This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
Chas Newkey-Burden said it:
The official remit for Channel 4 states that it should “exhibit a distinctive character” and “appeal to the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society”. [John] Snow’s denial of Hamas’s crimes and Ahmadinejad’s Christmas message appeal to the tastes and interests of only the worst bigots of our society.
Peter Oborne’s Dispatches program this evening, “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby”, could only have appealed to the same people. The deliberate conflation of bloody bodies and Jews eating dinner was an early low. Full of familiar innuendos and stereotypes, it was an agenda-driven and unprofessional piece of work from its inception, as the numerous Jewish organisations it has targetted have discovered in recent weeks. Oborne was unable to prop up his prejudices, so he resorted to desperate nudge-nudge wink-wink tactics to try and create an impression of sinister secretiveness where there is none. The overall implication he made was that his failure to find anything genuinely scandalous was because of a fear, rather than because there’s nothing there.
Because where is this all-powerful Israeli lobby? Why did it not manage to convince the UK to veto the Goldstone report at the UN? How did it fail to stop the UK from starting an arms embargo on Israel? How did it allow our Foreign Minister to attack Operation Cast Lead as ‘disproportionate’, or the UK to finance the Breaking The Silence organisation? As for media activism, if the Israeli lobby had the power it is ascribed, it would have stopped the widespread and routine distortions years ago. Oborne couldn’t find an all-powerful lobby, so he tried to create a false impression of one. It’s the same make-believe world [John] Snow inhabits with his “pretty pathetic” Hamas rockets.
So what did Oborne’s programme amount to? “A row of beans” would be an exaggeration. The lack of substance was amply demonstrated by the people who were prepared to go ‘on the record’ – namely the usual as-a-Jew suspects accompanied by representatives of the Guardian, the (ex)BBC and the Foreign Office. Tony Lerman of course (and the folks at CiFWatch asked me to say “thanks for the plug, Peter, the cheque from the World Zionist Conspiracy is in the post”). Liberal Rabbi David Goldberg; Avi Shlaim; David Newman; Alan Rusbridger (without daughter Bella, understood to still be under the floorboards where she crawled on Friday); a guy called Charlie Beckett who is ex-BBC, now at LSE; and Sir Richard Dalton (Director General, Libyan Business Council, Former UK Ambassador to Iran and Libya – could he be an Arabist I wonder….).
What did the programme say? Well there were the allegations about money of course – no conspiracy is complete without some filthy lucre and if there is an Israel connection – so much the better. After all, that was where all the Lehman Brothers cash went before it went belly-up, wasn’t it Peter? Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) members were said to have given £2m in eight years to MPs (on their Register of Interests). And “all CFI members and their businesses” were said to have given “more than £10m – more than to any other lobby”. There is no way of verifying this figure which seems to have been plucked out of thin air – for a start, the membership of CFI is not published. And “more than to any other lobby”? Have the Channel Four researchers really totalled the funding of every single lobby in the UK? – give me a break.
Then we had the ‘arguments by assertion’. Oborne for example told us that the “Conservatives have a surprisingly soft line on Israeli policies”. Well, they say they would have voted against Goldstone in the UN General Assembly – in what way is that “soft”? After all 18 countries opposed it, including Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United States.
And the purely irrelevant – the value of Poju Zabludowicz’s London house! And Oborne asked David Goldberg if he knew Poju Zabludowicz, Chairman of BICOM. When he said he did not, this was brandished by Oborne as some kind of negative reflection on PZ. If Goldberg took any kind of interest in Israel advocacy in the UK then of course he would have heard of PZ.
And we had the downright untruths. Let’s number all ten of them.
1. It was stated (I think by Michael Ancram MP, who is stepping down at the next election and who thinks the UK should talk to Hamas) that the reason Lord Levy did not draw a salary as Tony Blair’s Middle East adviser was so that his negotiations could remain secret! There is no substance to that allegation whatsoever. Disclosure of government matters bears no relation to whether the relevant officials are or are not paid.
