Exposing Foreign Interference Online

20 January 2022

Israeli disinformation watchdog group and NIF grantee, FakeReporter has uncovered Iranian attempts to stir up political polarization between left and right in Israel. FakeReporter found that fake social media profiles have been opened in order to fan the flames of political division in Israeli society.

For example, Rosalie Novhar opened a Facebook account six months ago and already has 2,800 friends. She uploaded a great deal of content including images stolen from other accounts. But an investigation by FakeReporter together with Israel’s Channel 12 News found that Novhar is a foreign agent, probably Iranian, and part of a group of at least 10 other accounts with similar profiles.

Nira Migdal is another member of the group. In October, she uploaded a post calling on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to resign and accusing him and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of defrauding voters. Within 90 minutes, well known Likud activist Orly Lev shared the post on her Facebook account. In this way, the agents operating the fake accounts strive to provoke a more strident and divisive dialogue and encourage violent demonstrations.

In late September, the Likud organized a demonstration against the Bennett government in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. On September 23, Orly Lev distributed an announcement about a demonstration on Facebook that she received three minutes earlier on WhatsApp. The announcement contained photos of leading Likud activists, as well as two photos from fake Facebook accounts. The agents behind the fake accounts were attempting to inflame the Likud activists and consolidate their position within the Likud. Lev grew suspicious when Rosalie offered to send money to help fund the demonstration.

Lev said, “I had written privately to her (Rosalie) on WhatsApp and said that this was not the announcement that we were distributing. I think they are Iranians. At first she played around with us and said that she lived in Nazareth and I blocked her. She then texted me by phone and offered money for the demonstration. Then I knew this was a fraud.”

Other senior Likud activists and former MKs have also been taken in by the Iranian agents who were apparently able to acquire their private phone numbers. A bot on Twitter convinced former Likud MK Nissim Vatouri to share his cellphone number publicly by simply tweeting to him that she wanted to send him a message.

FakeReporter CEO Achiya Schatz said, “They are not coming to help the Likud but to destroy Israel. Their aim is not that Bennett will win and Bibi will lose. Their aim is to sow destruction, fear and polarization so that ultimately Israeli democracy will break down.”

Schatz added, “Our conclusion is that there has been an ongoing and continuing security failure here. It has reached a peak here by creating connections with political activists, gathering information from them, and perhaps even penetrating them with spyware. This matter threatens Israeli citizens as well as politicians and the entire state.”

Defense sources in Israel also believe that Iranian agents are behind this matter.