FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?

So when am I going to be able to watch Al Jazeera’s hard-hitting investigation into Israel’s powerful lobby in the United States? Remember Al Jazeera? The tough, no-holds-barred Middle East satellite channel that transformed Qatar into a media empire whose reports frightened dictators and infuriated potentates and presidents alike? Why, George W Bush once wanted to bomb its headquarters in Doha – so it must have been doing something right. It even has an office in Jerusalem.

But something seems to be amiss. Not Al Jazeera’s disastrous American venture, which was supposed to break free of the dross on CNN and Fox News and ended up looking just like CNN or Fox. Nor the tragicomedy of its journalists’ imprisonment in Sissi’s Egypt, banged up by Cairo’s farcical laws and the stupidity of Al Jazeera’s own management in Qatar.

No, I’m talking about a documentary called The Lobby, directed by one of Al Jazeera’s top journalists, Clayton Swisher, the man whose exclusive (and book) on the “Palestine Papers” blew open the secret and scandalous American-led negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinian authority between 2000 and 2010. But after months of postponement, The Lobby, which secretly filmed pro-Israeli US activists and Israeli government officials and was completed last autumn, is still no nearer to being shown – and Swisher himself has taken a paid leave of absence. He even chose to explain his frustration in an article for the progressive American Jewish magazine Forward, which has always maintained a liberal and often very critical view of Israel.

 

“Don’t mistake me – I love Al Jazeera,” Swisher told me this week. “I love working for Al Jazeera. They’ve done fantastic things. And they look after their staff very well. But our new documentary doesn’t seem to be getting on air.”

In his published explanation, Swisher described how his award-winning investigative unit – which he says operates “without [Qatari] government interference” – sent an undercover reporter to look into “how Israel wields influence in America through the pro-Israeli American community. But when some right-wing American supporters of Israel found out about the documentary, there was a massive backlash. It was even labelled as antisemitic in a spate of articles.”

Nothing surprising there, you might think. Any reporters who have dared to criticise Israel grow used to the vile smear of antisemitism thrown over them – but there was an even more disturbing background to Swisher’s attempts to get his documentary on the air.

The programme’s completion, he writes, “came at a time when, due to an arbitrary blockade on Qatar imposed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Qatar had been pursuing an end to its siege by appealing to the US. According to reports, Qatar sought to offer its own side of the narrative in this conflict by hosting thought leaders, including from the American Jewish community. From reports in the Israeli press, I learned that [Harvard Professor Alan] Dershowitz had been brought to meet with the Qatari emir [Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani], and that the American Jews had brought up what they saw as Al Jazeera’s antisemitism in those meetings. Of course, our documentary is not antisemitic. It is an exploration of how Israel, a foreign government, influences US foreign policy.”

Ironically, one of the Saudi-UAE demands for a return to normal relations with Qatar was to shut down Al Jazeera.

Most of Swisher’s staff within Al Jazeera are American or British, and he recruited a young Oxford postgraduate, James Anthony Kleinfeld, to meet and mix with members of pro-Israeli groups in Washington. When this was discovered – partly because Swisher, for legal reasons, contacted those appearing in the programme to say that his team had used secret filming during their investigations – there was uproar.

Kleinfeld, who apparently used the name “Tony Kleinfeld”, was accused of being “pro-Palestinian” but of “embedding himself with the Washington pro-Israel crowd” while spending “months of his life under a new and meticulously fabricated persona to infiltrate pro-Israeli groups”.

The concern of Israeli lobbyists was not without reason. Recipients of legal letters from the documentary group – referring to the secretly recorded Israeli activists – included AIPAC, the Israeli-American Council, the Sheldon Adelson-created Maccabee Task Force, the Israel Project, the Zionist Organisation of America and other groups. Although Swisher’s reporters had exposed genocide in Myanmar, presidential corruption in the Maldives and paedophilia in British youth football, another documentary under Swisher’s direction concentrated on Israel’s influence over Britain and included a secretly filmed sequence in which Israeli official Shai Masot discussed how to “take down” British MPs regarded as pro-Palestinian, including Sir Alan Duncan. Masot was forced to resign and the Israeli ambassador to London, Mark Regev, issued a formal apology.

According to Swisher, if his documentary on the American lobby doesn’t air soon, “it might prove to be ammunition sought by a group of zealous US politicians who wish to declare Al Jazeera a foreign entity, and label us journalists as ‘spies’”. In response to antisemitism claims after the London documentary, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled that the programme was “a serious investigative documentary”. It was the same question, Swisher says, that he and his team sought to answer in the American edition of The Lobby: “whether the Israeli government was funding or involved in lobbying efforts in the US under the guise of a domestic lobbying group”.

Swisher says that several “leaders of Jewish American organisations” met with Qatar’s registered agent and lobbyist, Nick Muzin – a former aide to US Senator Ted Cruz, who supported American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – “to see if he could use his ties with the Qataris to stop the airing”. Since October, Swisher says, “we’ve faced a series of unexplained delays on broadcasting our project, the likes of which I’ve never experienced. I was repeatedly told by everyone to ‘wait’, and was assured our documentary would eventually see the light of day. Then, as now, I took my senior management at its word. To my own specially trained ears, ‘wait’ did not constitute ‘stop’. In fact, it must not constitute ‘stop’.”

Almost every journalist I’ve met in the Middle East has encountered similar problems. When I worked for the The Times, I alerted the then editor, Charles Douglas-Home, to evidence that Israeli officers had secretly buried at least seven Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners – done to death in an interrogation centre – at night in a Sidon graveyard in 1983. He wanted me to spend as many weeks as necessary to find out if the story was true. Then, months later, when witnesses emerged with evidence of the burial, including the gravedigger – the bodies still had their hands tied behind their back with nylon rope when they were brought to him – I called my editor. My witnesses were being “visited” by armed members of the Israeli Shin Beth intelligence agency, I told him, and I was being trailed around Sidon by Israeli-registered vehicles. It was time to run the story.

To my shock, Douglas-Home – an editor who otherwise loyally stood by me in every Middle East dispute over my work – replied that he wasn’t sure “how we’re justified in running a story like this so long after the event”. In other words, we had to be sure of our facts on such an important story – but by taking the time to do just that, the story was now out of date.

After much argument – during which I suggested to the Israelis that they might like to institute a military inquiry into the deaths if they wanted to avoid a scandal (they said, mysteriously, that it was already under way, although I doubted this) – the story ran. A deputy editor, I was told, had tried to cut the report by two-thirds. He was overruled. Then the story ran. In full.

So, old story, new story. I’ve appeared many times on Al Jazeera. And never been told to mince my words. Nor would I. But a lot of us are waiting to see Swisher’s new documentary. If we don’t, we’ll know what to think of Al Jazeera.

 

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman - TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail