The role of Donald Trump and fake news in Israel’s election

Tel Aviv, Israel — At a market in Tel Aviv there was more on-offer than usual in the run-up to Tuesday’s Israeli national election. When CBS News visited it was supporters from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, pushing for votes and drowning out the sound of the vegetable sellers.

“About the election, until the last moment we don’t know what will go on,” market patron Ilan Russ told CBS News’ Seth Doane about the unpredictable vote. “We do not know what is going to happen.” In the tight race Netanyahu has used state visits with President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin as campaign photo-ops.
The Trump factorOver the weekend Netanyahu appealed to far-right voters, vowing on national TV to annex West Bank Jewish settlements — cementing Israeli rule over the parcel of land that most of the world considers “occupied territory” belonging to the Palestinians.At the market, one Netanyahu supporter said negotiating with the Palestinians was pointless.”I want peace, very much” Roni Karo told Doane. “But it’s not possible. Just, oil and water,” he said, concluding that the two sides in the decades-old conflict are simply incompatible.During the campaign, Netanyahu has highlighted his relationship with President Trump, who recently recognized Israel’s sovereignty over another disputed piece of land, the Golan Heights. The land was seized by Israel from Syria in 1967, but the United Nations and much of the international community still considers it illegally occupied by Israel.Mr. Trump also moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem after recognizing that contested city as Israel’s capital. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians insist the right to call Jerusalem their capital.”Israeli people love Trump, because he loves my country,” Karo told Doane at the market.Fake news push for Netanyahu?Yuval Adam, a web activist and hacker who has researched political activity online for eight months for his “Big Bot Project,” said Americans might notice a lot of familiar strategies in the Israeli election campaign.

“The same tactics are being used everywhere,” Adam told CBS News, including the blatant manufacture of fake news about political candidates and the amplification of it on social media by “bots” and puppet accounts.In his Tel Aviv “hacker space,” Adam told Doane that he uncovered a network of social media accounts supporting Netanyahu.”Whenever there is a specific agenda that Bibi (common abbreviation for Benjamin) Netanyahu or the Likud is interested in pushing, you have this huge group of users that is — some of them are real, some of them are fake — and they’re all pushing this agenda at the same time, and trying to include that into the public opinion,” Adam said.On the day Adam’s report was published, Netanyahu disputed its findings in a news conference. “When I saw it at first I thought it was an April fool’s joke,” Netanyahu said. “But no, this is yet another false accusation that the media enlists.” The prime minister dismissed it as “fake research,” which he said was funded by “a left-wing organization.””It was pretty shocking to us that the reaction was so fast,” Adam told CBS News. “To us it seemed that we really hit something in terms of this network.” He said that while his group knew there were some real humans behind the pro-Netanyahu content being spread online, “we know, also for a fact, that there are these hundreds of other accounts (not real people) that are amplifying this content.”  

Adam told CBS News he wanted Israelis to be aware that they could be manipulated online as they make their choice in a close race. 

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