Inside the Pro-Israel Information War
Israeli gov-led Zoom calls, WhatsApp chat logs, and other docs provide a window into the massive effort to shape online discourse and silence pro-Palestinian voices.
Above: Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, speaks to J-Ventures investment fund on Oct. 10, 2023 about the security situation in Israel and how American supporters of Israel can assist with lobbying and public relations.
As the Israel-Hamas war began to heat up in late October, Courtney Carey, a Dublin-based employee of the Israeli website building company Wix, posted the Irish words “SAOIRSE DON PHALAISTIN” -- “Freedom for Palestine” -- on her LinkedIn page.
Within 24 hours of Carey’s LinkedIn post appearing, Alon Ozer, a Miami-based investor, took a screenshot of the post and shared it with a WhatsApp group of more than 300 like-minded investors, tech executives, activists, and at least one senior Israeli government official. Ozer took care to note that Carey worked for Wix.
Oded Hermoni, a tech journalist-turned-venture capitalist, piped up to assure everyone that Batsheva Moshe, Wix’s general manager for Israel and a member of the group chat, had been “on it since Sat[urday] night.”
Moshe then chimed in to assure her peers that the issue with Carey had been “taken care of since it was published.”
“I believe there will be an announcement soon re our reaction,” she added.
Moshe was apparently aware of Carey’s LinkedIn comments, which also included a denunciation of the “Zionist ideology which promotes an exclusivist state,” before Ozer flagged them in the WhatsApp group.
The interaction nonetheless reflects the heightened coordination among pro-Israel forces in Silicon Valley and the global tech sector.
Following Hamas’s terror attack on Oct. 7, a loose network of pro-Israel investors, tech executives, activists, and Israeli government officials have stepped up their efforts to combat the slightest deviations from the pro-Israel script.
The WhatsApp group where Carey’s case came up serves as a kind of switchboard where the various independent players in Silicon Valley’s pro-Israel community swap ideas, identify enemies, and collaborate on ways to defend Israel in the media, academia, and the business world.
We have obtained access to thousands of the group’s WhatsApp messages dating back to mid-October, and an intricate spreadsheet where group participants request and claim tasks ranging from social media responses to IDF support shipments. Separately, we have viewed a number of video meetings charting best practices for “hasbara” – an Israeli term of art for “public diplomacy” whose detractors see it as a euphemism for propaganda -- that offer a window into Israel’s public-relations war that is not limited to the tech sector.
In addition to Moshe, the WhatsApp group includes prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist Jeff Epstein – a former CFO of Oracle – and Andy David, a diplomat-cum-venture capitalist who also serves as the Israeli foreign ministry’s head of innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech.
The WhatsApp group, officially named the “J-Ventures Global Kibbutz Group,” is a project of J-Ventures, a U.S.-Israeli investment fund that calls itself a “capitalist kibbutz” -- a reference to Israel’s historically collectivist farming communities. Hermoni, the WhatsApp group’s founder, is a managing director of J-Ventures, and David, the foreign ministry official, is internally listed by J-Ventures as a member of the "PR/Political Team" that makes decisions on messaging and lobbying.
The WhatsApp group, spreadsheet, and various video discussions offer a rare public glimpse of how Israel and its American allies harness Israel’s influential tech sector and tech diaspora to run cover for the Jewish state as it endures scrutiny over the humanitarian impact of its invasion of Gaza.
Conversations of this kind are not unusual for any important interest group, but they reveal the degree to which, in the tech-oriented hasbara world, the lines between government, the private sector, and the nonprofit world are blurry at best. And the tactics that these wealthy individuals, advocates, and groups use -- hounding Israel critics on social media; firing pro-Palestine employees and canceling speaking engagements; smearing Palestinian journalists; and attempting to ship military-grade equipment to the IDF -- are often heavy-handed and controversial.
“This is a peek under the hood of how U.S. foreign policy is steered in order to produce policy outcomes,” said Eli Clifton, a senior advisor to the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Clifton noted that the White House has strongly communicated an interest in limiting civilian casualties during the war, but appears unable to muster the political resources to change the IDF’s current direction.
