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How Does Edy Cohen Stir Up Controversy and Mislead The Arab Public Opinion?

This article was written by Islam Aziz and translated by Eman Hillis
Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
18th August 2023
How Does Edy Cohen Stir Up Controversy and Mislead The Arab Public Opinion?
Edy Cohen exploits Twitter algorithm to recommend the content he promotes (AI)

Edy Cohen is a journalist close to the Israeli Security Services. Throughout the last few years, he has risen to fame in the Arab world. His full name is Edward Haïm Cohen Halala, and he was born in 1972. Cohen defines himself as an Israeli journalist, academic doctor, and researcher at the Begin Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Arabic affairs and the “Arab-Israeli conflict.”

There is not much information about Edy Cohen. Some media outlets stated that he is an Israeli researcher who has Lebanese-Arabic origins, which may explain his Arabic language. Cohen was born and raised in Beirut before migrating with his family to Israel and living in Tel Aviv. He, along with Avichay Adraee, Israeli army Spokesman in Arabic, is one of the most well-known Israelis in the Arab world.

Cohen earned his fame in the Arab world for several reasons. The most remarkable reason among them is his appearance on famous media channels. He has also appeared on international social media concerned with Arab affairs.

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Cohen Stirring Up Controversy Over Arabs

In October 2012, Cohen started getting active on Twitter. He was then tweeting in Hebrew and English promoting the Israeli government news.

His Twitter account was improving little by little. After his fame spread upon making appearances on some Arabic channels, he started tweeting in Arabic, trying to focus on important issues for Arabs from different Arab countries stirring up controversy.

Cohen’s fame grew thanks to the controversial tweets on his Twitter account targeted at the Arabic audience. With his tweets about the Arabs and the Arab rulers, Cohen deliberately provokes the Arabic audience. He tweets a lot of misleading information about the Arabs while deliberately spreading rumors causing a media hype. Misbar has fact-checked a handful of them.

According to Misbar's analysis, The Arabic tweets in Cohen’s account have reached more than 90 percent.

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Photo Description: Analysis of the most used languages on Edy Cohen's account.

In his tweets, Cohen mainly focuses on problematic issues in the Arab world to stir up controversy. He criticizes tyranny, corruption, and problems of development, while comparing it with the political and economic situation in Israel, promoting the idea that Israel is the only democratic and prosperous country while the Arab countries are divided and scattered.

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Cohen always touches on the regime in Egypt, constantly talking about President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the monarchy in Jordan. He also talks a lot about Syria, Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf states, while vilifying Palestinians and the resistance factions.

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Cohen, The Gulf States, And Normalization

Cohen calls the Arab countries and people to normalize and integrate with Israel. He is currently targeting the Gulf states, especially after the normalization of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates with Israel. Cohen has previously mentioned in a special statement to Alhurra website that Saudi Arabia has been trying to set the scene to normalize with Israel.

After the official Israeli relationship with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Cohen delivered a message to the Gulf states demanding to make a fresh start and accept the Israelis and Jews. He pointed out that the Arab-Israeli conflict ended and “after these agreements, there is no Arab country considering a war with Israel currently,” clearing out that the conflict will only be between Palestine and Israel.

Cohen was upset about the Saudi-Iranian deal. He shared some tweets expressing, from his point of view, the danger of this deal and criticized Saudi Arabia for making it.

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Cohen Promotes Arab Accounts That Support Normalization 

By observing Cohen’s account, it turns out that he always retweets and interacts with tweets from accounts with Arabic names praising Israel and calling for normalization. Some of these tweets are from real Arab figures who are already on the path of normalization. Nevertheless, a bunch of these accounts look fake and were made just to talk about normalization and convince the followers of it.

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Photo Description: An analysis showing the most prominent accounts that interact with Cohen and share the same ideas.

Badr Alsaadoun’s Account

One of the most permanent accounts that interact with Edy Cohen and promote him heavily is an account for a person who defines himself as a Saudi living in Riyadh, called Badr Alssadoun.

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There is not much information about Badr. He has about 20K followers and has made an appearance on “Tov” Israeli website, as a Saudi activist.

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Photo Description: Badr Al-Saadoun's interview with Edy Cohen.

Misbar investigated Alsaadoun’s account and found that it was created on April 2020. The user is tweeting from Saudi Arabic.

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Photo Description: A map showing where the account tweets originate from.

Upon observing Alssadoun’s tweets, it turns out that only 4% of the tweets are original, 20% are retweets, and about 76% are comments.

