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Following Netanyahu’s lead, Israel’s troll army promotes new Netflix series starring Sacha Baron Cohen and takes aim at HBO’s ‘Our Boys’

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Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a boycott of the HBO docudrama Our Boys. This month, a global pro-Israel campaign is promoting The Spy, a new series on Netflix starring Sacha Baron Cohen.

Our Boys dramatizes the events that occurred after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in June 2014, leading to the brutal killing of Palestinian teenager by Israelis and ultimately the Gaza War of that summer. In a Facebook post, Netanyahu denounced the series as “anti-Semitic” and said that it “gives a bad and false name to Israel.” He also called for people to boycott the show, along with the Israeli company Keshet who co-produced it. Netanyahu has previously criticized Keshet for its coverage of the Prime Minister’s corruption scandals.

While Netanyahu is calling for a boycott of one American show, Israel’s anti-BDS app is promoting another one. The Spy is a Netflix miniseries based on the life of Eli Cohen, an Israeli spy who did espionage work in Syria. It stars Sacha Baron Cohen (best known for creating and portraying fictional characters like Borat and Ali G) and was co-directed by Gideon Raff, an Israeli director and former IDF paratrooper. In Haaretz, Adrian Hennigan writes that Netanyahu certainly won’t find any content worth boycotting in the series. “I didn’t hate ‘The Spy’ – and I’m sure some people will enjoy it,” writes Hennigan. “But I was crying out for something that didn’t just present us with a one-sided story about a heroic Israeli spy thwarting dastardly Arabs.”

Act.IL is a worldwide pro-Israel campaign that is funded by the country’s government. The organization has its own app, which sends thousands of trolls on missions to promote Israel and denounce pro-Palestinian stories on social media. Its main focus has been combatting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on the web. Its users are able to gain points by prizes by completing online “missions” in support of Israel.

Michael Bueckert is PhD student in sociology and political economy at Carleton University. He runs a Twitter account that tracks the Act.IL  app and discovered that it was encouraging its users to share a trailer

At the same time, the app is calling on its users to leave negative reviews of Our Boys on IMDB:

Earlier this year, the Emmy Award-winning actor David Clennon turned down the chance to audition for the Netflix series “Hit and Run/Sycamore” over its depiction of Palestinians. In a piece for Truthout, Clennon declared that he has supported Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel since the Gaza War of 2014. “I’ve come to think of Israel as a European settler-colonial state, which practices apartheid to control the Indigenous population it has conquered militarily,” he wrote.

Clennon emailed Mondoweiss a statement about such programs, drawing a direct link between Hollywood’s growing Israeli ties and the current fracturing of the pro-Israel consensus in the Democratic Party. “Hollywood and Tel Aviv’s television industry are forming closer ties every month, it seems, binding themselves together more and more tightly,” wrote Clennon. “This is happening as Israel’s most powerful American lobbying agency, AIPAC, is being exposed and is starting to lose a little of its control over US politicians.”

He continued:

In one sense, it doesn’t matter so much what the content of these programs is; it doesn’t matter so much whether Israelis, or Palestinians or Syrians are portrayed sympathetically or not.  What I feel is of equal importance is the prestige, the legitimacy and the credibility that Israel gains from its association with Hollywood, the Dream Machine, the world’s biggest purveyor of entertainment.

That’s why I feel it’s so important for actors, writers and other cultural workers in our entertainment industry to think about the nature of the work we sign on to do.  What are the political and moral and economic implications of the projects we sell our talents and our energies to?

If we choose to work for an Israeli television company — partnered with a US company or distributor — are we supporting the oppression of a dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians?  Are we reinforcing the apartheid system by which Israel controls Gaza and the occupied territories?  Are we perpetuating the deceitful mythology that disguises the brutal establishment of the state of Israel?

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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17 Responses

  1. Marnie on September 10, 2019, 11:39 am

    “If we choose to work for an Israeli television company — partnered with a US company or distributor — are we supporting the oppression of a dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians? Are we reinforcing the apartheid system by which Israel controls Gaza and the occupied territories? Are we perpetuating the deceitful mythology that disguises the brutal establishment of the state of Israel?”

    Mr. Clennon already knows the only answer to his 3 questions is yes. And I’m glad he stated ‘if we choose’. You aren’t forced to make the zionist entity palatable to the civilized world. They have absolutely no shame whatsoever. Disgusting. Why should anyone continue to apply lipstick to the zionist pigs?