"President Biden seems incapable of using the one policy tool that may actually produce a change in Israel's actions that might limit civilian deaths, which would be to condition military aid that the United States provides to Israel,” Clifton added. He partially attributed the inability of the U.S. government to rein in Israel’s war actions to the “lobbying and advocacy efforts underway.”
Above: Two contiguous screenshots from a Sunday, Oct. 22 conversation in the J-Ventures WhatsApp group regarding the firing of Dublin-based Wix employee Courtney Carey for her pro-Palestinian LinkedIn statements. The last participant is Wix’s General Manager for Israel, Batsheva Moshe, using a kind of Hebrew rebus handle.
‘Maintaining Pressure,’ At the Behest of the IDF
Just days after the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel from Hamas, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for Israel Defense Forces, beamed into a Zoom meeting to brief pro-Israel activists from Silicon Valley. The participants included major venture capitalists and technology executives, such as Jordan Blashek, the President of America’s Frontier Fund, a national security investment firm backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
"There is still fighting ongoing in sporadic clashes and attacks by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel," Conricus said. Since he was speaking to the group on an unencrypted, open line, Conricus cautioned that he could not divulge too many secrets. But, he added, the war would soon escalate with an Israeli military response and the participants on the call could lend a hand.
The IDF spokesman encouraged those on the call to assist with “maintaining pressure on legislators” in Congress and to work to influence those “in universities or media, or think tanks, or in elite circles.”
Members of the hasbara-oriented tech world WhatsApp group have eagerly taken up the call to shape public opinion as part of a bid to win what’s been described as the “second battlefield” and “the information war.”
It’s not hard to see why. On Oct. 7, Hamas murdered an estimated 1,200 Israelis and foreign workers, and abducted roughly 240 people as hostages. The killing spree was the worst mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust and a tragedy that immediately upended Israeli society.
The massacre also prompted Israel to embark on an invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 16,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children and displaced more than 1 million Gaza residents from their homes. Critics of the invasion argue that Israel is both failing to minimize the invasion’s impact on Palestinian civilians and to recognize that it will only achieve security when Palestinians have hope for a state of their own. But Israel maintains that it must stop at nothing to eradicate Hamas, which embeds itself in civilian infrastructure.
That’s where the efforts of J-Ventures’ hasbara WhatsApp group come in. The group, which also includes individuals affiliated with the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has tirelessly worked to fire employees and punish activists for expressing pro-Palestinian views. It has also engaged in a successful push to cancel events held by prominent Palestinian voices, including an Arizona State University talk featuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who is the only Palestinian-American in Congress. The group has also circulated circulated a push poll suggesting Rep. Tlaib should resign from Congress and provided an automatic means of thanking Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., for voting for her censure.
In some cases, officials from the IDF and other parts of the Israeli government have joined the effort. David, the Israeli foreign ministry official and an investor in J-Ventures, has shared official talking points in the WhatsApp group.
One presentation that David shared made the case that Hamas intentionally stations its military operations near civilian sites as part of its strategy of deploying “human shields.” United Nations officials have discovered Hamas rockets hidden in a vacant school in the past, and indeed, the militant group's vast, underground tunnel network endangers civilians throughout the Gaza Strip. Yet the recent IDF document uses broad categories to identify Hamas military sites and Israeli targets, including a “Hamas bank” located next to a Palestinian kindergarten.
Above: IDF presentation shared by Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official and J-Ventures investor Andy David and dated Oct. 11.
Israeli officials have invested heavily in shaping the narrative about its war on social media, viewing online discourse as a vital area for maintaining public support. Last month, a spokeswoman for the IDF and the Israel office director of Bessemer Venture Partners, the venture capital firm where Jeff Epstein is an operating partner, jointly led a Zoom workshop for “high-tech leaders” on tactics for scoring “victories” in the public discourse on Twitter/X. J-Ventures has also raised funds for automated technology to mass report tweets and for facial recognition technology for the IDF to identify hostages. Meanwhile, other Israeli officials have led similar webinar sessions on strategy to shape coverage in campus newspapers and major media outlets.
