Secret Israeli Operation Targets American Views on Gaza Conflict

Israeli Covert Operation to Influence U.S. Opinion on Gaza War Uncovered

by Faruk Imamovic
Secret Israeli Operation Targets American Views on Gaza Conflict
© Getty Images

Federal lawmakers in the United States have been evading questions concerning a clandestine operation orchestrated by the Israeli government aimed at swaying American public opinion in favor of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. Despite the operation being publicly disclosed over four months ago, senior officials in the White House, tasked with advising President Joe Biden on national security, claim ignorance about the entire scheme.

The operation, formally linked to the Israeli government by a New York Times report, commenced in October 2023 following a surprise attack by Hamas in southern Israel. From February onwards, international researchers began identifying numerous “suspicious accounts” on U.S.-based social networking platforms. These accounts, mostly posing as Americans, fervently supported the Israeli military's response.

One of the primary goals of this operation, researchers assert, was to diminish support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which aids 5.6 million Palestinian refugees. Another significant target was to influence the opinions of Black Americans. The New York Times, citing four current and former Israeli officials, confirmed that the campaign aimed at prominent Black Democrats, including U.S. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader.

Manipulating Public Perception

Accounts associated with this covert operation, many still active on platforms like X (formerly Twitter), promoted the Black Lives Matter movement and circulated images of Martin Luther King Jr. accompanied by fabricated quotes. A website created for the operation featured articles with titles such as “The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and Their Support of Jewish People and Israel.”

A notable instance involved several accounts created weeks before the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023. These accounts, some masquerading as “Christian” identities, were part of the deceit. One stolen identity belonged to Kyle Jean-Baptiste, a promising Broadway star who tragically died in 2015. His identity was exploited to lend credibility to the false narratives propagated by these accounts.

Inquiries directed to senior members of Congressman Jeffries’ staff, including his communications director Andy Eichar, have gone unanswered for nearly a week. This period coincided with Congress debating a $14 billion funding proposal to support Israel's war efforts.

The Scope and Impact

The Israeli military’s actions since the Hamas attack have resulted in over 36,000 Palestinian deaths, according to Gaza health officials. This includes a devastating incident at a United Nations school compound where an Israeli airstrike killed dozens, using a U.S.-made bomb allegedly deployed improperly.

Despite the White House National Security Council and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner indicating they had no prior knowledge of the operation, press inquiries about Israel’s attempts to manipulate U.S. opinion have largely been stonewalled. It remains uncertain whether President Biden received briefings on the operation that were withheld from his national security advisers. The National Security Council spokesperson stated, “We take all allegations of foreign malign influence seriously.”

Secret Israeli Operation Targets American Views on Gaza Conflict
Secret Israeli Operation Targets American Views on Gaza Conflict© Getty Images/Kent Nishimura

Lack of Transparency and Accountability

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), led by Avril Haines, has refused to disclose whether U.S. intelligence had prior knowledge of the operation before the New York Times’ June 5 story. The ODNI has also not clarified if it notified Jeffries or other targeted U.S. officials.

ODNI maintains a “disclosure framework” for informing victims of foreign influence operations related to U.S. elections. However, it remains ambiguous whether this operation falls within that scope, despite the imminent national elections and the deep political divide over congressional support for Israel's military actions.

House Intelligence Committee representatives Mike Turner and Jim Himes, the committee’s chair and ranking member, respectively, have also been unresponsive to inquiries. It is unclear if they are initiating investigations similar to those planned by their Senate counterparts.

The Role of Technology and Social Media

Many of the fake posts generated by the Israeli operation used ChatGPT, a digital assistant developed by OpenAI. This software is integrated into various platforms, including Apple’s iPhones and Microsoft Windows. OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, who now advises the Homeland Security Department on AI-related disruptions, has not commented on this issue. Both OpenAI and social media giant Meta have confirmed the operation’s link to Stoic, a Tel Aviv-based company. However, neither company has acknowledged knowledge of Stoic being commissioned by the Israeli government.

Stoic, often described as an Israeli “campaign marketing firm,” mirrors Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which used similar tactics to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. OpenAI revealed that Stoic had also attempted to influence India's recent elections using fraudulent accounts.

Broader Implications and Future Concerns

A U.S. intelligence assessment published in February identified threats from foreign countries conducting influence operations against the U.S., frequently mentioning Israel as a victim rather than a perpetrator. This annual assessment, published shortly after Israel’s deception operation was publicly revealed, broadly discussed influence efforts by U.S. rivals with few specific details about particular operations. For example, the report noted Chinese efforts to target U.S. politicians on TikTok ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The exposure of Israel’s involvement comes amidst ongoing hearings in Washington on the impacts of foreign influence campaigns. Much of the legislative focus has been on potential Chinese manipulation of TikTok to influence American public opinion.