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Photo Description: Badr Al-Saadoun's tweets analytics.

The account mainly focuses on topics that convey a negative image of Palestine yet a positive image of Israel. In his tweets, he says he is an “Arab Hebrew.” He constantly tweets with the hashtags #فلسطين_ليست_قضيتي [Palestine is not my cause] and #المجد_لاسرائيل [glory to Israel] while questioning the right of the Palestinians in their land.

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Photo Description: The most prominent words on Badr Al-Saadoun's account.

Sfouk Al-Sheikh’s Account

Among the accounts that Cohen promotes constantly is an account of someone called Sfouk Al-Sheikh. He identifies himself as “the leader of the enlightenment revolution in the 21st century.”

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Photo Description: Sfouk Al-Sheikh’s Account.

Sfouk defines himself as a Syrian, yet he is proud of his Zionism. His account was created in December 2020 and has approximately 35K followers. He posts many videos making fun of Arabs and Muslims and supports Israel. He is keenly seeking to tarnish the Palestinians’ image.

Cohen once posted a video stating, “We renew our allegiance, loyalty, and loyalty to our Jewish brothers and cousins, and we say to them #I-am-a-Zionist_and_proud. I have not found more honorable and kinder than you, nor have I found clearer than you, nor have I found more truthful than you. We are with you and our enemy is one.”

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Cohen is not the only one who seeks to Sfouk Al-Sheikh. In fact, there is a whole group of Israeli accounts that shed his image and have attempted to introduce him as an Arab citizen who speaks earnestly and reasonably about the source of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel Speaks Arabic account was one of those accounts that promoted Al-Sheik’s videos. Moreover, many Israeli accounts follow Al-Sheikh.

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Photo Description: Israel Speaks Arabic account promotes Sfouk Al-Sheikh.

Most of the time, Sfouk Al-Sheikh’s account tweets from the United States, but there are some tweets that appear to have been written from Saudi Arabia.

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Photo Description: A map showing Sfouk Al-Sheikh’s account tweets from.

Cohen’s Account Reach

Currently, Edy Cohen’s account has over 571K followers on Twitter. The average number of likes on most of his tweets is 20 to 50, it could sometimes rise up to 100 or over for some topics. The average number of likes on controversial tweets or tweets on an important incident for the public is 500 to 1000 more.

Some of the tweets that satirically question topics related to the Arabic world could achieve a higher number of impressions.

Moreover, Edy Cohen’s account is known for posting controversial and unverified content which is related to conspiracy theories, exploiting the Twitter algorithm to recommend the content he promoted. Misbar has previously published a special article on this matter.

Suspicious Accounts Follow Edy Cohen

After analyzing the accounts that follow Edy Cohen and interact repeatedly with his tweets, Misbar realized there are hundreds of Israeli accounts following his account. They appear to be fake accounts without any clear backgrounds or definitions. Many of these accounts have joined Twitter recently at the beginning of this year. They do not tweet or follow anybody except for public figures who have a relationship with the Israeli government. This suggests there is a network of fake accounts supporting and backing Cohen’s account and other similar accounts.

In the next photo, there is a number of these accounts which were created in the period between the last January to March. They do not have any clear activities on Twitter.

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Photo Description: Suspicious Accounts Follow Edy Cohen.

Misbar has also found thousands of fake and inactive accounts on Twitter that follow Edy Cohen’s account and hold Arabic names. Many of these accounts have joined Twitter during the last few months and do not have any clear activity.

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Photo Description: Suspicious Accounts Follow Edy Cohen.

Emad Saadalla

In the middle of March 2023, a person called Emad Saadalla appeared. He claims that he will nominate himself in the coming Egyptian election in 2024 claiming he will be the future president of Egypt.

Emad posted a video stating that the property of the Holy Land belongs to the Israelis, not to the Palestinians. Cohen shared the video commenting, “Bravo. A word of truth from the next president of Egypt.” Then, Saadalla posted another video thanking Cohen for his words. Accordingly, he started posting videos refusing that there is a State of Palestine and confirming that Israel is the only country and Jerusalem is its capital. Saadalla also calls for kicking all the refugees out of Egypt while Cohen shares these videos.

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Photo Description: Emad Saadalla’s Account.

There is not much information about Emad Saadalla. Upon analyzing his account, it turns out that he is a controversial figure who opposes the Egyptian system and shares many ideas and content supporting Israel. He shared a bunch of Israeli news on his account before announcing his plan to nominate himself in the next Egyptian elections.

