YouTube removed at least one ad linked to the Israeli government that aimed to justify the country's catastrophic bombing campaign in Gaza. So far, Israeli bombing has killed at least 213 people, including 61 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The ad consisted of a video that in recent days has been shared across social media channels belonging to Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs. It shows recent footage of rockets being launched out of Gaza and exploding in Israel, people taking shelter, and children crying.
"Israel will protect its citizens against Hamas' terror," a screenshot of the advert, tweeted by Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow from the European Council on foreign relations, a European-focused thinktank, reads.
The video is part of Israel's continued public relations effort to justify its brutal treatment and killing of Palestinian civilians in the face of mounting resistance to its actions in the form of social media outcry, progressive lawmakers in the U.S., and protests around the world.
After being asked for comment by Motherboard, a spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, said the company had removed the ads.
"These ads have been removed. We have a firm policy against ads that contain shocking content including graphic or violent imagery," the Google spokesperson said in a statement.
Do you have access to internal YouTube moderation documents? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Franke told Motherboard in an email that the video she was watching "had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or Hamas, or politics." Instead it was "purely funny entertainment stuff by a U.S. based YouTuber." Franke added she was watching from a UK IP address (like much of the Israeli government's social media posts, the text of the ad is in English, not Hebrew, and is apparently aimed at an international audience.).
"I actually got the same ad twice (in the same video)," Franke added.
A YouTube channel that uploaded that video and other similar ones is the official Ministry of Strategic Affairs channel, Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the Israeli Consulate in New York, told Motherboard in an email.
One of the clips was uploaded five days ago and has over 1.2 million views at the time of writing. Franke said this clip was the same one presented in the YouTube ad when Motherboard emailed her a link to the video.
Google declined to clarify whether the Ministry of Strategic Affairs or the wider Israeli government itself paid to run the ads. Google said it applies its policies consistently to all advertisers regardless of their affiliation, and pointed to the part of its policies which ban advertisers from running ads that contain violent or gruesome imagery, as well as accounts of physical trauma.
Milner said that the ad was promoted to people who showed interest in Middle East related issues. Milner did not explicitly say that the Israeli government paid for the ad, but his knowledge of the ad's targeting suggests it did.
This is not the first time government-leaning YouTube ads have targeted a foreign audience. In 2018 Motherboard reported that the Polish Prime Minister's office paid YouTube to run ads promoting "Holocaust law."
Organizations and companies pay YouTube to display adverts before YouTube videos.
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
Eleven children killed by Israeli airstrikes in the past week were participants in a program designed to help them deal with trauma.
"They are now gone, killed with their families, buried with their dreams and the nightmares that haunted them. We call on Israel to stop this madness: children must be protected. Their homes must not be targets. Schools must not be targets. Spare these children and their families. Stop bombing them now," said Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which ran the program.
Subscribe to our cybersecurity podcast CYBER, here.
This piece has been updated to include more information from Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the Israeli Consulate in New York.