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  March 10, 2018

Israel Lobby Doesn't Want Al Jazeera to Spill its Secrets

Qatar is under pressure to bury an undercover Al Jazeera documentary that exposes the Israel Lobby in the US. Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada says the film's key revelations include the close cooperation between the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Israeli government
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Asa Winstanley is an Investigative Journalist and Associate Editor at The Electronic Intifada.


AARON MATÉ: It's the Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC Summit has wrapped up in Washington D.C., and one of its most controversial moments came when Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, outlined what he called the real reason for an absence of Middle East peace. "Palestinians," he said, "Don't believe in the Jewish bible."

CHUCK SCHUMER: Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why, my view, why we don't have peace, because the fact of the matter is that too many Palestinians and too many Arabs do not want any Jewish state in the Middle East. The view of Palestinians is simple. Well, the Europeans treated the Jews badly, culminating in the Holocaust and they gave them our land as compensation. Of course, we say it's our land. The Torah says it. But they don't believe in the Torah. So, that's the reason there is not peace.

AARON MATÉ: Schumer's comments highlighted perhaps a better explanation for why there is no Middle East peace. Influential liberals like him hold extremist views like that. And one major factor is the lobby group that he was addressing. AIPAC has played a key role in lobbying members of Congress to support Israeli government policies. Well, now there is a major effort underway to prevent an exposé of the Israel lobbies US operations.

Al Jazeera has made a documentary film that sent undercover journalists into pro-Israeli government groups in the US and that has sent the Israel lobby into a panic. The Israeli government is seeking to pressure Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, to suppress the documentary. Well, a new report reveals at least one revelation the lobby wants to bury. According to the Electronic Intifada, the documentary exposes the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a leading neoconservative think tank, as an agent of sorts of the Israeli government.

I'm joined now by the reporter who broke this story for the Electronic Intifada. Asa Winstanley is an independent journalist and the Electronic Intifada's associate editor. Welcome, Asa.

ASA WINSTANLEY: Great to be with you, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ: Thanks for joining us. Talk about what you found out about this Israel lobby documentary that the Israel lobby and the Israeli government want to prevent Al Jazeera from airing?

ASA WINSTANLEY: Well, we've known for a little while now that the Al Jazeera's investigations unit had put, run an undercover journalist inside the US-Israel lobby. The head of the investigations unit, Clayton Swisher, in October, came out on Al Jazeera Arabic and stated that they'd done as much and this came on the heels of a similar investigation that they'd run in the UK being vindicated entirely by the UK's broadcasting regulator. And we don't know very much about what's actually in the documentary but we know that it must be explosive for the Israel lobby to be putting as much effort as they are in to quash it.

It seems that the identity of the undercover journalist has become known or at least his existence and the existence of the film became known. There's been reports in the Israeli press, for example, in Haaretz and in some American-Jewish newspapers' websites that, with connections to the Israel lobby saying that Israel lobby sources told them about this person and that he'd been exposed. So, there's been a lot of speculation in various newspapers, but in October, it was confirmed by Al Jazeera's head of the investigations unit that they'd done a documentary, and since then there's been a wave of pro-Israel lobbyists who've been going to Qatar and been putting pressure on the government, on the ruling royal family, to not air this.

I mean, they're not saying they've done this but we can infer that's a big part of what they've been doing. We know from our source that I wrote about in my article that it's, the film contains footage of the vice president of Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Jonathan Schanzer, talking very candidly about the Israel lobby and how they use anti-semitism as, in his words, a 'smear' against Palestine activists in the US.

AARON MATÉ: Right. So, before we get into that further. Let me go to a clip of that initial Al Jazeera documentary that you mentioned. This US documentary that has not come out yet is a sequel to a documentary that was made in Britain by Al Jazeera that revealed that Israeli officials there are trying to influence the British government, including by getting staffers who are deemed to be insufficiently supportive of Israel to be demoted or fired. And this is one clip of that where Al Jazeera goes undercover and films an Israeli official trying to pressure a British official into firing someone who Israel does not like.

