage of bills in the U.S. that ban participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Historically, it has funded American Zionist organizations like Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Israel Allies Foundation.

These are just a small sample of groups tied to Voices of Israel, the report found. Another group affiliated with the campaign, CyberWell, is a “trusted partner” of TikTok and Meta and has advocated for Meta to suppress pro-Palestine speech like the phrase, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The investigation is a show of the vast influence that Israel exercises over American politics through both overt and covert means.

“There’s a fixation on policing American discourse on the U.S.-Israel relationship, even college campus discourse, from Israel, going all the way up to Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Eli Clifton, a Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft senior adviser, told The Guardian. “One struggles to find a parallel in terms of a foreign country’s influence over American political debate.”

Experts have said that the actions described in the investigation could indicate that officials are breaking U.S. laws regarding the disclosure of foreign agents.

“​​The conduct alleged in this report on Israeli government-funded efforts to influence American public opinion, policy and law via U.S. entities potentially constitutes multiple violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” Center for International Policy Vice President for Government Affairs Dylan Williams wrote on social media, calling on the Department of Justice to investigate. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) wrote in a post that she agrees.

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