US Leaders Dodge Questions About Israel’s Influence Campaign

Federal lawmakers in the US have dodged repeated inquiries over the past week about a covert operation ordered by the Israeli government to artificially boost support among Americans for its war in Gaza. At the same time, senior White House officials charged with advising President Joe Biden on matters of national security are claiming to have no knowledge of the operation—first disclosed publicly more than four months ago.

The operation, formally tied to the Israeli government by a New York Times reporter last week, kicked off in October 2023 following the surprise attack by Hamas in southern Israel. Researchers internationally began work to expose the campaign in February, identifying a flood of “suspicious accounts” on US-based social networking apps, most masquerading as Americans avowing support for the Israeli military response.

In addition to eroding support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to 5.6 million Palestinian refugees, a chief aim of the Israeli operation, researchers say, was to sway the opinions of Black Americans. Per the Times—which cited four current and former Israeli officials in confirming their government had commissioned the campaign—its primary targets included the account of US congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the leader of the Democrats in the House, among others who are “Black and Democratic.”

Accounts tied to the operation—many of which, at the time of writing, remain active on X, despite being suspended on other platforms—promoted a Black Lives Matter hashtag and shared images of Martin Luther King Jr. alongside fabricated quotes. A website created for the operation included articles with titles such as “The leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and Their Support of Jewish People and Israel.”

Several examples of accounts used in the operation, many of which were created weeks prior to the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed an estimated 1,200 people, advertised themselves as “Christian.” One of the stolen identities used in the operation, first identified by a researcher in Qatar, was that of Kyle Jean-Baptiste, an up-and-coming Broadway star who died in 2015 after falling from a fire escape.

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Multiple inquiries placed with senior members of Jeffries’ staff, including his communications director, Andy Eichar, have gone unacknowledged for nearly a week. WIRED has attempted to resolve whether Jeffries ever received notification of the operation from US intelligence while Congress was in the midst of debating $14 billion in funding to supplement Israel’s war effort.

Israeli forces have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians since Hamas’ October 7 attack, according to Gaza health officials’ estimates, including dozens last Thursday at a United Nations school compound, where the Israeli military is accused of making “improper use” of a US-made bomb.

With the exception of the White House’s National Security Council, which on Thursday claimed to have no knowledge of the operation, and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner, whose office told WIRED it planned to request a briefing on the matter, press inquiries concerning Israel’s attempts to secretly influence US opinion on the war have been met with a stonewall.