A bizarre video where a gay activist claims he was prevented from taking part in the upcoming Gaza-bound flotilla because of his sexual orientation has been exposed as an Israeli hoax.
It appears to be the latest in a dirty-tricks campaign that includes sabotage and legal challenges orchestrated by groups seeking to derail and discredit efforts by activists to sail into Gaza's waters to challenge Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.
In the three-minute clip originally posted by an Israeli government employee, a man calling himself Marc Pax says he has a "heartbreaking" story to share about his efforts to join the Freedom Flotilla II, a 10-ship convoy of about 350 activists, who include European politicians, writers and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor.
He said that his vision of activists as "a cross between Che Guevara and Mother Teresa in a keffiyeh [Arab headscarf]" were quickly disabused when his request to participate was rebuffed because he was gay, prompting him to take a closer look at the groups involved.
He goes on to identify groups such as Viva Palestina and IHH, the Turkish organisers of last year's flotilla, as sympathetic to Hamas, the Gaza overlords which he blasts as a homophobic group that runs roughshod over basic human rights. "These are the people the flotilla groups are hugging," he says.
The video was released as activists prepare to commemorate the events of a year ago when Israeli marines mounted a bungled raid on the Gaza-bound sea convoy, killing nine Turkish activists. Israel's actions were widely condemned and it was pressured into partially easing its blockade of Gaza, imposed four years ago to weaken Hamas. The International Committee of the Red Cross has described Israel's policy as "collective punishment". Israel has adopted a different approach this year, focusing its efforts on persuading governments to stop their citizens from taking part, and IHH, the driving force behind last year's event, has withdrawn its ship, the Mavi Marmara.
But it appears that wildcat groups, possibly with Israel's official backing, are also trying to stop the flotilla. Bloggers first became suspicious of the supposedly amateur video by its slick production and heavy promotion by Israeli government bodies on Facebook and Twitter. Within hours, they had exposed Marc Pax as one Omer Gershon, an Israeli actor living in Tel Aviv.
The video was originally posted on Twitter by Guy Seeman, an intern working in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. Israel's press office and the foreign ministry both linked to it following his post. Once the video was revealed as a hoax, the press office apologised, saying it had been "duped", and the foreign ministry removed the link from its Twitter feed. Mr Netanyahu's office said that Mr Seeman's actions were "without authorisation and without approval".
Israel has increased its rhetoric against the flotilla in recent days. Domestic media have cited officials saying at least two passengers have links to Hamas, regarded by Israel as a terrorist group. The activists say that they have signed a pledge of non-violence.
The flotilla had been expected to set sail early this week, but boats moored at a Greek port near Athens have been hit by a series of mishaps. Activists on a boat taking Greek, Swedish and Norwegian passengers said their propeller shaft had been sabotaged, preventing the vessel from leaving on time. They blamed the damage on Israel's "secret services or special forces".
An Israeli legal group called Shurat HaDin has also delayed the departure of at least one ship, the Audacity of Hope, by informing the Greek authorities that it was not seaworthy, obliging port authorities to inspect it. Activists claimed it had earlier been cleared to sail.
Two French ships have already left a Corsica port, and an Irish ship is also en route to the Mediterranean. Activists in Greece say they hope to leave later this week.