Excerpts of the censored Al Jazeera undercover film on the Israel lobby in the US have started to be leaked. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah and the Grayzone Project’s Max Blumenthal explain how these clips show the Israeli government backing attacks on American pro-Palestinian activists and Black Lives Matter
BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News Network, I’m Ben Norton.
An explosive internal investigation into the Israel lobby in the United States has effectively been censored. An undercover reporter infiltrated pro-Israel groups in Washington D.C. and recorded officials admitting that they worked closely with the Israeli government. This was going to be released in a documentary film for the Qatari state media broadcaster, Al Jazeera, but this film, titled The Lobby – USA was censored after Qatar gave into political pressure from the U.S. governmentk which wanted the film to be repressed.
In the past few months, however, clips of this groundbreaking documentary have begun being leaked by journalists. And today, we’re joined by two of those journalists who have been reporting on some of these clips. We’re joined by Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada, where he has reported repeatedly on some of the clips that have been released. And we’re also joined by Max Blumenthal, the founder and editor of The Graystone Project, which has likewise reported on the censored film. Thanks for joining us, guys.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having us.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you.
BEN NORTON: So, Ali, let’s start with you. At the Electronic Intifada, you and your colleague Asa Winstanley have reported extensively on this censored documentary. On August 27, you published an article at the Electronic Intifada titled, Censored film names Adam Milstein as Canary Mission funder. Canary Mission is a blacklist for pro-Palestine activists that effectively smears them as racists and tries to get them fired from their jobs or prevent them from getting future jobs. Thanks to this film and the leak that you obtained, you now know the funder. Can you talk about what your reporting has shown and why this film has been censored?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. We published on August 27 the first leaked video from the film, in which an operative, an official of the Israel Project names Adam Milstein a pro-Israel financier based in California, a real estate magnate who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. In the film, Milstein is named as the funder of Canary Mission. And for years now, people have been trying to find out who is behind canary mission other than a few snippets of information that came out. This appears to be the first major break in crafting who is behind this.
And what it also shows is that Canary Mission is part of a much bigger effort, effectively orchestrated by the Israeli government, in which groups like the Israel on Campus Coalition and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are acting as agents or front groups for the Israeli government, helping it to gather information on U.S. citizens, to harass U.S. citizens and other activities without being registered as foreign agents of the state of Israel. So, this really I think explains why the Israel lobby put such intense pressure on Qatar and on Al-Jazeera to censor the film, because I think it reveals a lot of activity that they don’t want revealed.
And what’s ironic is that this film contains real evidence of foreign interference in American politics and American civic life by a foreign state, orchestrated, funded and directed by a foreign state. And it’s gotten no attention. The censorship has gotten very little attention in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, as you know very well, the mainstream media and mainstream politicians continue to chase the shadows of Russiagate and Russian interference, which until now have proven to be just shadows as opposed to this really powerful evidence of Israeli interference.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. And let’s turn to you now, Max. At the Graystone project on August 28, the day after you published Leaked Scenes from Censored Documentary Reveal Israel Lobbyist Noah Pollak Astroturfing an Anti-Palestinian protest. So, talk about what you revealed in that story and also talk more about the leaked video clips from this documentary.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, Noah Pollak is part of the crew that Ali describes as essentially unregistered Israeli agents, Adam Milstein, Jacob Baime of the Israel on Campus Coalition, that are effectively surveilling and attacking American students on behalf of the Israeli government. These are Likudnik operatives, figures who align with the right wing in Israel, who are substantially funded by Milstein as well as Sheldon Adelson, who is one of the largest donors to both Donald Trump and to the political empire of Benjamin Netanyahu.
And we reported, based on leaked content from the censored Al-Jazeera Lobby – USA documentary that Noah Pollak had essentially been astroturfing a protest against the 2016 gathering of the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference, it was in D.C. And basically, Pollak went to the Hudson Institute, which is a pro-Israel think tank with very close ties of its own to the Israeli government and said send us some of your campus fellows, basically like youth fellows, and they’re going to protest for us. And the reporter, the undercover reporter for Al Jazeera, James Kleinfeld, gets on the bus to this protest.
He was interning for The Israel Project, another affiliated pro-Israel lobby group, and covertly films all of these young people who are young conservative activists saying, “We don’t really have any interest in going to yell at Arabs and that’s what we’ve been told to do, go shout at Arabs.” And they’re driving around in a bus and getting lost and asking people, “Where are the jihadis? We’ve just been told that to go yell at jihadis.” And so, you can see kind of the racism and Islamophobia behind the whole operation. But at the same time, they’re saying, “We’re basically being forced to do this, and we get paid like fifty thousand dollars a year as part of this fellowship and this is what we have to do, we’re selling our souls.”
So, it was kind of amusing. But at the same time, you see how the Israel lobby operates. It essentially has to pay fake protesters because it has no grassroots support. Then, these campus fellows from this right wing think tank show up at the conference where there are hundreds of young people, students who are organically drawn to Palestine solidarity activism, don’t have to be paid to be there, they themselves are paying their own way, and these fake protesters start shouting Islamophobic insults at them. Noah Pollok is screaming about child suicide bombers at young women and men who are just mostly students from immigrant backgrounds.