J-Ventures has joined the broader U.S. Jewish community in supporting more conventional charity efforts in Israel. One J-Ventures impact report notes that the group raised money for laptops for Israeli children evacuated because of the conflict and supplied mental health services for those traumatized by the Oct. 7 attack. The chats discuss the urgent need to send medical supplies and funds to Israeli hospitals.
Ruby Chen, the father of Itay Chen, a 19-year-old Israeli-American IDF soldier who went missing on Oct. 7 and is believed to be a hostage of Hamas, is also a member of WhatsApp chat. The group has coordinated closely with Chen to promote his television appearances.
But J-Ventures has also veered into an unusual kind of philanthropy: shipments of military supplies. The group has attempted to provide tactical gear to Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALs, known as Shayetet-13, and donated to a foundation dedicated to supporting the IDF’s undercover “Duvdevan” unit, which is known for infiltrating Palestinian populations. Many of the shipments intended for the IDF were held up at U.S. airports over customs issues.
‘Ridicule Works’: The Social Media War
The online space has been a focal point of pro-Israel activism, far beyond J-Ventures. Less than two weeks into the conflict, the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry released 75 different online ads and spent millions of dollars purchasing space on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter/X. The ministry, which operates several highly active social media accounts, has also reached out directly to American allies, helping guide pro-Israel activism on social platforms.
"You guys are our frontline soldiers,” said Tamar Schwarzbard, head of Digital Diplomacy at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, on an October Zoom call posted online by Hasbara Fellowships, a nonprofit group that works closely with the Israeli government to train pro-Israel activists in the U.S. and Canada. She noted that the government needed help reframing the Gaza war and the public messaging over the conflict with Hamas.
“Let’s say you see some kind of newspaper article on your campus news site showing support or solidarity with the Palestinians and not speaking out against what's going on in the Gaza envelope and in Israel,” she said. “So you want to make sure, try to tag, let's say, the president of the university on the post you're putting out condemning that article.”
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“Hamas does really good PR,” continued Schwarzbard. “We need to change the narrative.” She implored the group to use focused language. “We need people to see this isn't just a run-of-the-mill resistance, freedom fighter group. This is something equivalent of ISIS.”
Schwarzbard instructed participants on the call to use certain hashtags when discussing the conflict, such as #HamasIsISIS, #IStandwithIsrael, and #IsraelUnderAttack. The strategy would boost engagement and bring a large audience to the pro-Israel cause, she explained.
She also focused on the expected public relations challenges posed by the war. Israel would soon lose international support as its military response in Gaza kills more Palestinian civilians, noted Schwarzbad, who stressed the need to refocus attention on Israeli civilian deaths. “Try to use names and ages whenever you can,” she said. Don’t refer to statistics of the dead, use stories. “Say something like, 'Noah, age 26, was celebrating with her friends at a music festival on the holiest day of the week, Shabbat. Imagine if your daughter was at Coachella.’”
As with the efforts to punish employees and activists, senior figures in both Silicon Valley and the Israeli tech corridor work closely with the Israeli government to disseminate pro-Israel narratives on social media. On Nov. 22, Adam Fisher, the head of the Israel office of Bessemer Venture Partners, gave a presentation on how U.S. “high-tech leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs,” such as himself, could help the Israel Defense Forces win the “information war” on social media. IDF spokesperson Major Libby Weiss, who previously worked as the head of the IDF’s international social media and as the official spokesperson to American and Canadian journalists, presented in military uniform to the group just moments before Fisher.
Throughout numerous presentation slides filled with screenshots of his own tweets – frequently with the number of likes and retweets circled in red – Fisher gave examples of his strategies for “criticizing and ridiculing” prominent Twitter/X users who were sympathetic to Palestinians. On a slide entitled, “Ridicule works,” Fisher’s “ridicule” examples ranged from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to Palestinian-American policy analyst Mariam Barghouti and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Paul Graham. Fisher also claimed credit for online criticism leading to the resignation of Paddy Cosgrave as CEO of the technology conference Web Summit.
