The fake story claimed the Saudis gave Bibi $80 million.
Several English-language websites in the Middle East and at least one big American blog fell for a fake story that claimed Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud financed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuâ’s re-election campaign to the tune of $80 million.
The reports all used the same fake quote attributed to Isaac Herzog, a member of Israeli parliament and leader of the Zionist Union party, which sits in opposition to Netanyahu.
â€œIn March 2015, King Salman has deposited eighty million dollars to support Netanyahuâ€™s campaign via a Syrian-Spanish person named Mohamed Eyad Kayali,â€ Herzog was quoted as saying. â€œThe money was deposited to a companyâ€™s account in British Virgin Islands owned by Teddy Sagi, an Israeli billionaire and businessman, who has allocated the money to fund the campaign Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.â€
The information was attributed to a new Panama Papers leak. The Saudi king was named in the Panama Papers, but it was in relation to his purchase of a luxury homes and a yacht. The Netanyahu claim is false.
The fake story appears to have originated with theMiddle East Observer website. It published a story on May 8 that consists of the fabricated Herzog quote and several paragraphs of background information on the Panama Papers.
The outrageous story may have struck some as plausible given that there have beenreports alleging closer ties between the Saudis and Netanyahuâ€™s government.
The Middle East Observer says it aims to â€œproduce neutral and objective news from the Middle East,â€ and that it is headquartered in Turkey. BuzzFeed News contacted the website for comment but has not heard back.
We also contacted Nathalie BesÃ¨r, a Swedish foreign journalist and consultant who was recently listed as the owner of the MiddleEastObserver.org domain name.
â€œI sold the site several months ago,â€ she said in an email, and added that she had told the new owner that the story was fake.
BesÃ¨r said her current contact at the site is â€œMr Hamed,â€ and did not reply to a follow-up email asking for his full name and contact information.
As of today the original fake story has generated over 25,000 Facebook interactions. There have only been a few efforts to debunk the hoax. Israeli journalist Yossi Melman tweeted that Herzog himself said the quote was fake.
Al-Masdar News was among the sites that picked up the false report. It later added an update to say, â€œA spokesperson from Isaac Herzogâ€™s office reached out to Al-Masdar News on Monday to confirm that this quote was fabricated.â€
Author Dee Lestari retweeted the original fake to her nearly 1.5 million followers.
The original story has been tweeted close to 2,000 times.
Boing Boing was one of the larger online outlets to run with the story. Its post originally cited Al-Masdar Newsand presented the Herzog quote as credible.
The site later added an update to link to the Melman tweet with Herzogâ€™s denial.
As the story continues to spread in English, it appears some Arabic sites are publishing fake news follow-ups about the Netenyahu-Saudi connection, perhaps to generate traffic. This story, for example, claims Netanyahu is now planning a visit to Saudi Arabia.
â€œWith Arab minds and Jewish money we can move forward,â€ it quotes a Saudi prince as saying. â€œThink about what can be achieved regarding scientific, technological and humanitarian issues, amoung many other things.â€