Hundreds of Israeli university students who post pro-Israel propaganda on social media sites will receive scholarships under a new government program designed to improve the nation’s battered international image.

Haaretz reports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is launching the initiative in partnership with the National Union of Israeli Students (NUIS). Netanyahu’s office plans to create “covert units” within Israel’s seven universities comprised of students who will disseminate pro-Israel propaganda, without identifying themselves as government operatives.

“This is a groundbreaking project aimed at strengthening Israeli national diplomacy and adapting it to changes in information consumption,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. Arutz-Sheva reports Israel is seeking to budget $778,000 for the propaganda project, and that the NUIS will select students to participate in what Israelis call ‘hasbara,’ or public diplomacy.

The “covert units” of Israeli students will spread their message on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In exchange for their participation, students will receive compensation ranging from partial to full university scholarships.

A non-governmental organization called the Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF) already uses social media in the service of its goal, described as “the fight against antisemitism and terrorism on the web.”

NUIS spokeswoman Hagar Yisraeli told Haaretz that the new initiative is needed to combat efforts to “delegitimize” Israel.

“Israel is dealing with an extreme, ongoing delegitimization campaign that is being conducted against it on the social networks,” she said. “The students are an integral part of the Israeli reality and it is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they take an active part in dealing with the delegitimization.”

But critics counter that the new initiative is a desperate attempt by Israeli leaders to thwart a growing global chorus of condemnation of what many consider to be Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians and others in the region.

“As it becomes clearer to more and more people around the world that what the Israeli government is doing against the Palestinians is criminal, the government becomes desperate to shape discourse to defend its actions,” Ramah Kudaimi of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation told Common Dreams. “Claims of antisemitism have been used again and again to silence protesters,” Kudaimi added, echoing an assertion made by former Israeli education minister Shulamit Aloni that accusing Israel’s critics of antisemitism is an oft-employed Zionist “trick.”

Among the charges made by Israel’s critics, a significant number of them Israeli Jews, is that the Jewish state is engaged in a campaign of apartheid against the Palestinians. Notable international observers, including former US President Jimmy Carter and former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both Nobel Peace laureates, as well as Holocaust survivors such as Suzanne Weiss, have accused Israel of practicing apartheid.

An even more serious allegation, that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, has been made by other observers, including American UN human rights official Richard Falk, Holocaust survivor Suzanne Weiss and Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire. These and other critics argue that ongoing illegal Jewish settler colonization and expansion in the illegally-occupied Palestinian territories constitute the spear tip of Zionist ethnic cleansing.

Accusations of modern-day Israeli ethnic cleansing are highly controversial, although it is undeniable that ethnic cleansing and Jewish terrorism were very much a part of the modern Jewish state’s founding. More than 700,000 Arabs left or were expelled from their homes, sometimes in horrific massacres, during the 1948-49 period known among Palestinians as the Nakba, or catastrophe, that accompanied Israel’s declaration of independence. More than 400 Arab villages were destroyed.