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MuzzleWatch: Israel-based Facebook effort targets Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib

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MuzzleWatch

MuzzleWatch is a new Mondoweiss column that will focus on attempts to silence the voices, actions, and campaigns working for justice in Israel and Palestine.

Mondoweiss certainly covers these issues in some depth and I will be shamelessly borrowing from this site in service to providing our readers with a dedicated space that focuses on issues such as the outlawing of BDS, conflating antisemitism with critiquing Israel, campaigns of intimidation against individuals, organizations and politicians, including coordinated Islamophobic/racist efforts,  and Israeli hasbara will be addressed. We will also feature campaigns and organizations that are combatting this attempted silencing and provide information on ways to become involved. Occasional primers on media and activist literacy may be part of this mix because it’s important to understand the media landscape we find ourselves in.

MuzzleWatch was previously a Jewish Voice for Peace project that discussed similar topics but in seemingly halcyon era before massive social media monopolies, the cynical corporate weaponization of antisemitic claims, or the villainization of BDS actions. This is an anti-memoryhole space where these issues are not allowed to get lost in the current “drinking from a firehose” social media and news hellscape.

In this first column, let’s discuss a doozy of an emerging story, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been targeted, no surprise, by a “vast international operation” that leverages Facebook far-right pages to “inflame Islamophobia for profit.”  As reported in the Guardian,  an Israeli-based group uses 21 Facebook pages to post, in a coordinated effort, more than 1,000 fake news posts per week that goes out to something like 1,000,000 followers, and of course, generates a huge amount a digital advertising revenue, (which Facebook absolutely loves).  Tlaib and Omar have been specifically targeted, 1,200 and 1,400 times respectively, in the last two years. Many of these posts amplify far-right parties vilifying Muslim and leftwing politicians.

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology found one entity/person, Ariel Elkaras, to be an important player in this campaign. Elkaras is apparently physically located outside of Tel Aviv and denies any involvement in the project, although soon after the Guardian story was published some of the sites were removed and/or rafts of content were removed.

Omar has publicly stated that ginned up Trump claims, amplified through social media, have resulted in hundreds of online death threats that put her life at risk.

Omar isn’t having it and tells the Guardian that foreign interference is a grave threat to U.S. democracy where malicious actors, operating from a foreign country have the intended goal of subverting U.S. elections and putting their target’s lives at risk.    Bigger things are thus, afoot, not just censorship, but political manipulation, subverting democratic structures, and destroying the ability to claim anything is true and leaving us, in a close paraphrase of George Orwell in a state where “the past is erased, the erasure is forgotten, the lie becomes truth.”  We will fight this here.

Omar also slammed Facebook’s complacency in dealing with obvious disinformation, the clear conflict of interest is tied to Facebook making money and the simple fact of an almost adolescent Islamophobia that ripples through this supposedly world platform but really just replicates/amplifies U.S. imperial machinations. And here is where we get back to Muzzlewatch issues, per se — there is a clear bias and laziness in how Facebook deals with right-wing, fascist, far right bad actors compared to legitimate stories reporting on Israeli crimes as the journalist Rania Khalek detailed when her video of Israel terrorizing Palestinians was taken off Facebook at the Israeli government request, (and since been restored after vociferous public outcry).

Similarly, there has been a slew of Palestinian Facebook pages taken down while few, if any Israeli Jewish pages have been touched, leading the Palestinian journalist, Muath Mashalal who runs one of these “disappeared” pages, Palestine 27, to say “that the crackdown on Palestinian content affirms that Facebook has become a security institution that works on the basis of intelligence operations.”

It’s not a surprise that Israeli state interests would seek to silence Palestinian voices but the close relationship between these interests and Facebook will be closely followed as it is a dominant/monopolistic social media platform that has a vast power as a media publisher no matter what Marc Zuckerberg or his courtiers claim.

There are, of course, many other examples of censoring, silencing and intimidation.  We’ll be tracking and analyzing as many as we can, counting on our readers to help us in this effort.  The good news is that the forces aligned against free speech and human rights are running scared, and we’ll be providing the play-by-play as things continue to heat up. If you have any tips or feedback, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected].

Rob Lipton

Rob Lipton is a long time member of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote for JVP's Muzzlewatch, was an ISM participant, and was the LA director of FAIR during the first Gulf War. He is Poet Laureate of Richmond, CA and a spatial epidemiologist.

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4 Responses

  1. Misterioso on December 30, 2019, 2:59 pm

    I doubt if a handful of Americans are familiar with the following scam given its lack of media coverage:

    https://israelpalestinenews.org/us-court-sentences-israeli-ceo-for-scamming-americans-media-ignore-it/?utm_source=mailpoet&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily+Updates

    “US court sentences Israeli CEO for scamming Americans, media ignore it”
    If Americans Knew Blog, Dec. 20/19 by Alison Weir.

    “Israeli media (not US newspapers) report that an Israeli CEO has been sentenced in a US court for defrauding Americans out of millions of dollars. The company specifically targeted the elderly and the vulnerable, one of over 100 Israeli companies perpetrating a scam called ‘binary options’… Israel permitted the scam for a decade…”

    “The Times of Israel reports that Lee Elbaz, an Israeli CEO, was sentenced to 22 years in prison by a Maryland court on Thursday. US media have largely failed to report on the conviction, despite the fact that American taxpayers give Israel over $10 million per day. The pro-Israel lobby has long been deeply influential in US Mideast policies.

    “Elbaz was the CEO of an Israeli company called Yukom Communications Ltd., which perpetrated an international financial scam called ‘binary options.’ More than a hundred binary options companies operated in Israel between the years 2008-2018, scamming people around the world out of hundreds of millions of dollars. For years Israel allowed the scammers to operate unhindered.

