The Electronic Intifada / March 3, 2021
The Israeli government is directing one of its online armies to attack a British academic who supporters of Israel want to see fired.
David Miller has been facing calls from the Israel lobby for the University of Bristol to sack him, because of his research into that lobby and his opposition to Zionism, Israel’s racist state ideology.
But now we know the Israeli government itself is also involved in this smear campaign.
On Monday Act.IL – a troll army directed and funded by an Israeli ministry – issued an online “mission” calling on users of its app to attack an opinion piece published by Al-Jazeera which defends Miller.
The troll army’s operators smeared Miller as guilty of “blatant Jew-hatred” and called on their users to attack the Al-Jazeera piece on Twitter.
The mission was exposed by Michael Bueckert, a Canadian academic who documents the troll army’s activities using his @AntiBDSApp Twitter account.
The mission asks users to “like” a specific tweet attacking the article, but also seems to encourage users to respond themselves.
Bouattia told The Electronic Intifada that the Act.IL mission was “a striking demonstration that they feel unable to win the political argument out in the open” and instead Miller’s detractors depend on smears and intimidation.
She argues in the piece that everyone opposed to the smear campaign against Miller should speak out loudly.
“If those in British academia who disagree with the campaign being waged against Miller choose to remain silent out of fear, the same thing will happen in their universities,” Bouattia writes in her article.
“It is only through collective resistance, and solidarity with those who are being targeted, that we can protect ourselves, free speech and academic freedom,” she concludes.
The troll army’s direction for users to attack an Al-Jazeera tweet advertising the article seems to have been moderately successful.
Although a hostile reply-post to the tweet which users were directed to support has only 16 “likes” as of this writing, a large majority of the replies to the Al Jazeera tweet are hostile – attacking and smearing Miller, Bouattia or both.
Act.IL has received unknown levels of funding from Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs – Israel’s semi-covert agency run by former intelligence agents (including Mossad agents) dedicated to fighting Israel’s global war against the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS.
An Act.IL document obtained by The Electronic Intifada in 2019 revealed that the organization had a budget of $1.1 million the previous year.
While the app’s users include volunteers for Israel, The Electronic Intifada’s 2019 investigation found evidence that a majority of its most active users are paid employees of the Israeli government. And many of its “volunteers” are actually students carrying out its missions in exchange for scholarships.
It also has “media rooms” in several different countries which its operatives and volunteers work out of.
“A new kind of war”
A second investigation by The Electronic Intifada found that Act.IL’s chief executive is a veteran of Israeli military intelligence.
Yarden Ben Yosef argues for “inserting” Israel into online discussions and waging “a new kind of war” to counter how “the Palestinian narrative [has] prevailed in world media over the Israeli one.”
Malia Bouattia told The Electronic Intifada that the Act.IL mission against her was “an important reminder of the organized nature of the campaign” against the Palestine solidarity movement.
The establishment of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs “was a direct response to the success and popularity of the BDS movement,” she said.
But Bouattia said that the “mission” was also a sign of potential vulnerability to collective action.
“Pro-Israeli groups and organizations don’t underestimate any solidarity initiative. Our side would do well to remember it and do the same.”
Bouattia said it was “a striking demonstration that they feel unable to win the political argument out in the open – in unions, universities, communities – and rely instead on intimidation and smears.”
She herself was relentlessly targeted and smeared by the Israel lobby during her time leading the NUS.
In 2018, Act.IL also issued at least one known mission against Jeremy Corbyn – a key indicator out of many that the state of Israel was leading a major campaign against the former Labour leader.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London