Is anyone at home? The British media and 'What's the story' on the Pro-Israel lobby

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
11 December 2009

Two weeks ago, in conjunction with Channel 4 and Dispatches, openDemocracy published a careful pamphlet on the Pro-Israel Lobby in Britain by James Jones and Peter Oborne. You can buy it here. or you can read it on-line here, with a fine publisher's introduction by Tony Curzon Price and here is the Channel4 Distpatches presentation.

It is based on the Dispatches programme that went out on Channel 4 on 16 November. Last week I bumped into one of our leading journalists. He asked what was new with oD. I told him about the pamphlet, thinking he'd be interested. I said how it mapped the extent of the Israeli lobby and the donation patterns of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

That's not new, he said. Everyone knows that "What's the story."

There was no question mark to the way he said 'What's the story' - it was a dismissal. I was too surprised to argue back effectively. So here is part of my answer.

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According to Oborne and Jones, after William Hague said that the 2006 Israeli assault on the Lebanon was "disproportionate" Stuart Polak of the CFI "was able to secure a meeting with David Cameron in which the Tory leader gave what was understood as an undertaking not to use the word "disproportionate" again". Now this has been reported on one of our few current affairs programmes, in the print in the pamphlet and on the web. It has not been denied. Surely this is a story.

It is also just one of the specific revelations in their account. The authors do not argue that the Israeli lobby is wrong or illegal. They suggest that if it wants to present itself as a British lobby perhaps Israeli businessmen (some, it seems, with investments in occupied territories) should not be among its funders and that it should be open and transparent about what it does.

Jones and Oborne's work has broken a taboo (which they also vividly describe). The sweep of their research is persuasive and compelling. It is a vindication that they have not been publicly attacked. But nor have their efforts been reported in the press, with the honourable exception of the Guardian. There have been no questions raised in parliament or discussions on the BBC.

But then we know it already, don't we.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.


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