Above: Slides from a Nov. 22 presentation given by Adam Fisher, the Israel country manager of Bessemer Venture Partners, which explained to “high tech leaders” and an in-uniform spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces how he effectively “ridicules” pro-Palestinian influencers on Twitter/X, including Palestinian-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and venture capitalist Paul Graham.
But Fisher also emphasized the importance of an occasional soft touch on social media that is appropriate for defusing more mild critics and harnessing potential allies. The venture capitalist offered broad rhetorical strategies for pro-Israel voices to engage on social media, identifying three types of people worth cultivating online.
The Israel-based venture capitalist outlined three categories of people for whom outreach, rather than attacks, is the best strategy. The first group is what he dubbed “the impressionables,” who are "typically young people, they reflexively support the weak, oppose the oppressor," but "are not really knowledgeable." For this category of people, the goal is not to "convince them of anything," but to "show them that it's much more complicated than it seems." Seeding doubt, he said, would make certain audiences think twice before attending a protest. "So it's really about creating some kind of confusion,” Fisher continued, “but really, just to make it clear to them that it's really a lot more complicated."
A second category, Fisher explained, is the "uncomfortable sympathizer," a group that "wants to support Israel -- they're typically more liberal," but opposes the current government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These types can be won over, Fisher said, by pointing out "that we are a multi-ethnic, diverse, democratic liberal society with rotten apples."
The final group consists of those who are "reflexively pro-Israel, kind of ‘Israel, right or wrong.’" Members of this group "are not actually very knowledgeable," so they needed to be equipped with the right facts to make them "more effective in advocating for Israel,” Fisher said.
Fisher repeatedly noted the need to offer accurate and nuanced information to rebut critics of Israel's actions. Yet at times, he offered his own misinformation, such as his claim that "anti-Israel" human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch "didn't condemn the October 7th massacre."
In fact, Amnesty had condemned Hamas’s attack a few days after it occurred, detailing a long list of atrocities committed by the Palestinian militia and allied groups. “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups flagrantly violated international law and displayed a chilling disregard for human life,” Amnesty stated in its Oct. 12 report. Similarly, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a dispatch on Oct. 10 that condemned the Hamas attack on Israel, noting that deliberately "killing civilians is a war crime, as is hostage taking."
The efforts to discredit HRW stem directly from its outspoken criticism of Israel’s record in the occupied territories and its military conduct. An HRW report released the same day as Fisher’s remarks cited the World Health Organization’s conclusion that the IDF had killed roughly one child in Gaza every 10 minutes since the outbreak of violence in October.
Other efforts to defend Israel coming from Silicon Valley involve technological attempts to censor critics and promote a pro-Israel message to shape opinions about the war.
Gadi Hutt, senior director of business development at Amazon-owned subsidiary Annapurna Labs, has helped the J-Ventures team pressure the Amazon online marketplace to remove t-shirts and other merchandise that feature the slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a campaign that was ultimately successful, he announced to the WhatsApp group.
Hutt also informed the WhatsApp group that he was leading “a group of technologists to implement multiple projects aiding the war effort.” One of the J-Ventures documents lists Hutt as the point person for Canary Mission, a controversial group that blacklists pro-Palestinian figures on college campuses, to help the group train "AI models to classify antisemitic posts from Twitter.”
Earlier this week, members of the J-Ventures group chat also internally circulated a petition for Netflix to remove the award-winning Jordanian film ‘Farha,’ claiming that its portrayal of the actions of IDF soldiers during the 1948 displacement of Palestinians constituted “blood libel,” while another said the film was based “antisemitism and lies.”
Last year, the Israeli government revoked funding for a theater in Jaffa for screening the film, while government figures called for other repercussions to Netflix for streaming it.
