Israel is hiring troves of university students to flood social media sites with pro-Israel messages, without revealing themselves as government hires, Israeli officials announced Wednesday.
The initiative will be led by the controversial public figure Daniel Seaman, who recently came under fire for filling his own Facebook page with abusive and racially biased anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian messages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu billed the initiative as a student scholarship program that will also fight 'antisemitism' and calls for a boycott of Israel.
"This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,” reads a government statement released Wednesday.
Critics, however, charge that this is simply a desperate effort to stem a growing tide of protests against occupation and apartheid policies of the Israeli government.
"As it becomes clearer to more and more people around the world that what the Israeli government is doing against Palestinians is criminal, the government becomes desperate to shape discourse to defend its actions," Ramah Kudaimi from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation told Common Dreams.
"Claims of antisemitism have been used again and again to silence protesters," she added. "It is not antisemitic to fight government policies that oppress people."
The PR blitz will have a budget of $778,000, and students must apply for the positions, a government official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
This is not the first time Israel has used social media to back its military occupation of Palestine. During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead bombing of Gaza, Israel shut out foreign media and produced its own social media coverage, including a government YouTube channel.
Since then, the government has used social media as a tool of war, including tweeting warnings to Hamas and posting bloody videos of deadly bombings of Hamas leaders on YouTube.
Students have been placed on the front lines of this propaganda fight before. The Electronic Intifada revealed last year that the National Union of Israeli students was partnering with the government to spread pro-government messages, with students attending government trainings and receiving government pay.