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    This Crazy Hoax Claims The Saudi King Funded Benjamin Netanyahu's Election Campaign

    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 Netanyahu's re-election campaign to the tune of $80 million.

    Google News / Via

    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.

    "In March 2015, King Salman has deposited eighty million dollars to support Netanyahu’s campaign via a Syrian-Spanish person named Mohamed Eyad Kayali," Herzog was quoted as saying. "The money was deposited to a company’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."

    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 the Middle 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.

    Middle East Observer / Via

    The outrageous story may have struck some as plausible given that there have been reports alleging closer ties between the Saudis and Netanyahu's government.

    The Middle East Observer says it aims to "produce neutral and objective news from the Middle East," and that it is headquartered in Turkey. BuzzFeed News contacted the website for comment but has not heard back.

    We also contacted Nathalie Besèr, a Swedish foreign journalist and consultant who was recently listed as the owner of the domain name.

    "I sold the site several months ago," she said in an email, and added that she had told the new owner that the story was fake.

    Besèr said her current contact at the site is "Mr Hamed," 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.

    Labor leader Hertzog denies to me unsane websites' reports that he had said that Panama Papers would reveal Bibi got money from Saudi King

    Al-Masdar News was among the sites that picked up the false report. It later added an update to say, "A spokesperson from Isaac Herzog’s office reached out to Al-Masdar News on Monday to confirm that this quote was fabricated."

    The story has benefitted from influential exposure on Twitter. Left-wing British politician George Galloway, known for his stridently anti-Israel views, retweeted a version of it to his 250,000 followers.

    Twitter / Via Twitter: @georgegalloway

    Author Dee Lestari retweeted the original fake to her nearly 1.5 million followers.

    Twitter / Via Twitter: @deelestari

    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 News and presented the Herzog quote as credible.

    The site later added an update to link to the Melman tweet with Herzog's denial.

    Boing Boing eventually deleted its post altogether. Anyone following the URL now gets an error page. But the cached version is available here.

    Boing Boing / Via

    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. / Via

    "With Arab minds and Jewish money we can move forward," it quotes a Saudi prince as saying. "Think about what can be achieved regarding scientific, technological and humanitarian issues, amoung many other things."

    Contact Craig Silverman at

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