In the WhatsApp group, the demand faced some pushback. One member noted that despite the controversy over a scene in the film in which Israeli soldiers execute a Palestinian family, Israeli historians have documented that “such actions have indeed happened.” The critique was rejected by other members of the group, who said the film constituted “incitement” against Jews.
J-Ventures documents and affiliated WhatsApp discussions also show support for a variety of automated attempts to remove pro-Palestinian content on social media. In one instance, J-Ventures donated $19,531 to DigitalDome.io, an initiative that promotes itself as an online version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, promising that “offensive and malicious content is intercepted here.” Hermoni and Rami Lipman, an investor in Israel, are listed as the points of contact for the contribution.
An Oct. 25 posting in the J-Ventures WhatsApp channel asserted that DigitalDome’s “recent achievements” included the censorship of Hamas’s channels on the Telegram communications platform using Android phones, allegedly as a result of Telegram being forced to comply with Google Play’s guidelines. DigitalDome likewise touts various efforts to remove pro-Palestinian content from Instagram and Twitter/X. In one case, the site claims it had successfully reported an account to a European Union legal body for posting videos with Hamas fighters.
The little-known DigitalDome.io website is labeled by J-Ventures as part of its hasbara, or pro-Israel public relations efforts, and is run in partnership with the Israeli fact-checking website FakeReporter, which was founded by Achiya Schatz, a veteran of the IDF’s undercover commando unit, Duvdevan. Schatz has had a curious career trajectory, however; prior to founding FakeReporter, he served as communications director for the left-wing Israeli group Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence documents the stories of IDF veterans who feel guilty about what they see as immoral practices in which they were complicit during their military service, and now advocate for peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
When reached for comment, Schatz stated that he started FakeReporter out of a genuine concern about the impact of misinformation on the public discourse. The nonprofit group is "devoted to fact-based conversation, anti-hate speech, anti-violence … because I believe that the democratic space has shrunk to a place that conversation almost doesn't even matter anymore," he said.
Schatz vehemently denied the suggestion that his group is part of the hasbara ecosystem or otherwise aims to help Israel shape its public image. “Maybe people … think I'm doing it for different [reasons], or even to fight pro-Palestinian activists,” he said. “I do not.”
In the WhatsApp group, J-Ventures also promoted IronTruthBot, a bot that automates the process of removing “inflammatory, false, and defamatory posts against Israel from all platforms.” The project was described as being developed by a group of volunteers, receiving 700 reports a day and succeeding in removing “hundreds of inappropriate posts.”
A ‘Safe and Inclusive Environment’ -- Free of Dissenting Voices
Over the last two months, dozens of individuals have been fired for expressing opinions related to the war in Gaza and Israel. Most have been dismissed for expressing pro-Palestinian views, including a writer for PhillyVoice, the editor of ArtForum, an apprentice at German publishing giant Axel Springer, and Michael Eisen, the editor-in-chief of eLife, a prominent science journal. Eisen’s offense was a tweet sharing a satirical article from The Onion seen as sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.
The WhatsApp chats provide a rare look at the organizing efforts behind the broad push to fire critics of Israel and suppress public events featuring critics of the Israeli government. The scope is surprisingly broad, ranging from investigating the funding sources of student organizations such as Model Arab League, to monitoring an organizing toolkit of a Palestine Solidarity Working Group – “They are verrrry well organized”, one member exclaimed – to working directly with high-level tech executives to fire pro-Palestinian employees.
Sometimes it is unclear whether the group’s members actually have elite IDF and Israeli government connections, or are merely engaging in idle bluster. Saar Gillai, chair of Liquid Instruments and board member to several other tech companies, said he had passed the Palestinian solidarity organizing document "to 'friends' in places s tarting [sic] with 8....," an apparent reference to Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200. Unit 8200 is both a massive communications interception operation -- Israel’s rough equivalent to the U.S. National Security Agency -- and an elite intelligence analysis and cybersecurity unit that has become a springboard for Israel’s booming tech startup sector. Gillai served in the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, the parent organization of Unit 8200, from 1985 to 1992, according to his LinkedIn page.
