by Eli Clifton
A pro-Israel advocacy organization, The Israel Project (TIP), was identified last week as operating a series of Facebook groups as part of an under-the-radar effort to spread pro-Israel messaging without identifying the source of the content. Its media strategy, however, was much bigger than that.
A message published on an online forum by TIP president Josh Block, and discovered by LobeLog, reveals that the Facebook groups documented in Al Jazeera’s still unaired documentary, The Lobby-USA—clips of which were published by The Electronic Intifada last Thursday—were merely the beginning of Block’s ambitions for unbranded media platforms promoting his message.
The clips published last week show David Hazony, managing director of The Israel Project, acknowledging, “there are things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.”
Hazony adds, “We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,” but doesn’t provide the identity of the “other organizations.”
Another Israel Project employee, Jordan Schactel, was recorded saying:
So we have a lot of side projects that we are trying to influence the public debate with. That’s why it’s a secretive thing. Because we don’t want people to know that these side projects are associated with The Israel Project.
Beyond the four Facebook groups identified in the clip, TIP’s efforts to influence the media without explicitly acknowledging its involvement are made clearer in a March 15, 2018 message authored by Block to attendees of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference, in Tel Aviv. The Jewish Funders Network (JFN) describes itself as a “community that grows the size and impact of Jewish philanthropy.” According to the group’s website, “We connect funders together, empower individual excellence, and catalyze collective action.”
The Israel Project is frequently cited in the media promoting a hawkish agenda of opposing the Iran nuclear deal and, more recently, supporting the Trump administration’s decisions to move the U.S. embassy to Israel to Jerusalem and cut all U.S. aid to Palestinians on the West Bank and East Jerusalem Authority, as well as to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
In his message to the JFN attendees, Block appeared to map out the contours of a possible sweeping influence campaign orchestrated anonymously by TIP.
Block told the group:
TIP was founded in 2002 based on the recognition that “they who control the media, define the narrative—and they who control the narrative secure the outcomes they desire.
What is “MEDIA” today? Much has changed about where people get information and how they absorb it—but recent political and other events underscore the shift in media and the power it possesses to affect real world outcomes.
WHAT is the value of helping define the topography of truth? When Putin says “there are no Russian troops in Ukraine” and it is reported and repeated, does it eventually become true?
And he boasted of the success of the unbranded Facebook groups disclosed by Al Jazeera. He wrote:
In 2017, TIP’s Future Media Project (4 non-TIP branded thematically appropriate nice social media communities—500K left-leaning women under 30; 300K women 35+, 300K men 30-50 & 500 men 40-60)
These audiences grew from nothing to getting a subscriber base of over 1.6 million, thru sharing friends—who trust them more then anyone else— reaching over 1.8 billion active users in a year, with no paid advertising.
AND that means we produced videos that were watched over 379 million times, of which 40% was the highly messaged pro-Israel content that produces an average 9.8% move from negative or neutral to favorable toward Israel.
Block observed that “there are billions of dollars [of] capital at rest in our community, philanthropic and otherwise” and offered Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of The Washington Post as an example of “investment in narrating the dialogue of history.”
The TIP president’s media strategy appeared to focus heavily on anonymously promoting the group’s message and, noticeably, omitted any mention of fact-based journalism and accurate reporting.
Block explained that there are ample opportunities to acquire media properties. He wrote:
This presents an opportunity for pro-Israel messaging in the media. What if it were owned by members of our community? Can you name a SINGLE MAINSTREAM magazine or media outlet that is reliably pro-Israel? Any that is not seen as conservative? The WSJ will soon change hands from generation to generation, where the views of the Middle East differ greatly.
Block speculated that by replicating the success of TIP’s unbranded Facebook groups, setting up an otherwise innocuous looking smartphone trivia game, similar to the popular HQ Trivia games, could pay dividends in subtly promoting TIP’s messaging about Israel. Block wrote:
JUST ONE EXAMPLE: Look at the HQ live trivia game app—it has 1.5m+ people playing twice a day, live, gathering all that data on them, and delivering messages, and teaching millions of people things subtly every day.
– The only impediment to launching LIVE GAMESHOWS on MOBILE that actually have a net impact and drive players to a more pro-Israel position is the ability to acquire audience—and that launch pad already exists through our subscriber base [of unbranded Facebook groups]. What better way to teach people things we need them to know, and create a vehicle to help become self-sustaining, and perhaps support future media endeavors.
Although Block’s message to the JFN contains no mention of providing factual information and actively promotes TIP’s efforts to hide their involvement in pro-Israel messaging, he insisted to LobeLog that his plan was intended as pushback against the promotion of “fake news,” such as Putin’s lying about Russian troops in Ukraine or Pizzagate. Block said:
Citing Putin repeating falsehoods is a point of concern and contrast, underscoring the dangers of a world in which factually false information repeated, on TV, in print, online, can too often come to define reality for too many people. It’s not just Putin, recall the horrors of Pizza-gate and so many other examples. It is a point of contrast for the ideas—the opposite of inspiration.
Dismay and alarm at such a terrible trend motivates me to highlight for those with financial means the importance of investing in existing or new media platforms and outlets where the barrier to entry is lower than ever, and of providing ownership that believes in the importance of preserving the topography of truth, of fact-based reporting and content, and the ability to engage audiences with credible information of substance and relevance to their lives.
The words “fake news” and “facts” weren’t used in Block’s message to the JFN. “Truth” was only contained in Block’s repeated use of the phrase, “defining the topography of truth.”