    • Misterioso on September 11, 2019, 9:47 am

      @Marnie, et al

      A brief look at Eliahu Cohen:

      In 1965, the Cohen spy affair broke in Syria. Eliahu (Elie) Cohen was an Egyptian Jew found guilty of being a member of the Lavon espionage ring that in order to sow American distrust of Egypt, firebombed American cultural and information centres in Cairo and Alexandria and several other sites in Egypt in 1954. Following his release from prison two years later, he joined Israel’s secret service (the Mossad) which sent him to Damascus where he served as a spy under the alias Kamal Amin Tabas. Being an Arab Jew and fluent in Arabic he was indistinguishable from the average Syrian.

      Cohen cleverly worked his way into the upper social and political circles in Damascus and even became acquainted with Baathist General Amin el-Hafez who came to power in 1963. Before being found out and arrested in early 1965 by Syrian counter-intelligence, Cohen had managed to transmit top secret information to the Mossad that proved invaluable to Israel during the 1967 war.

      “Through his contacts Cohen was able to ascertain the number, type, and placement of MIG-21 planes, T-54 tanks, and other Soviet armaments, which Syria was receiving from the Soviet Union…” (Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, The Zionist Connection, p. 366)

      “Indeed, Cohen’s accomplishments had been phenomenal. He had provided the spymasters in Tel Aviv with top political and military intelligence from the very core of the Hafez government, including detailed descriptions and photographs of Syria’s heavily fortified positions along the Golan Heights overlooking Israel. It was information of immense value to Israel, and would be used with stunning effect in the 1967 war.” (Donald Neff, Warriors for Jerusalem: The Six Days That Changed the Middle East; Amana Books, Brattleboro, Vermont, 1988, p. 37)

      Cohen was subjected to public trial in Damascus from February 28 to March 19 and although only selected parts of the testimony were televised, the already unpopular regime of General el-Hafez came off as being utterly incompetent and corrupt. Egypt’s Nasser severely criticized the Syrian government for jeopardizing Arab security as did the leaders of other Arab countries. Cohen was found guilty and publicly hanged in Martyrs Square in Damascus on May 19, 1965.

      Cohen was portrayed in the Israeli and pro-Israel western media as a victim rather than a spy. A photograph of his hanging body along with an article condemning Syria was published on the front page of the New York Times. With the intent of turning him into a martyr and glorifying his exploits, two books, Our Man in Damascus; The Story of Elie Cohen, Israel’s Greatest Spy by Elie Ben-Hanan and The Silent Warriors by Joshua Tadmor were published in 1969. Eventually a movie was also made.

      Regrettably, but not surprisingly, the arrest and trial of Elie Cohen dealt a severe blow to the trustworthiness of Jewish citizens of Arab countries.

      • DaBakr on September 12, 2019, 12:47 am


        Bull shit he was depicted as a “victim” rather then a spy. He willingly returned to Syria knowing he might be caught. He was portrayed as relentless but sometimes careless. The end shot of him hanging is just the historical photo portrayed and the real photo shown after. The Syrians were not depicted as brutally killing him but it’s true they publically hanged him. In fact, most israeli spy chiefs never thought there was a chance he wouldn’t be killed. He portrayed as a national hero to Israel, obviously, and not a victim of anything.
        I don’t even think the Syrian individuals were portrayed as ‘buffoons’ most were well aware of the political chaos in the leadership, coup by coup. Cohen was just good at convincing people to trust him. Go figure. The movie is straight forward told through Israeli perspective but not unfair to Syria, considering the intelligence he gathered.
        Probably one of the reasons the Assad clan became so paranoid and imposed harsh martial law with the soviets teaching them how to have families spying on families, sons on parents, teachers, etc. And they have held that power with an iron grip for over 50yrs.

        And regrettably the actions and threats by the fedayeen, Jordan, egypt and Syria made it difficult for Israelis to trust Arab muslims

      • Misterioso on September 13, 2019, 8:55 am


        Sigh. Your’re confusing the movie with reality as provided by the scholars I quoted.

      • jon s on September 14, 2019, 4:15 pm

        Once again, misterioso errs: Eli Cohen was interrogated by Egyptian investigators but no connection to the Lavon affair spy ring could be proved and he was released. He did not spend two years in an Egyptian prison.

