Sunday’s night’s Dispatches about the Israel lobby on Channel 4 (see here) has predictably ruffled a few feathers in the community.
On the CST blog, Mark Gardner has written:
by emphasising the supposed hidden power and influence of the “pro-Israel lobby” over politicians and the media, and promising to expose “the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying”, Dispatches was unwittingly playing up to antisemitic stereotypes.
In the guardian’s Comment is Free, David Ceserani writes:
With manipulative skill Oborne builds up the frisson of exposing a conspiracy while using publicly available information as evidence and, the ultimate chutzpah, at the same time as declaring that the lobby is doing nothing wrong
and the normally temperate Jon Boyd, of JPR, loses all perspective talking of the:
shoddy research and the barely-concealed antisemitic undertones (the idea of a shady, morally repugnant ‘cabal’ of Jews seeking to control the world is one of the classic antisemitic myths)
Both Ceserani and Gardner make great light of the fact that the comment threads that accompanied the programme on Channel 4 website contained anti semitic rhetoric. This is about as weak as arguments get. One cannot condemn a programme by its comment thread; all internet comment pages, from the Guardian to Haaretz are packed with lunatics having their say. When we see a comment by a apocalyptic Christian telling us we’re all going to hell, we pass swiftly over it, a comment talking of a global zionist conspiracy ought to elicit the same response.
The programme itself was not exactly the finest documentary ever made. It appeared to have a relatively low budget, limited research, and like many docs, sought sensation. It clearly hoped to find some serious corruption, which never emerged. It did not find evidence that the entire British governing elite is in the pay of Zionists, because it obviously isn’t. But many of the things it did find, are, quite frankly true.
1) The Israel lobby is highly effective, probably the most effective group lobbying on behalf of another country in the UK. How else can we explain the massive attendance at Labour, and particularly Conservative Friends of Israel events? Are the canapes that good? It is a well funded, well organised lobby, and dogged and persistant enough to make any editor/journalist thinking of writing material critical of Israel wonder if its worth their while.
2) The Israel lobby takes a hard right position, on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It is, in the words on Chas Freeman, discussing the US equivalent, ‘not an Israel lobby but a Likud lobby’. Never would you hear from organisations such as CFI, Bicom and Zionist Federation the fact that there are Israelis that oppose the wall, that opposed the war on Gaza, that regularly travel to the West Bank to work in solidarity with Palestinians
3) Parts of the Israel lobby, notably the Board of Deputies, and the Jewish Leadership council consistently claim to speak in the name of the entire Jewish community. No shit sherlock. The programme quoted Anthony Lerman and David Goldberg to prove this wrong, regular Jewdas readers will already know that it is complete nonsense. JFJFP, IJV, New Israel Fund, your old commie uncle………………
4) The Israel lobby uses anti-semitism to silence criticism of Israel. Hell Yeah. They do this all the bloody time. This is the number one tactic of the lobby, its best tool in intimidating politicians and journalists. Still, after a thousand rebuttals, anti-nationalists, binationalists, supporters of the right of return, opponents of the Gaza war, and hell, even Israel academics who deny Jewish Peoplehood can be easily tarred with the Jew hating brush. This probably should have been the focus of the programme, and would have infuriated people even more.
So what of the allegations of anti-semitism levelled at the programme itself? That it played on the antisemitic trope of a Jewish conspiracy? This is tricky. If one wants to make allegations about a particular organisation, who happen to be Jewish, and who happen to be influential and act in a shadowy way, how exactly should you critique them? Take the example of UJS (Union of Jewish Students), old friends of Jewdas. I might well wish to say that UJS exert control over NUS conference, are somewhat secretive in that their delegates never stand as UJS reps, but rather as independents. I might point out the UJS use their power and financial muscle to stop NUS ever speaking out against Israel. If I was feeling especially daring, I would point out (this is little known) that UJS has a secret staff member, whose job it is to organise infiltration of other student organisations and report back to UJS, a post funded by CST.
Now is this an antisemitic critique? I think not. It all comes down to precision-if I say that ‘the Jews’ control NUS conference, I might well be racist, but if I point out, with examples, the power of the particular organisation UJS, then the critique is a valid, and necessary one.
This was the path of the programme, it made particular allegations, against particular organisations, with examples to justify the case. Given that making this kind of critique without being accused of anti semitism is a herculean task, I’d say they did pretty well.
But even having said all this, the programme did make one big error. It portrayed the Israel lobby as serious, powerful and controversial.
Instead, it should have portrayed them as a bunch of pillocks. These guys are sad bastards, who have little better to do than scrutinise every word of bbc reports, write pompous letters to the Times, and whose Jewish identity is so screwed up that it relies for its focus on defending Israel. Are the Board of Deputies ultimately that menacing? No, they’re a load of twats. We could have had a great film exploring the social lives of the Israel lobby, chatting to Jonathan Hoffman while he enjoys lunch in Sollys, golf drives with Board of Deputies spokesmen, Kalooki with Poju Zabludowicz. Much more enjoyable for all.
Do you really think that when David Milliband meets the Jewish Leadership Council, he quakes in fear and apprehension? No, he thinks ‘ Oh my God, another dinner with those absolute tossers’