Anti-Israel views on billionaire website

A Middle East news website owned by one of Britain’s richest men has become a new source of anti-Zionist and pro-Iranian polemicism.

Middle East Online (MEO), in which the Iraqi-British billionaire Nadhmi Auchi has a controlling stake, is a news service which doubles as a vehicle to promote the activities of its owner, who was ranked at 32 in this year’s Sunday Times Rich List. Its editor is Dr Haitham el-Zobeidi, an Iraqi national who jointly owns the site with Mr Auchi.

Lately the site has increasingly highlighted the Israel-Palestine conflict. Although some of the pieces on it are written by respected authorities on the Middle East, prominent human rights activists and Israeli politicians, others are stridently anti-Israel.

Gilad Atzmon, the controversial Israeli anti-Zionist musician, is a regular contributor. One piece by him is entitled Why Britain Must De-Zionise Itself. In Taming the Israel Lobby, Stuart Littlewood writes in response to the recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme: “Why are agents of a foreign military power allowed to meddle in our democratic and parliamentary processes?” In A Century of Dishonour, Dallas Darling equates the fate of the Palestinians to that of native Americans.

Jeff Gates, who runs the Criminal State blog — illustrated by an Israeli flag — is a regular. In a recent article on MEO he wrote: “What — precisely what — is the benefit to US interests from this entangled alliance with militant Judaism? ...How much longer can the global community afford to tolerate the behaviour of Zionist extremists in the heart of the predominantly Muslim Middle East? At what point does the international community coalesce — in the interest of peace — to disarm nuclear-armed fanatics posing as a legitimate nation-state?”

Another regular contributor, Iqbal Tamimi of the Palestinian Mothers Network, was one of those responsible for disseminating a story that the IDF was alleged to be harvesting organs from Palestinians.

An article on the site last month argued that responsibility for the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, the demonstrator who has become a symbol of the Iranian student resistance, could not be placed at the door of the Tehran government.

It said: “The ruthless exploitation of the death of Neda for political purposes is an egregious example of a propaganda war being waged by the enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The article’s authors suggest instead that the US may be responsible for the young woman’s death: “However, it is every bit as conceivable that those who thought the opposition movement needed a symbol and icon of resistance — recipients and supporters no doubt of a $400m CIA-backed destabilisation programme for Iran — would have arranged this horrible murder and try and pin it on the Iranian authorities.”

A statement issued via Mr Auchi’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck, said that MEO “strives to provide a platform on which a wide range of views on current affairs concerning the Middle East may be aired. By virtue of this, inevitably not everyone will agree with all the views expressed, as is the case for any publication, including the Jewish Chronicle.”

It continued: “The suggestion that it is an anti-Israeli website is untrue and offensive. A number of Jewish or Jewish-Israeli writers have featured on the site.”

Last updated: 4:36pm, December 4 2009