A documentary film that aimed to expose Israel’s covert influence campaign in the United States has been leaked to the media after the government of Qatar pulled it from Al Jazeera, a media outlet Qatar funds. In August 2018, excerpts of the censored documentary were leaked and later published by a number of online independent media outlets, including the Electronic Intifada, France’s Orient XXI, and Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar.
An undercover reporter for Al Jazeera became an intern at the Israel Project, a pro-Israeli organization in Washington, DC, in order to research and document what a November 2018 Electronic Intifada article summarized as “the efforts of Israel and its lobbyists to spy on, smear and intimidate US citizens who support Palestinian human rights, especially BDS,” the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
One clip showed Julia Reifkind, then an employee of the Israeli embassy, discussing the Israeli government “giving our support” to front groups “in that behind-the-scenes way,” and describing the use of fake Facebook profiles to infiltrate campus activist groups that support Palestine. In another segment, the executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, Jacob Baime, described how that group coordinated with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, a semi-covert government agency that previous reports linked to a global campaign targeting the BDS movement. Baime also described using anonymous websites to target activists, citing Canary Mission, an anonymous smear site targeting student activists, as “a good example.” In another leaked excerpt, a group of students with fellowships from the right-wing Hoover Institution explained that their participation in a pro-Israeli demonstration was “astroturfing,” a term used to describe the masked sponsorship of activism intended to give the appearance of grassroots advocacy.
The pro-Israel lobby successfully pressured the Qatari government not to release the Al Jazeera documentary. In June 2018, the Electronic Intifada reported, a Qatari government official stated that the film’s release would be indefinitely delayed due to “national security” concerns.
As Haaretz reported in August 2018, the Qatari government censored the documentary as part of its effort “to win the support of major Jewish American organizations.” Since 2017, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates placed Qatar under partial blockade, Qatar has “intensified its lobbying efforts in the United States, in hopes of convincing the Trump administration to support it” in its dispute with the Saudis and the UAE, Amir Tibon reported. In that effort, Qatar has “invested millions of dollars” to court right-wing Jewish American organizations that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In exchange for censoring the Al Jazeera documentary, Haaretz reported, Qatar sought public messages of support by those groups.
In September 2018, Max Blumenthal reported that the censored Al Jazeera film also documented how Israeli operatives and US lobbyists coordinated efforts to recruit established black civil rights activists as pro-Israel proxies and to discredit the Movement for Black Lives after August 2016, when that activist coalition issued a platform that characterized Israel as an “apartheid state” and affirmed support for the BDS movement in response.
As of May 2019, the corporate news media appear to have entirely ignored Qatar’s censorship of the Al Jazeera documentary and the evidence it provided of Israel’s covert influence campaign in the United States.
Asa Winstanley and Ali Abunimah, “‘National Security’ Cited as Reason Al Jazeera Nixed Israel Lobby Film,” Electronic Intifada, June 4, 2018, https://electronicintifada.net/content/national-security-cited-reason-al-jazeera-nixed-israel-lobby-film/24566.
Asa Winstanley, “Al Jazeera Denies Qatari Emir Censored Israel Lobby Film,” Electronic Intifada, October 10, 2018, https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/al-jazeera-denies-qatari-emir-censored-israel-lobby-film.
“Watch the Film the Israel Lobby Didn’t Want You to See,” Electronic Intifada, November 2, 2018, https://electronicintifada.net/content/watch-film-israel-lobby-didnt-want-you-see/25876.
Amir Tibon, “Parts of Censored Al Jazeera Documentary on D.C. Israel Lobby Leaked,” Haaretz, August 30, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-parts-of-censored-al-jazeera-documentary-on-pro-israeli-lobby-leaked-1.6432835.
Ben Norton, interview with Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal, “Leaked Clips from Censored Documentary on Israel Lobby Reveal Attacks on US Activists,” Real News Network, September 10, 2018, https://therealnews.com/stories/leaked-clips-from-censored-documentary-on-israel-lobby-reveal-attacks-on-us-activists.
Max Blumenthal, “Censored Documentary Exposes Israel’s Attack on Black Lives Matter,” MintPress News, September 7, 2018, https://www.mintpressnews.com/black-lives-matter-israel-the-lobby/248917/.
Student Researcher: Gabrielle Kreidie (Drew University)
Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)