Iran sows hatred in Israel with fake Jewish, right-wing Facebook account

Facebook closes seemingly ultra-Orthodox, right-wing “Aduk” page after watchdog proved it was a fake, says the BBC.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Israeli organization uncovered a fake Facebook account set up by Iran to spread hatred in Israel and got the social media giant to shut it down, the BBC reported in an exclusive Thursday.

FakeReporter, a research platform established to “lead the civil struggle against the systematic spread of lies, forgeries, and incitement on social networks” that “weakens Israeli democracy,” found that “Aduk” was not the ultra-Orthodox, extreme right-wing group it purported to be.

“We see this network rise up following the events in May, when Israel was at one of the lowest points in its history in the relations between Jewish and Arab citizens,” FakeReporter CEO Achiya Schatz told the BBC.

In May’s 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls, the IDF retaliated against Hamas launching some 4,000 missiles at Israel, and part of Israel’s Arab population went on violent rampages in support of the terrorist organization, mostly in mixed Jewish-Arab cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Lod and Ramle.

“Aduk” was a Hebrew acronym for “virtual religious union for the religious community.” It spread anti-Arab and anti-government messages due to the supposed control that the Islamist Ra’am party has over its fellow members of the coalition and disseminated the rhetoric of fiery, rightist, national-religious MK Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The group made great efforts to appear genuine, appropriating the identity of an innocent Russian-Israeli Jew who died four years ago as the persona of the group’s supposed administrator, “Ariel Levi.”

“It’s something that we haven’t seen before, creating such a back story,” said Schatz of the stolen pictures of the late Reuven Nesterov that were used to make “Levi” seem believable.

And it worked, as unlike other platforms where Aduk was barely active, Levi’s Facebook page had almost 3,000 friends, said the report.

Facebook and Twitter took down the group’s pages and associated profiles after being approached by the disinformation watchdog. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said that it had taken action before against such Iranian activity, which has “slowed this campaign down each time and helped to keep them from rebuilding their audience on our platform.”

The digital giant insisted it is keeping its eye out for other, similar attempts.

“Given the adversarial nature of this space and knowing that these malicious actors will always try to come back, we’ll stay vigilant and take action as necessary,” it said.

This wasn’t the first time Iran tried to sow division in Israel by using social media. The report noted at least five cases since 2020 of “suspected Iranian interference on messaging apps to infiltrate and foster anti-government protests in Israel.”

It’s a safe bet that Iran will continue its efforts. The BBC quoted Erez Kreimer, former head of the Shin Bet’s cyber division as describing the “Aduk” network as “unprofessional but efficient,” adding that Iran sees Israel as “a prime target in its cyber efforts.”

Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute told the BBC that this kind of digital chicanery was a cheap form of foreign intervention. “It costs more to send missiles to Lebanon than digital bytes [to Israel],” she said.