So, I though it was really I thought it was a really scandalous scene and I chose to reveal it at The Grayzone Project along with a more recent report that shows the phenomenon that Ali described, which is the Israeli government actually coordinating, directly coordinating, attacks on American progressive social movements, which should be scandalous. And if Russia were doing it, you’d have the New York Times and Washington Post freaking out. But in this case it’s silence.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. Let’s not jump into that really quickly. On September 5 at The Greyzone, you published an explosive report titled Censored Documentary Exposes the Israeli Government’s Attack on Black Lives Matter. Can you talk more about that?
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah I mean it should have been explosive. If an explosion blows up in the Washington Post and Daily Beast and the rest of the mainstream media determine that Israel detonated that explosion and not Russia does anyone hear it? Well in this case, I don’t know. I mean, I raised the question yesterday on Twitter. If the FBI had been exposed for recruiting Black establishment leadership to attack the Black Lives Matter movement and undermining Black Lives Matter events, how much outrage would there be? Probably a lot. But in this case, all we’ve done is expose a foreign government, the apartheid government in Israel, for doing exactly the same.
And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of outrage. The supressed, censored Al Jazeera Lobby documentary shows scenes the from a pro-Israel conference where a group of Israeli diplomats are essentially boasting about having recruited civil rights, former civil rights leaders, and established Black activists as proxies to denounce Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic. This was right after the movement for Black Lives had introduced its platform supporting BDS, denouncing Israel as an apartheid state and accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people. So, there’s a big priority for not just the Israel lobby but the Israeli government to undermine Black Lives Matter.
They not only claimed responsibility for opeds in The Huffington Post by Black civil rights leaders and in other publications attacking Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic. They were recruiting ,for example in Atlanta, the Israeli Consulate General of Atlanta was recruiting Black activists at her home. I don’t know exactly who they are or what they were doing, but she was boasting of hosting a dinner for forty black activists in Atlanta. She specifically cultivated them as allies against Black Lives Matter.
Then you have Eric Gallagher, who is the Director of Development, who was filmed covertly by the undercover Al-Jazeera reporter James Kleinfeld, boasting on how the Israel Project, Israel lobby organization, had gotten a Black Lives Matter event canceled, a fundraiser canceled in New York right after it released its platform, basically by calling donors and then having them call a nightclub that they were affiliated with and the nightclub put the kybosh on the event.
So, all of this really goes back to, again, the phenomenon that is Ali described, which is the Israeli government interfering not just in American politics but in American life, surveilling Americans and covertly undermining American progressive social movements that are dedicated to advocating for the equality of some of the most oppressed groups in this country. And it should be massive scandal along with the fact that this documentary itself was suppressed by the Israel lobby and I know Ali can talk more about that.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. And Ali, let’s go back to you for a moment. Another report that you all published in The Electronic Intifada details how the Washington D.C. neoconservative think tank, THe Foundation for Defense of Democracies, FDD, which is notorious for supporting every U.S. military intervention, the Iraq War, et cetera, you have someone in the film who acknowledges, essentially admits that this neoconservative think tank in the U.S. is effectively operating as a proxy for the Israeli government, even though it has not registered as a foreign lobbyist with the U.S. government as is required by the American legal system. So, can you speak about this report as well and what you think the future is of this documentary? Will it ever see the light of day?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yeah that someone talking about FDD working in close coordination with the Israeli government is actually Sima Vaknin-Gil, the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and herself a senior military intelligence official. So, she ought to know who is working for the state of Israel. And the reason that the film was suppressed is, just very briefly, connects to the dispute between Qatar on the one hand and its Gulf neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the other.
One of the three weapons which the Saudi led bloc is using against Qatar is to try and push Congress or push the Trump administration to withdraw the Al Udeid Air Base from Qatar. Now, this U.S. air base in Qatar is the biggest U.S. airbase in the region, and the Qataris see it as kind of a guarantee of security. Who is going to that invade a country that hosts the an enormous U.S. airbase? And the Saudi bloc and the Saudi lobby, including FDD, have been pushing for a review of the Al Udeid Base and potentially for it to be pulled out.
And so, from what our sources told us, what we’ve reported, is that Qatar’s decision to censor this documentary was linked to fears of not just the Al Udeid Base being pulled out, but even a Saudi invasion. And we learned recently, which corroborated our reporting, that the former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, actually had to plead with the Saudis and the UAE to put off a planned invasion of Qatar a year or so ago. So, for the Qataris, suppressing this documentary to appease Israel and its lobby and to stay in the good graces of the Trump administration was seen as as a matter of national security.
Now, will the documentary see the light of day? We can say a couple of things. One is that Al Jazeera ostensibly is an independent network. So, regardless of what the government of Qatar wants, Al Jazeera could broadcast it, publish and be done, so to speak. And they should do that, because they invested a lot of resources in this really important film. What I can predict is that the leaks we’ve seen are likely not the last. I can say with with some confidence that more will come out. Whether or not we’ll see the whole film and whether it will be broadcast by Al Jazeera or by some other means is an open question, but I really hope that it will be broadcast on Al Jazeera as soon as possible. That’s what needs to be done.
BEN NORTON: Well, thank you both for joining us and speaking about your reporting on this issue. It’s very important and like you said, it has been suppressed. So, you’re some of the only journalists who are speaking about it. I was joined today by Ali Abunimah, who is a founder and editor of The Electronic Intifada. And I was also joined by Max Blumenthal, who is the founder and editor of the Grayzone Project. And you can find their reporting at both, again, The Electronic Intifada and the Graystone Project. Thanks again for joining me.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks a lot.
ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.