Batsheva Moshe, the Wix executive who organized the firing of Ms. Carey, moderated the Zoom call with Fisher and Major Weiss, and promoted the event within the WhatsApp group run by Mr. Hermoni, the managing partner of J-Ventures.
Ms. Moshe did not respond to a request for comment.
The organized firing of Carey was one of many attempts by tech executives and other participants in the WhatsApp logs to penalize pro-Palestinian speech. J-Ventures similarly mobilized efforts among its team to place pressure on several university campuses against student-led events. On Oct. 16, WhatsApp member Daniel A. Bock, an Arizona-based technology lawyer, forwarded a message calling attention to Rep. Tlaib’s scheduled appearance at Arizona State University for an event with the Arizona Palestine Network, a pro-Palestine advocacy group. "Let’s call ASU and get this thing cancelled [sic]. Can we do this in one day?” Bock wrote, alongside contact information for ASU officials and the Scottsdale, Ariz. mayor's office.
Several members chimed in with approval for the effort. One participant even suggested that they appeal to the university’s “woke” aversion to exposing students to uncomfortable ideas. The participant drafted a sample letter claiming that Tlaib’s appearance threatened ASU’s “commitment to a safe and inclusive environment.” The following day, ASU officially canceled the Tlaib event, citing “procedural issues.” The WhatsApp group shared the news and celebrated the decision.
The WhatsApp group mustered similar efforts against pro-Palestinian activists and writers. Lior Netzer, a business consultant based in Massachusetts, and a member of the J-Ventures WhatsApp group, requested help pressuring the University of Vermont to cancel a lecture with Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian writer for The Nation magazine. Netzer shared a sample script that alleged that El-Kurd had engaged in anti-Semitic speech in the past.
The effort also appeared to be successful. Shortly after the letter-writing campaign, UVM canceled the talk, citing safety concerns.
The pro-Israel organizing efforts to silence pro-Palestinian speech raises concerns with some observers of the conflict.
“You can disagree with critics of Israel, you can oppose what they're saying,” noted the Quincy Institute’s Clifton. “But this is an effort to constrain the debate in an underhanded manner.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a civil libertarian group that has long defended controversial speech on campus, likewise expressed its disapproval.
“FIRE is deeply concerned by cancellations of speaking events and retaliation against individuals for their speech about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Aaron Terr, FIRE’s director of public advocacy, said in a statement. “This censorship raises First Amendment issues when perpetrated by government actors like state colleges.”
“In times like these, with political tensions running high, it’s especially important that colleges and other institutions whose very purpose is to foster free expression facilitate dialogue instead of shutting it down,” Terr added.
The WhatsApp group maintained a special focus on elite universities and white-collar professional positions. Group members not only circulated multiple petitions to fire professors and blacklist students from working at major law firms for allegedly engaging in extremist rhetoric, but a J-Ventures spreadsheet lists specific task force teams to "get professors removed who teach falcehoods [sic] to their students." The list includes academics at Cornell University, the University of California, Davis, and NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, among others.
Many of the messages in the group focused on ways in which to shape student life at Stanford University, including support for pro-Israel activists. The attempted interventions into campus life at times hinged on the absurd. Shortly after comedian Amy Schumer posted a now-deleted satirical cartoon lampooning pro-Palestinian protesters as supporters of rape and beheadings, Epstein, the operating partner at Bessemer Ventures Partners and member of the J-Ventures WhatsApp group, asked, “How can we get this political cartoon published in the Stanford Daily?" Though Epstein noted, “I don’t know who created it or owns the copyright.”
Above: On Saturday, October 28, Jeff Epstein, an operating partner at Bessemer Venture Partners who was previously the Chief Financial Officer of Oracle and Google’s DoubleClick, asked the more than 300-member WhatsApp group of the J-Ventures “capitalist kibbutz” how the group can get the student newspaper of Stanford University to publish an anti-Palestinian political cartoon.
Neither Adam Fisher nor Jeff Epstein responded to requests for comment.
