So when am I going to be able to watch Al Jazeera’s hard-hitting investigation into Israel’s powerful lobby in the United States? Remember Al Jazeera? The tough, no-holds-barred Middle East satellite channel that transformed Qatar into a media empire whose reports frightened dictators and infuriated potentates and presidents alike? Why, George W Bush once wanted to bomb its headquarters in Doha – so it must have been doing something right. It even has an office in Jerusalem.
But something seems to be amiss. Not Al Jazeera’s disastrous American venture, which was supposed to break free of the dross on CNN and Fox News and ended up looking just like CNN or Fox. Nor the tragicomedy of its journalists’ imprisonment in Sissi’s Egypt, banged up by Cairo’s farcical laws and the stupidity of Al Jazeera’s own management in Qatar.
No, I’m talking about a documentary called The Lobby, directed by one of Al Jazeera’s top journalists, Clayton Swisher, the man whose exclusive (and book) on the “Palestine Papers” blew open the secret and scandalous American-led negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinian authority between 2000 and 2010. But after months of postponement, The Lobby, which secretly filmed pro-Israeli US activists and Israeli government officials and was completed last autumn, is still no nearer to being shown – and Swisher himself has taken a paid leave of absence. He even chose to explain his frustration in an article for the progressive American Jewish magazine Forward, which has always maintained a liberal and often very critical view of Israel.
According to Swisher, if his documentary on the American lobby doesn’t air soon, “it might prove to be ammunition sought by a group of zealous US politicians who wish to declare Al Jazeera a foreign entity, and label us journalists as ‘spies’”. In response to antisemitism claims after the London documentary, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled that the programme was “a serious investigative documentary”. It was the same question, Swisher says, that he and his team sought to answer in the American edition of The Lobby: “whether the Israeli government was funding or involved in lobbying efforts in the US under the guise of a domestic lobbying group”.
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