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Israel advocacy groups outspend pro-Palestinian groups on social media

Israel advocacy groups outspend pro-Palestinian groups on social media

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The digital full court press — including one group that spent nearly half a million dollars on Meta’s platforms during that period — comes as U.S. and international lawmakers weigh adding conditions to additional support for Israel as its military campaign has killed at least 15,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza. Israel launched its aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in which militants killed roughly 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages, according to Israel.

POLITICO analyzed Meta’s ad library, or online database that tracks which groups are buying paid messaging on both Facebook and Instagram over specific time periods. The tech giant is one of the few social media companies, alongside Google, to disclose details on ad buying figures. POLITICO reviewed ads run between Nov. 2 and Dec. 1, based on advocacy groups’ affiliations with either the Israeli or Palestinian causes.

On Meta’s platforms, which, collectively, are the world’s largest social media sites based on users, the groups buying ads in support of Israel include well-known names like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism, a group founded by billionaire Robert Kraft.

Their combined spending of $2.2 million exceeded almost any other entity over that period, except for the conservative news outlet Daily Wire and its affiliate Meta accounts that spent almost $3 million, POLITICO found.

By comparison, groups supporting Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs spent less than $20,000 in that same period on Meta ads, POLITICO found.

“Tell Washington, now is the time to stand with Israel,” urged one ad from AIPAC that ran in late November and targeted older social media users in states like New York, New Jersey and California, based on Meta’s transparency data.

Marshall Wittman, an AIPAC spokesman, told POLITICO the organization was using its social media campaign to “counter false claims and ensure accurate information about the conflict is disseminated.” A representative for the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism did not respond to a request for comment.

The American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee (ADC) was the largest ad spender for advocacy groups aligned with Palestinians. The group spent just under $10,000 on Meta’s platforms between Nov. 2 and Dec. 1, although almost all of its paid messaging did not specifically mention the Middle East conflict.

“Help us protect Arab-American rights!” said an ADC ad, viewed up to 50,000 times by predominantly women between 25 and 54 years old in states including California, New York and Texas, according to Meta’s data.

“The purpose of our ads is to let people know we’re here to protect them,” Abed Ayoub, ADC’s national executive director, told POLITICO. When asked why pro-Palestinian ad spending lagged those advocating for Israel, Ayoub claimed, “It takes a lot more money to change people’s opinions about a lie.”

Meta has banned Hamas and removes content that praises the organization, which the U.S. and the European Union have designated a terrorist organization. Linda Yaccarino, X’s chief executive, wrote in an Oct 11. letter that “there is no place on X for terrorist organizations or violent extremist groups” on the platform.

The lopsided spending on ads, many targeting younger users, coincides with a growing skepticism of Israel among young Americans. A Quinnipiac University poll released last month found 66 percent of respondents under 35 years old said they disapproved of Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, compared to older Americans who were more supportive of Israel.

The largest single pro-Israel advertiser between Nov. 2 and Dec. 1 was an organization called “Facts for Peace,” which spent over $450,000 to target Meta users younger than 30 years old in major cities like Houston, Atlanta and Los Angeles. The paid messaging — the fifth largest ad buy by any individual organization over that time period — included a Palestinian citizen of Israel denouncing Hamas’ treatment of the LGBTQ community, and a video claiming, “While Gazans suffer, Hamas leaders reside in villas in Qatar.”

The group, within a month, also amassed more than 18,000 followers on TikTok, which does not provide transparency on U.S. ad buys.

Facts for Peace does not reveal its funders online, but its Facebook page lists a phone number that matches that of Josh Vlasto, a former adviser to ex-Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A representative for the group did not respond to requests for comment, although the Bureau of Investigative Journalism previously reported on Vlasto’s ties to Facts for Peace. Semafor reported he was hired to front a $50 million media campaign funded by Wall Street and Hollywood billionaires to “define Hamas to the American people as a terrorist organization.”

“Facts for Peace, that’s a big spender,” said Jeffers of Who Targets Me. “That’s serious money.”

Some of the pro-Israel paid messaging ran afoul of social media rules. A Facebook page called “Bring Them Home Now” that spent $56,000 to message about Israeli hostages in Gaza did not reveal its funders, according to Meta’s transparency records. The ads without such a disclaimer were removed.

The Israeli government did not buy Meta ads in the period POLITICO reviewed, but X, formerly known as Twitter, stopped a paid promotion of one of its posts in October that compared Hamas to the Islamic State.

For all the advertising, there is some clout money can’t buy — especially with younger people.

In November, TikTok responded to criticism from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who claimed without evidence the platform was perhaps a “malign influence operation” manipulating young Americans via “rampant pro-Hamas propaganda.”

The company, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, replied in a blogpost that pro-Palestinian hashtags were more popular than pro-Israel across social media. It pointed to Instagram, where the hashtag “standwithisrael” had garnered about 264,000 posts, compared to more than 7 million for “freepalestine.”

“Attitudes among young people skewed toward Palestine long before TikTok existed,” argued TikTok.

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