Channel 4 Documentary on “The Israel Lobby”

A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary by Peter Oborne on “the Israel lobby” in the UK has provoked a predictably wrathful response, which in many cases consist of bad faith accusations of anti-Semitism; however, while many of these attacks can be dismissed, the documentary was problematic and unfocused. Oborne moved between funding for MPs to visit Israel, a few notes on pro-Israel groups in the UK, and finally a look at some websites in the USA and Israel that take a pugnacious approach to criticism of Israel in the British media.

But what does it all add up to? Do some MPs support Israel because they get donations from pro-Israel groups, or do they get donations from pro-Israel groups because they support Israel? There was no sense of what motivates pro-Israel MPs – doubtless the extra funding is welcome, but the reality is that scenes of Islamist fanaticism in Gaza and the West Bank and its violent consequences in Israel proper are far more effective in shoring up support for Israel. There’s some interesting background about Poju Zabludowicz, the chairman of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre and a major donor to the organisation – but although we learn that Zabludowicz has a business interest in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Oborne is unable to show that BICOM does his bidding. The BICOM website does not give the impression of being run by “Greater Israel” settler fanatics; it promotes the fairly mainline solution of peace in return for territorial compromise, including some “land swaps” around the Green Line, which would presumably include Ma’ale Adumim anyway. One can argue over whether this really would be a just solution to the occupation, but it’s hardly an extreme position.

Moving on to the media, the existence of websites and organisations dedicated to attacking criticism of Israel is less than revelationary, and we’re subjected to that old journalistic standby of concocting some action by having a camera crew show up at an office unannounced and not getting very far with underlings who tell Oborne that no-one is available for interview. Why didn’t he just phone ahead? Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger tells Oborne that after publishing an article comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa he received a hostile deputation from Gerald Ronson and Henry Grunwald; but although he tells us that other (unnamed) editors avoid criticising Israel to escape the hassle that follows, he doesn’t appear to have been cowed by the encounter. Oborne is on firmer ground when considering how the BBC appears to have buckled under pressure – the observation that it was willing to broadcast a humanitarian charity appeal during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon but baulked at doing so in relation to Gaza earlier this year does indeed speak for itself. But some proportion is needed: the BBC Trust found that Jeremy Bowen had been at fault over a couple of statements which had probably prompted email campaigns, but most of complaints against him were rejected and Bowen remains in post. Of course it was annoying to see the crowing that followed the Trust’s findings, but given that every word Bowen writes and speaks is doubtless scrutinized at length by hostile readers, that’s a very limited achievement.

Oborne appears to have read John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt’s book The Israel Lobby, which looks at the situation in the USA. It’s a shame that he didn’t also read Walter Russell Mead’s review in Foreign Affairs, which engaged with the book seriously and so was able to make a critique which was the all the more powerfulMead’s most general complaint also fits the bill for the Oborne documentary:

 Mearsheimer and Walt fail to define “the lobby” in a clear way. Their accounts of the ways in which it exercises power, as well as their descriptions of the power it wields, are incoherent. Their use of evidence is uneven…

9 Responses

  1. Their support is purely money, and they see it as another job in the bag.

    What surprises me is why would anybody pay attention to a criticism made by people who work directly with the press offices of foreign countries?

    Is it us who pay the licence fee or some other aliens?

  2. completely biased article, you’re just part of that israel lobby… you can’t fool us after the disaster in Gaza

    • Well, I’ve been called a few things before now, but “part of that Israel lobby” is a new one. Actually, my views are pro-Palestinian – but I also recognise that Hamas is more effective than any Israeli lobby at ensuring that the nature of the occupation remains obscured. It’s legitimate to ask about the influence of pro-Israel activist groups, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who raises the subject should be received uncritically, and it is counter-productive and over-simplified to use “the lobby” as an explanation for why Israel enjoys support.

  3. I don’t know how insidious the LOBBY’s influence is in England, but here in the States, they control the US House, Senate and White House.

    Watch CSpan (televised viewings of the Congress) for any length of time and you’ll see members of the House and Senate almost fight to be the first one to the mic to profess their undying love for all things Israel, including mass murder and theft.

    It’s a shameless display of power that makes grown men and women grovel at the LOBBY’s feet for attention, money and backing.

    Whether it’s passing resolutions patting Israel on the back for the ongoing and planned Gaza genocidal ethnic cleansing campaign or rushing thousands of tons of US weapons to Israel–which happened during the latest Gaza onslaught and during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon– so that nation of land thieves can keep up the slaughter, the US House and Senate is firmly in the LOBBY’s pocket.

    Most of the world knows the USA dances to any tune Israel calls and that we are aiding and abetting the Gaza massacre by pretending to be a ‘honest’ broker in negotiations that have been dragging on for at least 35 years.

    And will keep on dragging on, sabotaged by Zionist interests, till there is no more Palestine left, at which point those Qassam bottle rockets will start being launched from inside Egypt and the IDF will be forced to enter the Sinai and set up ‘temporary’ security zones to protect Israel.

    That those zones include some choice Sinai oil fields and access to the River Nile is only a coincidence and if you think otherwise, you’re just a vile-loathsome anti-Semite!

  4. […] Bartholomew reviews Peter Oborne’s programme on the pro-Israel lobby and finds it […]

  5. I thought it was quite a good doco. It is obvious the Tory party think the Israel lobby to be major players. It seems obvious to me also that the Palestinians would get a lot further with the tactics of Ghandi, but then, they aren’t Hindus are they.

  6. lol, Ghandi had Indians, Pakistanis and the world with him. While Palestinians have nothing except few mentally deranged or over stressed men and women. The people who could have done the change stand aside or add fuel to fire, but blaming the victim or expecting people who can’t is just plain criminal.

    No one should need to apologise for just being born. If being a Palestinian is a crime, then I guess there is another reasons for that.

  7. […] but neither is pointing out the fact (I discussed the “lobby” issue in general here). However, unless the JC has misrepresented Dinnen’s presentation, he appears to have made […]

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