      • RoHa on September 14, 2019, 10:08 pm

        ” the Lavon affair spy ring ”

        If I remember rightly (never guaranteed) when this particular bit of Israeli terrorism was exposed, that nice Mr. Gurion (call me “Ben”) hastily forged documents shifting the blame for it all onto Mr. Lavon.

  2. annie on September 10, 2019, 4:30 pm

    i visited netflix last night and this spy show was being promoted as the top feature. it seems like more and more netflix is promoting israeli films. what a turn off.

    • MaryT on September 11, 2019, 8:51 am

      You’re right. I cancelled my netflix subscription and gave this as the reason.

      • DaBakr on September 12, 2019, 12:54 am


        You should also cancel HBO, showtime and Amazon too as they promote Israeli TV shows or American versions of them. . Isreali TV is currently in a golden period. Netflix is interested in profits. Peopke will get bored and move on to the next thing

    • DaBakr on September 12, 2019, 12:57 am


      Because it’s new. In a month people will forget it. Like every other ‘top bill’ in Hollywood or cable TV.

      • annie on September 12, 2019, 1:10 am

        In a month people will forget it.

        true, like me they’ll forget spy. but they’ll have that fleeting memory next month when yet another historical jewish/israei drama pops in front of them in some netflix top billing promotion. like sea diving resort..

      • Tuyzentfloot on September 12, 2019, 4:16 am

        annie says: true, like me they’ll forget spy. but they’ll have that fleeting memory next month when yet another historical jewish/israei drama pops in front of them in some netflix top billing promotion.

        The basic principle behind the Mighty Wurlitzer: a background of precedents which make the next claim more credible and which make each other more credible. Then you prove the original claims wrong and the whole construction just keeps standing. A bit like a completed arc keeps standing after you remove the scaffolding, only in a more distributed manner.

  3. Keith on September 10, 2019, 7:39 pm

    DAVID CLENNON- “Hollywood and Tel Aviv’s television industry are forming closer ties every month, it seems, binding themselves together more and more tightly,”

    So too with major US technology companies.

    “In each case, these companies’ products are built in such a way that they can easily be used to illegally surveil the governments, institutions and civilians that use them, a troubling fact given Unit 8200’s documented prowess in surveillance as a means of obtaining blackmail and Israel’s history of using tech companies to aggressively spy on the U.S. government. This is further compounded by the fact that Unit 8200-linked tech companies have previously received U.S. government contracts to place “backdoors” into the U.S.’ entire telecommunications system as well as into the popular products of major American tech companies including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, many of whose key managers and executives are now former Unit 8200 officers.” (Whitney Webb)

  4. Ossinev on September 11, 2019, 11:01 am

    Cohen(the actor not the spy) is a second rate mildly amusing comic actor who having invented himself as Ali G / Borat (poor attempts at Pyhonesque humour)will forever IMHO be perceived as those characters by viewers/cinemagoers in the West.

    Can`t really see him as a serious actor in any serious role even such such a “heartbreaking” story about a Zionist “hero.”

    I suppose Kirk Douglas was considered to be too old and Michael was going to cost too much ?

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on September 11, 2019, 5:35 pm

      I always find it interesting how in films or TV productions about the Middle East, Israeli characters are portrayed by Western actors while Arab characters are played by Arabs, or certainly non-Westerners.

      The recent flop BBC ‘Little Drummer Girl’ was a good example. Only one Israeli actor played an Israeli character as I recall, with all the others being European or American actors like Michael Shannon. The only main Arab character was played by a Lebanese actor.

      Similarly in Spielberg’s ‘Munich’, the ‘Israelis’ were mostly played by handsome English speaking actors like Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, while the very few Arab characters were played by Arabs with obvious accents.

      It’s clear that the aim is for the viewer to ‘identify’ with the Israeli characters and consider the Arabs to be dark-skinned ‘others’.

    • DaBakr on September 12, 2019, 12:59 am


      Borat made a lot of frkkn money. You can see him as anything you like but he is highly successful and accomplished. At bad taste.

      But he sure tricked Dick Cheney.

    • Tuyzentfloot on September 12, 2019, 3:59 am

      Cohen’s humour is outrageously rude, nothing of the pythonesque surrealness. I like it. His elephant scene is not “mildly amusing”. It can also be cynical and exploitive. I don’t like it. So his politics is crap.

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