Many of us know that Israel is a corrupt society and that the corruption stems in large part from the gross, illegal, and interminable seven-decade oppression of the Palestinian minority both inside and outside Israel. There are of course many complicated reasons and analyses worth exploring regarding this subject (we’ll focus on one aspect in this post). And the corruption manifests itself in numerous ways throughout society.
But one of the most egregious manifestations is in the arena of what I call the national security state: that entire military-intelligence apparatus that is the vital scaffolding supporting the edifice. There is no better example of this than Gilad Erdan’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs. In its case, it is really the Ministry of Delegitimization: nominally, because it is dedicated to fighting BDS and promoting pro-Palestinian activism as anti-Semitic. But in actuality, by its entire corrupt, covert program violating all norms of decency and conduct, it promotes the very real delegitimization of Israel. An Israel which must be defended by such outrageous dirty tricks isn’t an Israel worth defending.
The proof is in the pudding: the Israeli media watchdog, 7th Eye, published an account of the Ministry, with a budget running into the tens of millions of dollars, paying tens of thousands of dollars to multiple Israeli media outlets in return for articles promoting its political agenda. This story is being reported here for the first time outside Israel.
Beginning this effort in the summer of 2017, Erdan dedicated nearly $2-million to this media campaign. One of the main and earliest efforts was an anti-BDS conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post. In the lead-up to the event, the Post published numerous articles both promoting the conference and delving into its program content: articles attacking BDS, equating it to anti-Semitism and terrorism, etc. Erdan bought a $30,000 promotional package that included not just these articles, but an entire panel at the conference (the Post denies the charges without offering any proof of its claim). The package offered promotional and branding opportunities for the Ministry.
As an aside, BDS is not anti-Semitic. It opposes policies of the State of Israel, not Jews or Judaism. Despite efforts by propagandists like Adad Milstein and the declarations of Donald Trump, criticizing Israel or support Palestinian rights is NOT anti-Semitic. BDS has, in fact, regularly denounced anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. Nor is it a terrorist enterprise, which is the latest smear emanating from the bowels of Erdan’s hasbara apparatus.
More recently, Erdan paid $35,000 for a sponsor-package promoting the Ministry for the Post’s most recent Diplomatic Conference at Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria. The minister himself was a keynote speaker. The contractual agreement with the Post called for the Ministry to have its own 30-minute panel including screening of a video it produced on the dangers of BDS including its anti-Semitic nature. Finally, the package included an exhibition of caricatures and other artwork pointing out the evils of the movement. The Post dutifully published a report on the panel without telling its readers the Ministry had paid for both the panel itself and the article reporting-promoting it.
The Ministry’s public affairs officer prepared a memorandum of understanding explaining the overall strategy was to fund such media partnerships in order to leverage the Ministry’s message and allow it to reach as wide a public as possible, without it knowing the content was essentially paid propaganda. Among the forms such content would take, she referred specifically to a series of media reports dedicated to promoting its anti-BDS message.
One of the Post articles dedicated to promoting the conference profiled Adam Milstein, who contended that BDS was the “new face” of the “old anti-Semitism.” I strongly suspect that Milstein is one of the donors to Concert, and that his new Judeo-fascist funding collaborative, Merona Leadership Initiative, is a beneficiary of Concert’s grantmaking.
The Post denied that the financial deal with Strategic Affairs included “purchased articles.” In its first response to 7th Eye, it did not explain the discrepancy between the Ministry memorandum and the media outlet’s claim no articles were bought. Later, the agency’s spokesperson said the reference to purchased stories in the memorandum was “a mistake.” Whether or not this is true, the Post did indeed promote the government body’s programming at the conference in its pages.
Anyone who has the misfortune of reading the Post knows it is one of the worst media propagandists for Israeli far-right uber-nationalism. Now, we know it’s not only awful journalism, but corrupt as well. The Times of Israel is not far behind in that category. Lo and behold, it too has trotted up to Erdan’s trough and eaten the swill he offers.
7th Eye notes the strategy behind this and other efforts by Erdan to insinuate his agenda into Israel and international media discourse. Ministry officials note that overt efforts are regarded as suspect by much of the media and public, because such content is clearly identified with the government’s position. It loses its effectiveness and is more easily discounted as propaganda. Instead, Strategic Affairs has turned to a covert campaign which disguises its content as legitimate news and analysis and exploits individuals, groups and media that have no overt affiliation with Israeli official hasbara-advocacy.
This coincides with increasing efforts by global corporations and right-wing movements to create similar content, which they disseminate on social media platforms under the guise of legitimate local news outlets. In reality, these news outlets, whose names sound legitimate, are astroturf media and merely vehicles for propaganda and fake news.
It has sponsored a joint private-governmental partnership to raise funds for this covert propaganda campaign. It was once called Kela Shlomo, but has taken on a new name as Concert. The goal was to create a fund contributed half by the government and half by wealthy pro-Israel donors (like Sheldon Adelson, Ronald Lauder, Adam Milstein and others). This would serve as a force multiplier and enable the sponsors to focus on the individual donors as the key players in the project. The government’s share was $45-million with the rest to be raised in the private sector. The latter efforts have apparently not produced the expected results and the government has in parallel reduced its own commitment accordingly.
The fund targets both Israeli and foreign NGOs and media outlets. In return for payments, it slips its content into their social media, digital and print networks. It also offers guidelines to the fundees about how its content is to be presented. 7th Eye has repeatedly asked the Ministry for a list of these entities it has partnered with and the request was rejected. Though the media watchdog did publish a partial list here (Hebrew).
The Keshet TV network received $100,000 for a series of segments highlighting the Ministry’s programming, including a gaudy Manhattan cocktail party which launched the efforts in the U.S. Israeli media portal Mako, Makor Rishon, and Yediot Achronot also accepted payments totaling nearly $500,000 in similar arrangements. English language publications like the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel also participated in the ministerial gravy train. If the Ministry was mentioned at all in these broadcasts and articles, it was in the fine print and only as an unspecified “partnership” between the ministry and the media outlet.
There have been many similar scandals in the past paralleling this Israeli campaign. In the 1950s, the CIA covertly funded liberal media outlets like the Paris Review, with the expectation they would publish anti-Communist content. During the Iraq War, the U.S. paid a public relations consultant to create pro-U.S. media content which was published by Iraqi media. More recently, the Los Angeles Times signed a contract with a then-new sports arena, the Staples Center which included publication of a package of news articles promoting the venue. While the business side of the paper knew of the deal, the news side did not and was outraged at being kept in the dark.
Erdan’s media manipulation should be front-page news. It should outrage the Israeli public. But because democratic values like press freedom and journalistic ethics are not as well-founded as in other western countries, most Israelis will shrug their shoulders and say they’ve seen worse. And the tragedy is, they have.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.