Rubbing Elbows with Lawmakers
The powerful roster of J-Ventures' team helped the group reach a far-flung audience. In the midst of its pro-Israel advocacy, the firm’s leadership reminded the WhatsApp group of their high-profile ties. The investment fund touted the fact that two of its portfolio companies were the only two start-ups to be included in the APEC CEO Summit in San Francisco with President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The CEO of one of these two start-ups, Adam Tartakovsky of Epic Cleantec, was also widely described as the primary lobbying connection between J-Ventures and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
The influence extended beyond the business and tech world and into politics. The J-Ventures team includes advocates with the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, better known as AIPAC. Officials in the J-Ventures group include investor David Wagonfeld, whose biography states he is “leading AIPAC Silicon Valley;” Tartakovsky, listed as “AIPAC Political Chair;” Adam Milstein, a real estate executive and major AIPAC donor; and AIPAC-affiliated activists Drs. Kathy Fields and Garry Rayant. Kenneth Baer, a former White House advisor to President Barack Obama and communications counsel to the Anti-Defamation League, is also an active member of the group.
Members of the group who are involved with AIPAC helped advise other members on how to approach Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) about a meeting. Although the lawmaker was initially scheduled to address the group over Zoom, J-Ventures repeatedly rescheduled, and ultimately canceled the event after members of the WhatsApp group objected to Khanna’s ties to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whom Saar Gillai, chair of Liquid Instruments, called "the ultimate anti Israel Jew." Despite the group meeting never taking place, as confirmed by Rep. Khanna, Hermoni shared a photo with the group on Nov. 6 of the two having lunch outside of an Italian restaurant in Los Altos, Calif.
J-Ventures also had to cancel a planned Oct. 30 meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the founder of a multimillion-dollar tech startup. The in-person meeting with Bennett had been scheduled long before the Oct. 7 terror attacks, after which Bennett was no longer available.
Reached for comment, Rep. Khanna confirmed that he met with Hermoni, but that the scheduled J-Ventures Zoom call was canceled. The congressman noted that he enjoys broad support from the tech community. “Some have commented on my strong stance against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and appreciated that,” he said. “I’ve tried to bring people in my district together and foster civil dialogue.”
Above: A photo of U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) and J-Ventures managing partner Oded Hermoni sitting outside of The American Italian Delicatessen at 139 Main Street in Los Altos, Calif. Mr. Hermoni shared the picture with the J-Ventures WhatsApp group on November 6, 2023.
The extensive donor network of J-Ventures also helped bankroll high-priced advocacy efforts. The group raised money for 84 billboards in Toronto, Canada, a digital billboard in Las Vegas, and, “in key locations such as Times Square in New York and all over London,” according to their planning documents. One of the biggest coups by the J-Ventures team was a successful effort to secure funding to air a special television advertisement on the Tonight Show, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN calling for the release of the hostages taken by Hamas.
Other fundraising efforts from J-Ventures included an emergency fund to provide direct support for IDF units, including the naval commando unit Shayetet-13. The leaked planning document also uncovers attempts to supply the mostly female Caracal Battalion with grenade pouches and to donate M16 rifle scope mounts, “FN MAG” machine gun carrier vests, and drones to unnamed IDF units. According to the planning document, customs enforcement barriers have stranded many of the packages destined for the IDF in Montana and Colorado.
We reached out to Hermoni with a detailed request for comment about J-Ventures and the WhatsApp group’s goals, including the military materiel shipments; the extent of Andy David’s involvement in the initiative; and what he sees as the group’s biggest accomplishments to date.
Hermoni did not reply directly. Instead, the morning after being reached for comment, Hermoni warned the WhatsApp group against cooperating with our inquiries. “Two journalists … are trying to have an anti semi[tic] portrait of our activity to support Israel and reaching out to members,” he wrote. “Please ignore them and do not cooperate.” he advised. Shortly thereafter, we were kicked out of the group.
Above: A screenshot of J-Ventures managing partner Oded Hermoni’s warning to the members of the firm’s network after he was reached for comment.