SPEAKER: Can you give us a some of the people to suggest that you will take down?

SPEAKER: Well, you know, if you look hard enough, I'm sure that there is something that they're trying to hide.

SPEAKER: Yeah, I guess...

SPEAKER: Fine. Let's talk about it.

SPEAKER: Okay. No, but you know we can't be the only one to think about the question.

SPEAKER: Yeah, it's good to remind me.

AARON MATÉ: So, that's a clip from the Al Jazeera documentary that was made on the Israel government and its activities inside Britain. Asa, you mentioned that the documentary was vindicated. What do you mean by that?

ASA WINSTANLEY: Well, Israel lobby in this country. Several people put in complaints with the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, and they alleged various things to try and dismiss the credibility of the report. They alleged that it was anti-semitic. They alleged various things.

Ofcom found completely in Al Jazeera's favor. It was vindicated on all counts. They hadn't misrepresented any facts. Al Jazeera went through the ringer in actually providing, as I understand it, from reading the Ofcom report, unedited footage so they could check that it had been not taken out of context. And so, all these attacks that it was anti semitic were just a complete smear. So, it was vindicated.

And it seemed, I mean, my impression seemed that the Al Jazeera may have been holding off to see how this investigation came out. In the end, they received this vindication and then perhaps, the staff were expecting the, "Okay, now the sequel on the US lobby can be released."

AARON MATÉ: You know, one irony that you note in your piece is that the, in response to news of this documentary, now AIPAC has gotten its allies in congress to call for Al Jazeera to be registered as a foreign agent, modeled on the tactics that were used against the Russian state-funded TV network, RT. But interestingly, as were talking about, you were mentioning how the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is this neocon think tank, that they are now working with the Israeli government but they have not, of course, registered as a foreign agent. What exactly are they doing in the US? On behalf of Israel?

ASA WINSTANLEY: Well, that it's directly cooperating with the Israeli government. So, in the footage, according to our source, the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs claims in her words, "We have FDD." So, we have FDD working on things for us including surveillance of activist groups. So, Israel has these agents, you could say, in the United States which is working for it, and one of them does seem to be the FDD. And it's not registered as a foreign agent, and so it really calls into question whether FDD is violating American law and whether Israeli organizations, pro-Israeli organizations, possibly the Israeli embassy, is violating American law.

AARON MATÉ: Finally, Asa, you talk about in your piece, according to your source, who's familiar with the contents of this documentary, that the Israel lobby is working with the Israeli government to monitor activists and gather data about Palestinian solidarity activism in the US. And one lobby official laments the fact that anti-semitism, that calling critics of Israel anti-semites, is no longer an effective smear.

ASA WINSTANLEY: Yeah, that's right. Our source has actually seen the film and, as always, we're satisfied about the reliability of our information. And yeah, this is Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who reportedly, according to our source, says in the film that anti-semitism as a smear is no longer what it used to be.

So, he's admitting, number one, that the Israel lobby, very cynically, misuses the very real concerns about anti-semitism that there is in the world to falsely allege that its political enemies are only motivated by hatred for Jews rather than concern for Palestinians. So, he's admitting it's smear, but he's also admitting that it's not as effective as it used to be which is interesting. So, the Israel lobby does very much like to portray itself as powerful, as hegemonic, and it certainly is influential. It has a lot of money behind it and a lot of, kind of, inertia, especially in America. But I think we see historical trends where its power is beginning to slip and we see, in this, reportedly, what is this very candid moment in the documentary where that is admitted in private. And I would not be surprised to see, hopefully when the film does come out, far more of that kind of candor in private.

AARON MATÉ: Right, and as you say in your piece, whether or not the Israel lobby succeeds in burying this Al Jazeera documentary will be a very strong test of the type of influence that the Al Jazeera documentary team set out to expose in the first place. We will leave it there, though. Asa Winstanley, Associate Editor of the Electronic Intifada, thank you.


AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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