Canada confirms ‘elements’ of alleged Israeli misinformation campaign targeting politicians

Click to play video: 'War in Gaza: Israeli strike on school kills dozens of people'
War in Gaza: Israeli strike on school kills dozens of people
Hamas says at least 40 Palestinian civilians, including children, are dead in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, after an Israeli airstrike hit a school where thousands of people were sheltering and sleeping. Israel says it was targeting a Hamas compound inside the school. Jackson Proskow reports on what Israel is accusing Hamas of, and how the attack is hampering efforts to reach a ceasefire – Jun 6, 2024

The Canadian government says it has corroborated “elements” of an alleged Israeli misinformation campaign targeting politicians and citizens over the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

Global Affairs Canada said it is aware of “reports of a divisive, coordinated, Islamophobic, and inauthentic information campaign” targeting Canadians and Canadian politicians.

The foreign department did not indicate any direct link to the government of Israel.

But the department said that the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), a division set up to combat online disinformation and foreign interference, is investigating.

“While investigations are still ongoing, RRM Canada has been able to corroborate elements of these claims,” said James Emmanuel Wanki, a spokesperson for the foreign affairs department.

“At this time, RRM Canada has not been able to decisively attribute this network to a state actor.”

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Haaretz, a prominent Israeli newspaper, and the New York Times both reported last week that the Israeli government was behind a social media campaign to influence politicians in Canada and the U.S. over the conflict in Gaza.

Despite not having definitive proof that the Israeli government was behind the campaign, Global Affairs said the Canadian government had “conveyed our concerns over these allegations directly to the Government of Israel.”

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A request for comment to the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa was not returned Tuesday by publication time.

Haaretz reported on June 5 that the Israeli government was behind a “large-scale influence campaign primarily aimed at Black lawmakers and young progressives in the United States and Canada.”

The aim, according to the newspaper, was to sway public opinion on Israel’s conduct of the conflict, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians since October 2023.

The same day, the New York Times, reporting from Tel Aviv, reported that the Israeli government paid for an “influence campaign” targeting both politicians and citizens in the U.S. “aimed to foster support for its actions in the war in Gaza.”

The paper, citing both officials involved and documents, reported the campaign was “commissioned by Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs” at a cost of roughly $2 million. According to the Times, the government hired Stoic, a Tel Aviv marketing firm, to run the campaign.

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Canada is currently in the throes of a debate over foreign interference. But the conversation has largely focused on countries typically considered “hostile” to Canada – like China, Russia, Iran and, more recently, India.

Israel is a close ally to Canada’s security partners, particularly the United States. Like most strategic partners, it does not typically come up in official conversations about foreign interference.

The fact that Global Affairs has taken “concerns” directly to the government of Israel is significant.

In response to Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7, 2023, which killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel, the Israeli government has been conducting a months-long campaign in the name of rescuing hostages captured on that day and degrading Hamas’s ability to operate in the territory.

The Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza estimates that 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the resulting conflict, but does not distinguish between fighters and civilians. The UN estimates that roughly 1.7 million people have been internally displaced within Gaza, and 1.1 million face starvation.

The conflict has become a political flashpoint in the U.S. and Canada – both allies of Israel, a key strategic partner in the region and an important concern for domestic politics. The conflict has provoked encampment protests on major university campuses in both countries, as well as at times violent responses from police.

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According to a February poll by the Angus Reid Institute, half of Canadians think Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has been “too heavy handed.” Support for Israel’s prosecution of the conflict has decreased, according to the poll, with 33 per cent of Canadians saying their sympathies are “about equal” between both sides.

The conflict has become a significant issue for President Joe Biden.

A March Gallup poll found that just 36 per cent of Americans support Israel’s military actions in Gaza, down from 50 per cent in November 2023 in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s attack.

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