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February 3, 2022 2:24 pm

Iran Targeted Israeli Jews With Facebook Network to Stoke ‘Religious War,’ Researchers Say

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of the Facebook logo. Photo: Reuters / Dado Ruvic / Illustration / File.

A Facebook network geared at nationalist and ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews has been exposed as part of a suspected Iranian disinformation campaign intended to fuel internal tensions and civil unrest in the Jewish state.

The network, which called itself “Aduk” based on the Hebrew acronym for “virtual religious union for the religious community,” was traced to Iran and exposed by the Israeli watchdog organization FakeReporter, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Its goal was to foment “religious war” and stoke “fear, hatred, and chaos,” said FakeReporter.

Achiya Schatz, the watchdog’s chief executive, said the network was created in the wake of the Israeli-Arab riots that took place in May 2021, “when Israel was at one of the lowest points in its history in the relations between Jewish and Arab citizens.”

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The network was sophisticated and took great pains to appear credible, with fake pages for non-existent businesses and identity theft, including of Reuven Nesterov, a religious Jewish man from Russia who died four years ago.

“It’s something that we haven’t seen before, creating such a backstory,” Schatz said.

Olga Veshueva, Nesterov’s sister, expressed grief and anger over the theft of his identity for such purposes, saying her brother was “a kind, gentle person.”

“All these social networks should be shut down,” she said.

“These networks are becoming more and more developed,” Schatz said. “To see them connecting with such extremists and violent groups … they’re very fluent in Israeli politics.”

The network particularly concentrated on ultra-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been involved in multiple provocative public incidents. It also promoted right-wing protests against the current coalition government, propaganda claiming the government is run by Muslims, and Haredi hostility to law enforcement.

Schatz called on social media companies to take action against this form of disinformation, saying, “We need to understand that if countries and the social networks, the big techs, won’t step forward and increase security and defend the rights of users online, we are going to see more infiltration of politics and distrust between people.”

Facebook’s parent company Meta told the BBC that its response to suspected Iranian interference has “slowed this campaign down each time and helped to keep them from rebuilding their audience on our platform.”

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

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