2. The settlements were said (by Oborne and David Newman) to be illegal. That is not established and the most important country in the world, the US, does not believe it.
3. Then there was David Newman. He suggested that BICOM is “blindly supportive” of Israel. This is nonsense – they simply provide information and arrange trips for journalists – they have no political line.
4. And Avi Shlaim, who recently shared a platform with Shlomo Sand and Jacqueline Rose, told us that the UK Jewish Community is ‘split’ on Israel (it isn’t – there is a tiny minority who did not support Cast Lead) and that the leaders are ‘blindly pro-Israel’ (they aren’t – Simon Hochhauser for example – the President of the United Synagogue – said that the views of Avigdor Lieberman were ‘appalling’) and that the leaders have a ‘narrow rightwing agenda’. This is pure ignorance: Vivian Wineman – the President of the Board of Deputies – is a former chairman of the New Israel Fund and former Chair of British Friends of Peace Now.
5. Of course we had (from Rusbridger and Oborne) the lie that critics of Israel are branded “antisemitic”. As usual no example was given – it never is. It is antisemites who are branded as antisemitic.
6. Another distortion came from Oborne. In his anxiety to denigrate CFI he said that Kaminski “refused to apologise to Jews for what happened to them in Poland in World War Two”. It was the massacre of hundreds of Jews in Jedwabne in north east Poland in 1941 that Kaminski did not want to apologise for. Oborne’s version made it sound as if Kaminski sympathised with the Nazis.
7. Now to Charlie Beckett who told us about complaints to the BBC. The pressure works, he said, “because the BBC has no choice but to respond”. Ask anyone who has complained to the BBC about anti-Israel bias if they were satisfied with the response. No-one ever is. The pressure demonstrably does not ‘work’.
8. About Jeremy Bowen (who was found to have breached BBC standards on impartiality and accuracy) Beckett said “the BBC was forced to investigate” [by ‘the Lobby’]. No it was not ‘forced’ to investigate. There were complaints and the BBC followed the same procedure as for all other complainants. No ‘forced’ about it. (Or are complaints about anti-Israel bias somehow worth less than complaints about other topics?) What he then said was utter nonsense: “The BBC would not have investigated Jeremy Bowen without Israeli pressure”. Again – these were ordinary complaints, the same as the BBC gets about foul language, nudity and any manner of topic.
9. Shlaim said that in his testimony to the BBC Trust’s investigation of Bowen earlier this year “I could not fault the BBC”. Well let’s look at the Trust’s judgment. Unfortunately for Shlaim it puts the lie to what he said last night on Channel 4.
Here is what Bowen wrote on the BBC Website:
“the Israeli generals…had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel’s independence war of 1948 for most of their careers.”
And here is what Shlaim said about it to the BBC Trust:
“It’s not accurate – the unfinished business of the 48 was capturing the West Bank…in 48 could have captured the West Bank…Ben Gurion said no – he didn’t want lots of Arabs in the state. It was true some of the right wing generals Weitzman, Sharon Za’evi…these were expansionist and waiting for the opportunity. But that was not true of the army…they had plans for all eventualities…[Jeremy Bowen] goes too far in implying the Israeli Army was planning and plotting to capture the West Bank – it’s not true…”
10. Finally Oborne turned to the BBC’s refusal to show the DEC Gaza appeal. Beckett of course blamed the “Lobby” for this but of course produced no evidence. Here is BBC Director-General Mark Thompson’s explanation of the decision. There were a number of other considerations – for example the fact that the footage in the DEC Appeal was not shot by the BBC itself so it could not guarantee its authenticity.
For Beckett to somehow blame the supporters of Israel was a very fitting end to an hour of innuendoes, unproven assertions and untruths….
PS I did like Oborne’s book on Basil D’Oliveira, though. It completely vindicated the boycott of the MCC cricket match which I instigated at school in 1969. The “D’Oliveira Affair” – now that was a genuine conspiracy!