TEL AVIV – The mud-slinging between the two main Israeli parties vying for election victory next week continued Monday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Blue and White party of seeing Likud voters as “bots” rather than “real people,” amid claims of fake pro-Netanyahu Twitter accounts.
Social media watchdog Big Bots Project published a report that was picked up by both the New York Times and the Hebrew-language Yedioth Aharonoth, that claimed a Twitter network of some 500+ accounts were suspected of being fake or of coordinating with one another. Researchers cited in the report found no direct link between any of the accounts and the prime minister, his son Yair, or the Likud campaign itself.
Blue and White quickly leveraged the report, charging the prime minister with “info terror” and fake news.
The prime minister responded by claiming that the report was sanctioned by Israeli Alliance, a liberal-leaning organization that is funded by leftists.
In a press briefing in Jerusalem, Netanyahu introduced a man named Giora who runs a pro-Likud account under the pseudonym “Captain George.”
The prime minister turned to Giora and asked, “Are you real? Are you a bot?”
“Giora says what he thinks. Giora says what he wants. Nobody is ‘operating’ him,” Netanyahu continued.
Regarding Blue and White, the prime minister continued, “Brazenly and condescendingly, they are lying and saying you aren’t real.”
“Today they published a front-page story that all the support for us is fictitious, and they brought some examples to prove it. Nearly all the examples turned out to be real people.”
“They have names, they have faces, they have families, and worst of all, they have views of their own,” declared Netanyahu. “None of them are fake.”
Stating its “unbelievable hypocrisy,” Netanyahu slammed Blue and White for controlling “an army of online bots that defame us all the time, Likud, my family, me.”
“It’s just a huge lie, such a transparent lie.”
“They’re running the most deceitful campaign ever,” said Netanyahu.
“For four years, the media lies to you from morning till night. They silence and defame right-wing figures,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu continued, “It won’t work because you, the citizens, are not bots. A million Likud voters are not bots.”
The prime minister also said his party is nearly the “only campaign that doesn’t operate bots.”
Blue and White stood its ground, claiming without evidence that the prime minister operated the string of fake accounts.
“Netanyahu is trying to steal the elections. There has never been a prime minister who lied and defamed so much. Let him explain where the millions of shekels that funded this network of lies came from. And how he paid for it without reporting it,” the party claimed.
Some of the Twitter users identified as bots in the Yedioth Aharonoth report have since stepped forward.
“I was always sure that I’m a real person, but this morning I found out that I am a bot,” Ziv Knobler, who has a pro-Netanyahu Twitter account, said on Israeli radio. He added that he was considering suing the paper.