WASHINGTON — A new ad has begun airing on cable news, telling viewers, "Israel is now fighting for its survival against an enemy who thinks nothing of sacrificing their own people using women and children as human shields."
The ad, paid for by a group called Stop Hamas Now, is typical in the genre of non-candidate political issue ads: A narrator's voice intones over images of Hamas militants and rockets.
At the end of the ad, the voice offers a solution to the danger of Hamas: "Stand up to this outrage. Make your voice heard. Visit stophamasnow.com and sign our petition." The ad is marked as "Paid For By Stop Hamas Now."
Is this the pro-Israel version of tea party email list-building operations?
Once visited, the site gives no indication of who or what is behind this effort to stop Hamas in his tracks. "Support Israel's fight to disarm Hamas now. And in the future," it says. It includes a form where visitors can sign the petition (and sign up to "receive follow up news and information"). In other words, Stop Hamas Now exists solely to harvest emails and build a list — something that is not unusual among modern 501(c)(4)s and political action committees, which can use the lists for various other purposes or sell them to other entities.
What is unusual is that none of the already-known pro-Israel groups are taking credit for the ads or for the site. All of the prominent Washington neoconservatives BuzzFeed asked about Stop Hamas Now said they had nothing to do with the project, though other groups proudly stand behind similar efforts. Stop Hamas Now's site is far from the only one of its kind; The Israel Project, for example, uses sites like peacenothate.com and NoBombForIran.com to build lists. And Stop Hamas Now's ads are similar in tone and style, though of seemingly lower quality, than those produced by the Emergency Committee for Israel.
Even a domain lookup for the website returns no results, as whoever owns the site has registered it using proxies and a dummy address in Panama. And a Facebook page called "Stop Hamas Now" doesn't appear to be connected: "We are not the same group, however we share the same ideology," the page's owner told BuzzFeed in a Facebook message.
A spokesperson for Fox News, where the ad has been primarily running, did not return a request for comment about the buy. A search of Comcast ad buy information for the D.C. area turned up no results, indicating that the buy is national.
"I am aware of the ad you are referring to and we were are not airing it locally," said Jeff Gray, Comcast's regional account executive and political specialist for the Washington area. "From what I know the ads are being purchased through Fox News nationally, so it is being seen in D.C., but it is also being aired throughout the country."
Meanwhile, Stop Hamas Now has racked up 86,267 signatures for its petition, according to its site. Hamas still exists.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.