    “TOI [Times of Israel] reports that the US judge said that Elbaz and others ‘specifically targeted vulnerable people, including the elderly, and tried to get people addicted to trading like in a casino. He said that Elbaz would suggest that clients use their retirement funds for investments.’

    “Yukom employees pretended to be from other countries, lied about their professional qualifications, lied about their historical rates of return, and didn’t tell investors that they only made money if their customers lost money.

    “TOI reports: ‘An email instructed Binary Book sales representatives to target retirees, Social Security recipients, pension holders and veterans as clients.’

    “An Israeli lawyer told TOI: ‘I estimate that hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis were engaged in pretty much the same conduct for which Elbaz was convicted and sentenced… If Israeli law enforcement authorities had done their job, we wouldn’t have come to this sad day.’

    “According to TOI: ‘Binary options fraud flourished in Israel for about a decade before the entire industry was outlawed via Knesset legislation in October 2017, largely as a result of investigative reporting by The Times of Israel that began with a March 2016 article entitled ‘The wolves of Tel Aviv.’ At its height, hundreds of companies in Israel were engaged in the widely fraudulent industry, employing thousands of Israelis, allegedly fleecing billions out of victims worldwide.

    “’Many of the fraudulent operatives have since moved their operations abroad, or switched to other scams, though Israeli law-enforcement authorities have proved unwilling or unable to prosecute more than a handful of alleged offenders. By contrast, the US government is ratcheting up efforts to bring Israeli offenders to justice.’

    “A US prosecutor told the court that ‘videos from inside Yukom showed that employees enjoyed their work, and that Elbaz fostered a work environment where it was fun to defraud investors.’

    “’There was a mentality at this company that the defendant fostered, with gongs and bells, to say this is exciting, it’s a good thing to defraud investors. That culture that permeated company is no doubt one of the reasons why this fraud grew from a few hundred thousand dollars and a few employees to hundreds of employees and millions and millions of dollars in losses to investors,’ he said.

    “A London-based NGO, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, takes credit with TOI for first exposing Elbaz: ‘A whistleblower from inside the industry approached the Bureau and the Times of Israel in 2016 with inside files including lists of thousands of victims from 50 countries and the sums which they had been defrauded of. The information helped the US authorities prosecute Elbaz.’

    “Elbaz had been living with a relative in San Francisco while she awaited her trial.

    “TOI reports that at the sentencing the judge read off a long list of victims who had lost their life’s savings:

    “Among such victims was Larry Burton, who lost over $200,000 including $70,000 from his retirement account. He also borrowed 30,000 for his investment and afterwards had to refinance his home. There’s James Freeman, age 67, who lost $304,000, his entire life savings. Terry Pocket lost $247,000 including $94,000 from his 401k fund. He also said he lost his life’s savings and had to borrow money to pay for his mortgage. Mr. Hanow lost $175,000 including large sums from his IRA and retirement funds and had to take a job as a truck driver to help pay off his losses.’ The judge continued naming victims, including a man who ‘lost so much money he tried to commit suicide.’

    “Finance Feeds reported in 2017: ‘Israel’s binary options industry rose to prominence very quickly in the middle of the last decade, and has during the past two years become the bete noire of financial markets regulators, mainstream news entities and consumer protection groups, largely because it is about as far removed from a genuine financial product as is humanly imaginable.’

    “’The vast binary options business, which bears absolutely no resemblance to genuine electronic trading whatsoever, is indeed a weighted gambling platform masquerading as a retail trading environment, which the operators, most of whom come from adult entertainment, online poker, lead buying (and stealing in some cases) and affiliate marketing backgrounds rather than financial services, use to pocket the deposits of unsuspecting customers worldwide.’

    “’Binary options is reviled on a global scale, with France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the United States, and Holland having outlawed it, and Britain making a clear point never to regulate it as a financial product.’

    “A Canadian man committed suicide after being conned out of his life savings.

    “An Israeli attorney who represents victims of the fraud said: ‘I hope that law enforcement authorities in Israel will study this case closely. To anyone familiar with the forex and binary options industry in Israel, it is clear that the fraudulent tactics presented in the Lee Elbaz case were not unique to Yukom but rather a standard practice among many Israeli companies in this field. Such an ongoing and vast illegality could have been made possible only by a systematic failure of law enforcement.’

    “The US department of justice has announced: Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information, and may call the Victim Assistance Line toll-free at (888) 549-3945 or email them at at [email protected].”

  2. JWalters on December 30, 2019, 7:18 pm

    Extremely glad to see this new Muzzle Watch feature at Mondoweiss. This is tackling an extemely important task, because accurate information is ESSENTIAL for citizens in a functioning democracy. The present efforts to deceive the public on major issues are anti-democratic and criminal in intent. Especially insidious are highly organized efforts to enforce a blanket of silence covered with a blanket of lies. Thank you!

  3. echinococcus on December 30, 2019, 9:08 pm

    Thank you for this Muzzle Watch feature. “Censoring, silencing and intimidation”, character assassination, diffamation etc. of anti-Zionist resistance must be opposed by all means at our disposal.

    One very timely update that is urgently needed in this framework is about the status of the now longstanding operation to muzzle effective supporters of the Palestinian resistance, among whom Ms Alison Weir and If Americans Knew, using character assassination, interference with planned meetings and other despicable means.

  4. Vera Gottlieb on December 31, 2019, 11:02 am

    It is absolutely disgusting, absolutely despicable how israel is carrying on. Obviously israel has many a thing to hide or it wouldn’t behave this way. I have no use for Zionists and I shall continue boycotting israel at every chance I get. Jews have obviously forgotten what Nazis did to them…or they wouldn’t be treating Palestinians this way.

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