Al Jazeera’s special investigations team has produced two astonishing documentary series on the Israel Lobby in the UK and U.S. The former was aired to great fanfare and notoriety last year. It revealed the deep penetration of Israeli diplomats into internal UK politics and cost at least one of those officials his job. The Lobby filed a complaint against the series with UK media regulators, who dismissed it.
By then, the documentary on the U.S. Israel Lobby was in the can and ready for airing. But it never did (or hasn’t yet). In the past few months there has been a furious tug of war between those targeted in the documentary and their Lobby supporters in Congress and the Trump administration, and human rights and media activists lobbying for the Qatari government to air it. So far, the Lobby appears to be winning the battle. For months, the program has been ready to air but not received permission from the authorities. By the way, the notion expressed by Qatari government ministers that the decision is out of their hands and rests solely with Al Jazeera is laughable. No subject this controversial is decided solely on its journalistic merits.
The reason the documentary is even more controversial is that it has dropped into a major crisis facing Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s new boy prince, Mohammed ibn Salman, has determined to make his mark on the region by shaking up conventional thinking and acting aggressively in pursuit of Saudi interests. So we have the disastrous siege in Yemen which has killed 50,000 Yemenis. Next, Saudi Arabia lined up all its lackey states in a row and they all obediently declared Qatar a mortal enemy because it had the temerity to pursue a semi-independent path. That included maintaining relations with both Iran and Turkey, who are persona non grata in Saudi eyes.
The Sunni Gulf alliance laid siege to Qatar and did everything short of declaring war. The Saudis little brother in the Gulf is UAE, which has been pursuing a wide-ranging campaign to blacken Qatar. That has included media hacks which aired offensive programming on Qatari TV which insulted the Saudis. But it’s gone much farther, sending Arab and pro-Israel American Jewish emissaries to Trump’s inner circle to pressure it to advance Sunni-Gulf interests, including advocating the firing of Secretary of State Tillerson.
The question is: did wealthy figures like Elliot Broidy approach Kushner and Trump et al not just at the behest of UAE; were they also coached or directed by Israel itself–or by cut-out intermediaries? Remember, that the NSA has captured communications intercepts in which senior authorities from four countries (including Israel) essentially conspire to buy Jared Kushner. So it is not at all far-fetched that Israel would approach its allies inside the U.S. Israel Lobby and organize such efforts.
Not that UAE or the Saudis especially need the Israel Lobby to do their work for them. They already have a well-financed lobbying campaign of their own in this country. But every friend counts and all hands help.
The Qataris too feel they have to play this game. To that end, their former foreign minister took a meeting with Jared Kushner and discussed a major investment in a family property that is under water financially. Naturally the investment, had it gone forward, would have cemented a golden relationship with Donald Trump just as he became president. But prudently, the Qataris backed out to the chagrin of Kushner. News articles have noted that only weeks later Saudi Arabia launched its siege against Qatar. It’s no accident that Trump’s first statement was one of absolute support for the Saudi position; and denunciation of the Qataris in terms that could have been written by Saudi PR flacks.
The Qatari government has also bought the services of the leading DC Republican campaign consultancy. That firm has in turn bought American Jewish leaders and sent them on junkets to Qatar just like the ones they organize for Congress members and Senators to Israel to cement the loyalty of the American political class. Among the bought-leaders have been Malcolm Hoenlein, Mort Klein, Jack Rosen, and Alan Dershowitz. After their meetings with the emir they’ve dutifully spouted pro- Qatari talking points. This serves Qatar’s purpose by driving a wedge into the usually unified Lobby leadership. Where most side with the blossoming bromance between Israel and Saudi Arabia and denounce Qatar as a terrorist supporter of ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, now new voices are offering an alternative point of view.
This suits the Qataris who know the Israel Lobby could wield massive force inside Congress and the administration in support of the Saudi position. They need to chip away at that unanimity in order to blunt the attack. Thus Dershowitz et al are useful tools of disruption for them.
Returning to the documentary: it features extensive surreptitiously recorded conversations with officials of the neocon/pro-Israel Foundation for the Defense of Democracies boasting about how closely their lobbying is coördinated with and by Israel. A senior official, Jonathan Schanzer, explicitly says on camera that not only are positions coordinated. In separate incidents Israeli official, Danny Ayalon, acknowledged the Israeli foreign ministry financed StandWithUs’s Olympia Coop anti-BDS lawsuit. I’ve also documented Israeli government funds directed to a StandWithUs war room project. Though the Electronic Intifada story doesn’t explore this issue, my guess is that there is Israeli official money behind many of these Lobby organizations and campaigns.
That would be a huge no-no in terms of U.S. law. Any U.S. person or group financed by a foreign government must register as an agent of a foreign government (FARA). For decades, critics of the Lobby have demanded that groups like Aipac, FDD and others should register under FARA. Naturally, the Lobby objects strenuously. Admitting that it is a creature of the Israeli government would not only tarnish its reputation as being a wholly homegrown American enterprise; it would also raise the dreaded specter of dual loyalty–a canard often spouted by anti-Semites claiming that American Jews owe their loyalty not to their homeland, but to a foreign power.
In actuality, most American Jews are loyal to their country. It is only the Lobby and its most fervent adherents who are guilty of dual loyalty. And they should be formally registered as such.
Into this titanic struggle between Qatar and the Sunni Gulf states steps the Al Jazeera documentary. A poor lost soul seeking to find its way to viewers. The Qataris have two conflicting considerations: they can honor press freedom and the important issues the program raises; or they can play realpolitik and do what is best for their national interests. My cynical self knows which one is most likely to win out. Given that Electronic Intifada published a detailed overview of what the series contains, my guess is that the producers lost their battle and this was a way to get at least some of the material into public view. But my optimistic self hopes that Qatar’s leaders honor their commitment to the right values of justice and fairness and a free press and permit it to air.
The Lobby wants to leave nothing to chance. That’s why both the Saudiphiles and the Qatariphiles have both exerted maximum force to stop it. Dershowitz and the other Lobby guests of the emir lobbied him to shelve the documentary. They came away believing that he had promised to do so. Though Qatari officials have disagreed with this assessment and made mealy-mouthed professions of support for whatever decision Al Jazeera management makes.
The Lobby Saudiphiles have also concocted a scheme in Congress demanding that the Justice Department open an investigation into whether Al Jazeera itself is an agent of a foreign power. Thirteen water-carrying Congress members have written to AG Sessions demanding that he force Al Jazeera to do what Putin’s RT has been compelled to do: to register under FARA. The apoplexy of the Lobby is based mostly on outrage that they were hoodwinked into talking to a reporter covertly recording their conversations. The fact that the content of those conversations proved that the Lobby is an agent of Israel is what they’d like to suppress. Instead, they’d like to focus on their outrage that Al Jazeera engaged in what one Lobby genius called “espionage:”
“Let’s not mince words about what this was – a well-funded, professional espionage operation carried out by Qatar on American soil,” Noah Pollak, executive director of the neoconservative Committee for Israel, has stated.
A telling term to use because it implies that the Lobby is a stand-in for America itself; and that betraying the interests of the Lobby is the same as betraying the interests of the nation. A ludicrous, almost insane notion. Not to mention that Israeli officials, the Lobby itself and UAE are engaged here in even more extensive monitoring, spying and hacking of the sort they complain about regarding Al Jazeera.