British TV on the pro-Israel lobby


Earlier this week, "Dispatches," a program on Britain’s Channel 4 TV, ran an hourlong show on the country’s pro-Israel lobby.

Filled with sinister music and conspiratorial insinuations, including constant shots of the Israeli flag superimposed on the Union Jack, this one-sided broadside (watch it here) portrays supporters of Israel in the United Kingdom as a shady, moneyed lobby manipulating members of Parliament and the media at will. (“Has the BBC been compromised by the pro-Israel lobby?” the program asks at one point.)

Nowhere does the program note that the pro-Israel lobby in Britain acts no differently from the auto industry lobby, the pensioners’ lobby or any other lobby in Britain. Nor is there any mention of the influence of Arab oil money in British politics. Rather, the program’s host and reporter, Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne, begins by asking, "Are British policies influenced by supporters of a foreign power?" He goes on to describe the pro-Israel lobby as "the most effective lobby working inside British political parties."

David Cesarani zeroes in on this problem in an opinion piece in The Guardian, writing:

Oborne showed beyond doubt that there are well-resourced pro-Israel advocacy groups operating in the UK. Like other campaigning organisations they mobilise financial support for political allies and cultivate friends in parliament. Both the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Labour Friends of Israel wine and dine MPs at party conferences and fly them in batches to Israel for PR tours. But this is standard operating procedure for lobbying.

Indeed, Oborne repeatedly states that: "The pro-Israel lobby does nothing wrong, or illegal." So what is Oborne’s beef about the pro-Israel activists? First, he complains that they operate semi-covertly. Although he disavows any imputation of a conspiracy, that is what his charge amounts to. The pro-Israel lobby "needs to be far more open about how it is funded and what it does". But the same can be said about Michael Ashcroft, Rupert Murdoch, the arms industry, the Saudi Arabians, and the list can go on.

Oborne’s problem isn’t just with the actions of pro-Israel lobbyists, but with their success and the notion that one can be pro-Israel at all. Reporting on a speech by Conservative Party leader David Cameron at a Conservative Friends of Israel event, Oborne declares himself "astonished" that Cameron makes no note in his speech to the "widespread killing of innocent civilians" in Gaza; Oborne then ominously notes the “surprisingly soft line the Conservative Party takes toward the foreign policy of the Israeli state."

Much of the report is about "the Israel lobby’s bankrolling of British politicians," but the piece also charges Israel supporters with stifling criticism of Israel in British media. The Jewish Leadership Council, the Zionist Federation of Britain, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews all get mention, and Camera (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) and Honest Reporting are portrayed as twin forces keeping news outlets like the BBC and The Guardian newspaper in line when it comes to Israel. Supporters of Israel might be shocked to learn that these news outlets’ coverage of Israel could be considered as soft.

But in Oborne’s view, “The lobby keeps them under constant attack." He says, “Calling critics of Israel’s foreign policy anti-Semitic has become a deliberate tactic among some of Israel’s more strident lobbyists.”

Oborne also offers a heavy dose of gruesome footage from war zones in Gaza and Lebanon, and contrasts shots of the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim with Palestinian Bedouin shacks and shepherds.

What the program doesn’t offer is virtually any contrarian viewpoints or context.

Oborne concludes: “In making this program we haven’t found anything even faintly resembling a conspiracy, but we have found a worrying lack of transparency," but the conspiracies Oborne sees everywhere with regard to the Israel lobby belies that.

Robin Shepherd of The Wall Street Journal calls the program breathtakingly amateurish and offers some refutations of its key points, concluding:

Given the paucity of the arguments, it would be tempting to dismiss the whole thing as unimportant. Would that we could. The documentary has already provoked a torrent of abuse against British Jews, not least on Channel 4’s widely read Web site, whose moderators have seen fit to approve dozens of postings about the Zionist lobby’s "seditious behavior," its "disgusting attack on British democracy," "the hand of global Zionism at work," and several along the lines of the following, which said flatly: "We want our country back. The agents of a foreign power embedded at all levels of our government and politics need flushing out."

If this sort of language takes hold, a bad situation in Britain may be about to get a whole lot worse.

Watch the program and decide for yourself, here.

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