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In one of his boldest statements that he tweeted on his account, he says, “Palestinians sold their land and they are the most people who benefit from Israel…”

This statement is consistent with the American-Israeli vision, the articles of which were leaked previously in what is called by the media the “Deal of the Century.” At the forefront of this deal is the project of resettling the Palestinians in the Sinai desert, preparing for evacuating the citizens from the Gaza Strip. These articles are called “stimulus packages,” specially made for the Arab countries neighboring Palestine, especially Egypt.

Cohen Shares Misleading News

Misbar previously investigated tens of the misleading claims promoted by Edy Cohen’s account, with investigations refuting them and classifying their clarity. It is noticeable that Cohen promotes concepts showing Arabs as always arguing with each other, and also promotes the concept that Palestinians create crises and manipulate the area.

Cohen directly and constantly communicates with the audience of the Gulf affirming the causes that unite the Gulf-Israeli political interests. Also, he always tweets about the claimed hostility felt by Palestinians toward the Gulf states, spreading a lot of rumors.

The most prominent news Cohen promoted recently was a video of a bearded man wearing Ihram dress inside the Great Mosque of Mecca talking about Sa’i between Safa and Marwa. The video was shared and claimed to be for a Palestinian Mufti who is questioning the Saudi scientists and defaming their knowledge, resulting in a scene of chaos with his opinion.

Cohen reposted the video clip commenting, “No one can understand why Palestinians feel hostility toward Saudi Arabia and everything Saudi.”

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The video originally is for a Lebanese Mufti, Jamil Halim Alhusseiny, the head of the Sufi Sheikhs Association in Lebanon. Sheikh Alhusseiny posts religious videos on his social media accounts, while the current Palestinian Mufti is Sheik Mohammed Hussein.

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Cohen shared another video clip, from an incident he claimed to have occurred in Egypt, for a Saudi tourist who was denied entry to a tourist restaurant for wearing a thobe. Cohen posted the video commenting, “You are welcomed in Israel, Saudis, with the Saudi dress and galabia. You do not have to endure the insults you are subjected to in Egypt.”

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In fact, the video is dates back 8 years from an incident that occurred in May 2015. One of the restaurants in Sheikh Zayed City denied a Saudi tourist entry to the restaurant for wearing a thobe. The incident caused a backlash in Egypt then and the Egyptian government apologized for it. Tourism Minister, Khaled Ramy, invited the Saudi tourist and apologized to him. The authorities closed the restaurant for “acts that damage the tourism reputation of the country and for managing the restaurant with a temporary expired, and non-renewable permit."

Shedding Israel's Negative Image Before Arabs

Edy Cohen’s account is one among a bunch of Israeli famous accounts in the Arabic language that target Arab citizens. According to previous studies by experts, these accounts try to penetrate into the Arabs by talking with them in their mother tongue in order to publish fake news and misleading propaganda. The aims are normalization with the Israeli occupation, shedding the negative image of Israel, showing its political agenda, and vilifying Palestinian resistance.

It also seeks to show Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and a humane country, a victim of violence and terrorism. Accordingly, misleading the public opinion about a long history of colonization, murder, and forced displacement.

An example of this is when Avichay Adraee tweeted, on the first day of Ramadan, a photo for a Palestinian child, as he claimed, shaking the hands of Israeli soldiers in front of Rachel border in Bethlehem, confirming, “A picture is worth a thousand words, exposing the lies of those trying to incite and spread hate.” Edy retweeted the photo commenting, “Away from the lies of the Palestinians.”

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Meanwhile, the Israeli occupation forces constantly target, kill, arbitrarily arrest, and abuse Palestinian children. At the beginning of the current year, Israel killed 5 Palestinian children in less than a month. In 2021, human rights organizations recorded the murder of approximately 77 Palestinian children, and about 50 others in 2022.

In 2018, Defense for Children International - Palestine organization announced that the Israeli occupation forces have killed 2070 Palestinian children since 2000. This is a part of the continuous series of crimes against the Palestinian people, which also includes injuring, arresting, and house arresting them, in addition to the psychological pressure children are exposed to. The Israeli forces have already admitted killing many children. They also imprison more than 270 children. On top of that, there are a lot of images and videos, documenting the Israeli occupation's abuse of children.

Similar to Cohen’s account, many Israeli-spoken-Arabic accounts try to show Israel as a human rights defender through misleading propaganda. For instance, in 2015, Avichay Adraee’s account posted a photo of an old Palestinian woman getting help from an Israeli soldier to drink water in Kuza’z town, in the southern Gaza Strip. He commented, “When a picture speaks better than a thousand words. This photo was taken during Operation Protective Edge inside the Gaza Strip.”

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What is not shown in this dramatic image photographed by the occupation is that the old woman, Ghaliah Alabd Abu Raida, who had an impairment visually and physically, was executed moments after taking this promotional image during the war on the Gaza Strip.

The Arab Interaction With Edy Cohen

According to Misbar’s analysis, a huge number of Cohen’s followers and other Israeli-spoken-Ararbic accounts are Israelis. They aim to trick Arabs and interact with them positively to enhance Israel's image.

The Arab interaction with these accounts is divided into two categories. The first category supports the Palestinian cause and defends it by replying to Cohen’s tweets defending Palestinians’ rights and highlighting Israel’s crimes of murder and constant attacks, especially with the Israeli propaganda that alleviates the crimes using peaceful language with Arabic proverbs and Quranic verses. The second category does not see any harm in normalization with Israel. There is another category that interacts with these accounts with good intentions, not realizing the impact of their interactions.

Hasbara Fellowships and The Israelis Campaigns That Promote Israel

What Edy Cohen and other Israeli accounts that post in Arabic share is determined by “Hasbara.” Hasbara is a tool used to spread positive propaganda about Israel in the foreign world. It helps in portraying Israel as the victim and is used as a tool against Palestinians.

Hasbara was born after Israel lost its image upon the second Intifada in 2000, the war against Lebanon in 2006, and the constant attacks on Al Aqsa mosque and Gaza Strip causing the murder of thousands of citizens. Hasbara played a vital role in polishing the tarnished image of Israel. One of its main aims is to polish Israel’s image and revive the image of the occupation, racism, and apartheid.

Hasbara launches awareness campaigns in the Arabic arena in regards of Israel. It uses these accounts for the campaigns. It has already launched several campaigns that caused in rising feelings of hate against Palestinians amongst Gulf citizens by showing the Palestinians who live a luxurious life and highlighting the ordinary aspects of the Palestinians in an attempt to disguise the fact of oppression and injustice that face Palestinians.

Hasbara also launches counter campaigns to show that there is no solidarity with the Palestinian cause from the Arabs, by promoting hashtags like #palestine_is_not_my_cause, #Yes_to_normalization, #glory_to_Israel, etc.

Upon investigating more than 450 tweets with the hashtag #palestine_is_not_my_cause, Misbar discovered that most of the active accounts with this hashtag are from the Gulf, specifically Saudi Arabic.

During nine days, the tweets shared on the hashtag became about a million and 100 thousand users. The way of interactions with the hashtag appears to be suspicious, especially since most of these interactions, about 72.5%, came from retweets, while the source tweets have a percent of 11.6%-16% of replies, noting that 10.9% of the interactions, tweets, retweets, or replies, came from computer devices, 47.5% from iPhones, and 41.2% from android phones.

Cohen Talks About Hasbara’s Efforts

Based on these investigations, Misbar found that Cohen has stirred up controversy over several matters leading to misleading a big number of users. Misbar has also found a previous interview for Edy Cohen with the Israeli newspaper, Jerusalem Post, published in February 2021. In the interview, Cohen talks about his efforts with Hasbara and how he grew close to the Arabs and Gulf citizens through his tweets.

The newspaper described Cohen as an almost unknown personality to the Israeli audience. Nevertheless, looking at his account, you will find that most of his followers are from the Arab world. The newspaper also described him as a controversial man.

In response to this point, Cohen said in an interview, "Of course, I am blunt, because that is what Arabs like," Cohen explained: "That is the style you need. It isn't the Foreign Ministry... I am the opposite, so of course I have made some enemies. And if you listen to the Foreign Ministry's version, they say I am hurting hasbara, but that is untrue: I am making it stronger.”

"Arabs had a feeling that we are condescending, so my friends and I developed a dialogue to show there is a lot in common religiously and politically," he said. "Three years ago they were scared to like [my tweets] – and here we have broken that barrier down."

Cohen talked about his role in the Israeli hasbara and how he contributed to the recent changes in Arab attitudes toward Israel, as he thinks: "Most of my followers on Twitter are from the Gulf States, and if I told you I helped a lot with the Abraham Accords, you wouldn't believe me, right?" Cohen asked. What he meant by Abraham Accords is a name for a series of peace agreements held by Israel and the Arab countries, mediated by the United States, in a ceremony hosted by the previous president of the United States, Donald Trump, at the Lawn of the White House in September 2020.

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