An investigative documentary by Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera scheduled for broadcast earlier this year was expected to cause a sensation. Its four 50-minute episodes centered on the young and personable James Anthony Kleinfeld, British, Jewish, an Oxford graduate who speaks six languages, including Dutch and Yiddish, and is well-informed about Middle East conflicts—seemingly a natural fit for a Western foreign ministry or a major think tank.
Translated by Charles Goulden.
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The documentary showed Kleinfeld being enthusiastically recruited for his skills by The Israel Project (TIP), which defends Israel’s image in the media, and associating with senior members of organizations that support Israel unconditionally, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), the powerful US lobbying group. For five months, he mixed with them at cocktail parties, congresses, and conventions, and on training courses. He won their trust and they opened up to him, abandoning doublespeak and official lines. How, he asked, did they go about influencing the US Congress? “Congressmen don’t do anything unless you pressure them, and the only way to do that is with money.” How did they counter Palestinian-rights activists on university campuses? “With the anti-Israel people, what’s most effective, what we found at least in the last year, is you do the opposition research, put up some anonymous website, and then put up targeted Facebook ads.”
Kleinfeld’s contacts told him they were spying on US citizens with the help of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, founded in 2006, which reports directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One official said: “We are a different government working on foreign soil, [so] we have to be very, very cautious.” And indeed some of the things they do could be subject to prosecution under US law.
At the end of Kleinfeld’s time at TIP, his boss there, Eric Gallagher, was so happy with his performance that he wanted to hire “Tony” on a permanent basis: “I would love it if you came to work for me. I need someone who’s a team player, hardworking, excited, passionate, curious, well-rounded, well-spoken, well-read. You’re all of those things.” Kleinfeld turned down the job. His qualifications were genuine, but he was of course an undercover reporter, sent by Al Jazeera to investigate the pro-Israel lobby. He filmed conversations using a hidden camera and later, as part of an Al Jazeera investigations team led by executive producer Phil Rees, put together a spectacular documentary. There was all the more excitement over its impending broadcast, because a 2017 Al Jazeera report on the pro-Israel lobby in the UK had revealed Israel’s interference in Britain’s internal affairs, and its attempts to bring down the deputy foreign secretary, Alan Duncan, whom it considered too pro-Palestinian. This had led to the Israeli ambassador in London making a public apology and a high-ranking diplomat being recalled to Tel Aviv.
The documentary was expected to be a media sensation, bringing outraged denials and intense controversy. But then the broadcast was postponed, with no official explanation. Eventually, articles in the US Jewish media revealed that it would never be shown. Clayton Swisher, Al Jazeera’s director of investigative journalism, expressed regret at the decision in a published article, and announced he was taking sabbatical leave. The documentary had been sacrificed to the fierce battle between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the other for US support in the feud that began in June 2017. What better way to do this than by winning the favour of the pro-Israel lobby, known for its influence on US policy in the Middle East?
BURYING THE PROJECT
To tip the balance in its favor, Qatar “postponed” the broadcast, winning a halt to the campaign against Doha by a section of the right wing of an already right-wing lobby. Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and a close friend of Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, flew to Doha and said he was delighted to see the documentary buried. That groups such as the ZOA, which had not long ago been accusing Qatar of funding Hamas and terrorism, should change sides in return for the documentary’s suppression says a lot about its explosive revelations.
But burying over a year’s work caused turmoil at Al Jazeera. Some were keen for the revelations not to sink into the quicksand of geopolitical compromise, which is why, thanks to a friend in the Gulf, I was able to watch all four episodes in their near-final version.
What was striking to see was the feverish mood of the pro-Israel lobby over the last few years due to a blind fear of losing its influence. How can that be, when support for Israel is massive in the United States, and both Republicans and Democrats unfailingly back it, no matter what its ventures? And when, since Trump’s election, Washington no longer wishes to act as “unfair” broker in the Israeli-Arab conflict, and has sided with Israel’s most right-wing government ever? Despite this apparently favorable climate, a specter haunts the lobby: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).
BDS, launched in 2005, aims to use the nonviolent methods that proved effective in South Africa under apartheid. It is growing in popularity on US campuses, but David Brog, director of strategic affairs of Christians United for Israel and executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, a group fighting against BDS, questioned whether it is really a cause for alarm. He said: “Israel’s booming. It’s the start-up nation. More venture capital is going into Israel today than at any other time in history. So why don’t we just calm down, realise that BDS is worthless, it’s losing, and ignore it?… I don’t think BDS was ever supposed to be about getting colleges to take their money out of Israel. So if we focus on the dollars we can feel really good about ourselves. If we focus on the fact that an effort is being made to distance us, those who love Israel, from the rising generation, I think we need to worry. When you get to millennials and students, it’s a bad situation. And it’s getting to the point now where the majority is more favorable towards the Palestinians than the Israelis.” Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a group of organizations that fights BDS in universities, is also worried: “The one thing every member of Congress and president and ambassador and newspaper editors has in common is, by and large, they spent a little bit of time on campus and probably those were formative years.”
There’s another worry for the lobby: Support for Israel has traditionally transcended the Republican-Democrat divide, and a few months before the end of his presidency, Barack Obama unconditionally approved $38 billion of aid to Israel over 10 years, though his relations with Netanyahu were terrible. But the political landscape is changing, and the lobby’s unconditional support for Trump is narrowing its base to the Republican Party and the evangelical right.
rest of article: https://www.thenation.com/article/how-israel-spies-on-us-citizens/