Running Interference on the ‘Media Battlefield’
Several well-funded pro-Israel groups have led campaigns to pressure major media outlets to present friendly coverage of Israel over the course of the war in Gaza.
The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, known as BICOM, a prominent NGO in the United Kingdom funded by Poju Zabludowicz, a real estate investor whose father founded a prominent Israeli weapons company, has launched several media-focused campaigns.
One current effort features a letter-writing campaign to UK lawmakers, demanding that they rein in coverage of the conflict by the BBC. An automated form letter provided by the group denounces the BBC for, among other things, employing a journalist who "writes of casualties in Gaza" and blames "Western media for being complicit in Israel's attack." Another BICOM campaign encourages residents of the UK to write to Ofcom, the media regulator, to complain of anti-Israel bias in British media.
The J-Ventures group pooled efforts to guide reporters from ABC News and other major stations. In its list of action items, the group noted that “NPR is looking for personal stories of how the ‘Mideast crisis’ is affecting people in the US” and called for assistance with locating college students to respond.
And at times, the boundaries between journalism and advocacy have significantly blurred since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack. One notable group is HonestReporting, a nonprofit that describes itself as a journalism watchdog devoted to "truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel." The website for the organization touts its "objectivity" and educational resources designed to filter out what it sees as anti-Israel media bias.
HonestReporting produced a report in November alleging that Palestinian photojournalists who captured pictures of Hamas fighters during the Oct. 7 attack had coordinated with the terror group, making the journalists legitimate targets for the IDF. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office agreed, writing on X, “These journalists were accomplices in crimes against humanity; their actions were contrary to professional ethics.” And Danny Danon, an Israeli cabinet minister, promised on X to “hunt them down together with the terrorists.”
HonestReporting drew some blood. CNN and AP cut ties with Gaza-based freelance photographer Hasan Eslaiah after HonestReporting released its report, and later, posted a photo of Eslaiah getting a kiss from Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza.
But the advocacy group’s “just asking questions”-style report mostly backfired. Reuters, AP, the New York Times, and CNN denied any prior knowledge of Eslaiah or other freelancers coordinating with Hamas. Some of the outlets went further, condemning HonestReporting’s work for jeopardizing the safety of freelance journalists working in a war zone. The New York Times, for example, said in a statement, “We are gravely concerned that unsupported accusations and threats to freelancers endangers them and undermines work that serves the public interest.”
HonestReporting ended up on the defensive. Rather than apologize though, the lead author of the report, Gil Hoffman, a former Jerusalem Post reporter who is now executive director of HonestReporting, deflected criticism by asserting that his organization had “raised questions” without providing definitive answers. Hoffman told Reuters that he accepted the news organizations’ denials and was “so relieved” to hear them. He also condemned Israeli government officials for what he saw as taking liberties with the report.
When speaking to an audience of fellow hasbara warriors though, Hoffman was more celebratory, touting the report as an unadulterated success. In a Nov. 15 talk he gave to the Hasbara Fellowships as part of its leadership briefing series, Hoffman explained that his exposé “attracted attention all around the world” and made “the world remember October 7, which they had forgotten.” The release of the HonestReporting report suggesting that Palestinian journalists are actually Hamas operatives, Hoffman continued, shifted attention away from the IDF war in Gaza and cast doubt on the reliability of reports from inside Gaza. “You can’t trust the journalists that come out of Gaza,” Hoffman argued. “They could have saved lives and instead took pictures that highlighted the achievements of Hamas.”
Speaking to the Hasbara Fellowships audience, Hoffman also characterized himself as a foot soldier in a wider war on behalf of Israel, rather than a media watchdog primarily concerned with combating bias, as its website suggests. “There are three battles going on right now for Israel’s existence,” he said. Those battles, he explained, take place on the military battlefield, on college campuses,” and the one in which HonestReporting engages, “the media battlefield.”
Victory on the “media battlefield,” Hoffman concluded, “eases pressure on IDF to go quicker, to wrap up” and “goes a long way to deciding how much time Israel has to complete an operation.”
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