At a cyberwar forum in Tel Aviv in January, it came out that Israel has allocated almost $26 million in this year’s budget to fight the ever-growing movement to boycott, divest from and sanctions Israel – BDS for short.
An Associated Press report on the event quoted one high Israeli official as saying that she wanted “to create a community of fighters” against BDS in the online world.
That little snippet of cyber-sabre-rattling came from Sima Vaknin-Gil, the director general of Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs (the former chief military censor of the press in Israel). The head of this ministry is Gilad Erdan, last year crowned the “BDS minister” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The forum was aimed at Israeli tech developers, the AP reports. “Initiatives are largely being kept covert,” it elaborated. “Participants at the invite-only forum, held on the sidelines of a cyber technology conference, repeatedly stood up to remind people that journalists were in the room.”
It also makes clear that the new push is, in part, the work of Mossad, Israel’s overseas spy agency.
Mossad has a long history of carrying out kidnappings, assassinations and other terrorist acts against its enemies, especially against Palestinian activists, leaders and fighters. Only last week the Mossad murdered former Palestinian prisoner Omar Nayef Zayed, according to his family. The escaped political prisoner had lived peacefully in exile in Bulgaria since the late 1990s.
A portion of these millions of new anti-BDS dollars are to be given to Israeli high-tech firms to fight BDS online, said the report, although (as ever) specifics are hazy.
Two “former military intelligence officers” told AP they had created a company which would “collect intelligence on BDS organizations in Europe… the US, and South America” and that the aim was “to dismantle the infrastructure of groups… responsible for incitement and anti-Semitism against Israel.” But of course, “he declined to give specifics.”
Quite how online tools can “dismantle” real life groups of friends and comrades is something of a mystery. It is likely to remain Israeli wishful thinking.
Also present at this little soirée was Adam Milstein, a fanatically anti-Palestinain Israeli-American real estate mogul, and convicted tax fraudster (Israeli diplomats wrote to a US federal judge seeking a more lenient sentence).
All of this tells us two things.
Firstly: Israel cannot shake its addiction to war. As with all its dealings, it resorts to war, and war-like rhetoric, at every turn. Hence the declaration of “war” against BDS, a completely non-violent movement of committed volunteer activists who seek nothing more than Palestinian equality, freedom and right of return for refugees.
The picture painted by the participants in this cyberwarfare forum that talked to the AP is that it is not a real grassroots movement, but some sort of foreign conspiracy with no real depth.
One Israeli foreign ministry official who spoke to AP blames “second- and third-generation Muslims in Europe and the US who have grievances against the West and also lead online campaigns against European and US governments” – an attempt to falsely portray the issue as one of religious hatreds rather than one of universal human rights.
He claimed that BDS activists “often create code that allows activists to blast thousands of messages from social media accounts — creating the illusion that many protesters are sharing the same anti-Israel or anti-West message online.”
But in reality this is no “illusion” – Israel simply refuses to face the fact that it actions are hated by vast majorities of people around the world. Most people are not generally fans of war crimes and racism. Poll after poll bares out Israel’s global unpopularity.
As long as Israel fails to face up to this, its schemes to combat BDS will continue to fail. Israel is fighting a phantom: it has built up an imaginary enemy. What does exists is a popular global grassroots movement which can’t be defeated by silly online tricks.
The second thing to remember here is that Israel’s claims to have skills in cyber crime (or “world-leading expertise in cyber security” as the AP gushes) are wildly over-hyped.
While there is no doubt that Israel is involved in things like sabotage of BDS activists’ online capabilities, such strategies are akin to putting a finger in the dam. They will at best delay things for very short periods.
As Omar Barghouti, a BDS movement leader, told AP: “‘quite a few web pages’ that BDS websites linked to have mysteriously disappeared from the Internet. ‘We assume Israel’s cyber sabotage is ongoing, but we are quite pleased that its detrimental impact on the global BDS movement has been dismal so far.'”
Israel likes to engage in exaggeration, intimidation and psychological warfare against its enemies. There are many historical examples of this, such as the the loud-speakers that Zionist terrorist organizations drove around Palestinian villages announcing that their war crimes (massacres and rapes) against Palestinian civilians were worse than they in fact were, in order to scare terrified unarmed Palestinians into fleeing.
For years, Israel has liked to portray an image of technical sophistication in cyberwarfare, with its participation in the “Stuxnet” virus that sabotaged Iranian nuclear power facilities being held up as a prime example.
While there’s no doubting that Israel has capabilities in this arena, its role is exaggerated, often for its own propaganda purposes. As I reported back in 2012, it seems far more likely that Stuxnet was primarily created by the US (under Bush and later Obama) to attack Iran – Israel was merely a junior partner, and was even responsible for messing up the sabotage operation (dubbed “Olympic Games”), ensuring it ended earlier than expected.
Further reports on a follow-up operation to Olympic Games (a contingency plan dubbed “Nitro Zeus”) emerged in February, with the première of a new documentary film called Zero Days. These revelations have confirmed my 2012 analysis.
“According to the claims in the film, the hasty Israeli action prevented the carrying out of a number of further planned actions that were intended to sabotage computers at a second, more fortified uranium enrichment facility,” reported one Israeli journalist.
There’s reason to be highly sceptical about such self-aggrandising claims that the Mossad and its allies, proxies and affiliates clearly intend for the press to “leak.” It is highly likely that such claims are intended to wage similar psychological warfare against BDS activists.
Be aware, but don’t be intimidated. We have right on our side, they have only money, oppression and state power.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.