The “scandal” over the activities of pro-Israel groups in the UK and their links with the Israeli embassy uncovered by Al Jazeera (in ‘The Lobby’, a series of documentaries) is largely manufactured.
Al Jazeera’s story got blanket news coverage after the main protagonist in their undercover footage, Shai Masot, a minor Israeli Embassy official, resigned. Masot was caught on camera saying he would like to see Junior Foreign Minister Alan Duncan removed.
The documentaries run to the best part of two hours, with a lot of repetition. You do not need to spend that time watching. It is hardly shocking that Israeli diplomats and embassy staff have good connections with pro-Israel groups, seek to support them and to carry out the policy of the current government of Israel. None of that activity is exceptional diplomatic power of any medium-to-large national power.
Clearly Shai Masot occasionally has too much to drink, has a big ego and shoots his mouth off about his work. It is perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary to reject much of the views of pro-Israel groups.
Does that make these groups unique, or fundamentally worse than other lobbyists, diplomats or even those who are agents of espionage by other states? Not really. And the revelations that the Qatari-government-backed Al Jazeera have uncovered are low level and uninteresting.
These are: 1. That Labour members of the NUS executive oppose the current President, Malia Bouattia, have been building support to see her deposed, and have taken part in Union of Jewish Students organised trips to Israel.
2. That Labour Friends of Israel receives support from the Israeli embassy.
3. That antisemitism in the Labour Party is something that concerns the Israeli government and ambassador.
4. That Labour Friends of Israel has made complaints of antisemitism against Labour Party members.
5. That the Jewish Labour Movement has among its staff someone who previously worked for the Israeli Embassy.
The documentary seeks out comment from the likes of Jackie Walker, Peter Oborne and Ilan Pappe; constantly reminds that Israel is engaged in an offensive against the BDS movement; and constantly refers to Israel as an apartheid state. All that makes the “revelations” more dramatic than they really are.
The film also describes various people who work or support pro-Israeli groups as “operatives” The documentaries seek to show there is a shadowy cabal of Jews who seek to control real organisations for their own gains — the unremitting and unqualified defence of the occupation of Palestine and the project of a greater Israel. Much drama is made out of preparations by various members of LFI, BICOM, and members of the Israeli Labour Party to attend a meeting at Labour Party Conference of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. Then, in passing, it says that the meeting went off peacefully. So nothing the film makers felt worth sharing!
One of the final events the undercover reporter is taken to is co-sponsored by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The voice-over tells us that it is not widely known that AIPAC operate in the UK. Maybe that is true, but is it really surprising or scandalous that it does?
We should oppose the lobbying and espionage of governments and organisations who want to promote harmful ideas. But we should do this consistently, and not just for those instances where it is connected with Israel. Will Al Jazeera be a follow up on the lobbying done by the Gulf states particularly around arms deals? I somehow doubt it.
There is nothing original in these documentaries; their aim — to promote a conspiratorial attitude to the “Zionist lobby — is very transparent.