Jewish organisations have reacted angrily to a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary claiming to expose an “Israel lobby” working to buy influence with UK politicians and journalists. The Board of Deputies has raised concerns that the programme has already sparked a slew of antisemitism.
Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby on Monday night claimed that Conservative Friends of Israel has funded the Tory Party to the tune of £10 million and has shifted Tory policy on Israel. The programme targeted Bicom, which takes journalists on fact-finding trips to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The BBC was also criticised for allegedly bowing to pressure from the Israel lobby.
A statement from the Board said: “After an hour of unfortunate imagery and unfounded suggestions that UK supporters of Israel conspire to influence Parliament and the media utilising financial leverage, Dispatches finally admitted that this is not the case.
“Despite the assertions that the programme would not create antisemitism, it succeeded in eliciting an onslaught of hateful comments on the internet, and an endorsement from the BNP.”
The programme was presented by the Daily Mail’s Peter Oborne, a veteran investigative reporter. He concluded that the programme had not found “anything faintly resembling a conspiracy”. But he said that there was a lack of transparency about some of the organisations he investigated. The Conservative Friends of Israel said the programme’s central claim that the organisation had given £10 million of donations to the Conservatives was unfounded.
A CFI spokeswoman said: “The documentary was deeply flawed in its crucial failure to draw any distinction between donations to the Conservative Party from individuals who may well broadly support the aims and objectives of CFI, and donations from the CFI itself. The allegation that CFI and its supporters have contributed £10 million to the Conservative Party in the last eight years has absolutely no basis in fact.”
Bicom said it would continue to work closely with British journalists to make the case for Israel. The programme claimed that Bicom’s chairman, Poju Zabludowicz, had interests in a shopping centre in the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. It is understood that Mr Zabludowicz took an interest in the shopping centre when one of his companies was taken over, but he says he has no ideological commitment to Israel’s settlement policy. Prof Eric Moonman, president of the Zionist Federation, which was referred to as part of the pro-Israel lobby, said he would be writing to Channel 4 to ask whether it is making a film about lobbying of the British government on behalf of Arab governments.
He said: “It just wasn’t balanced in the context of the Middle East and didn’t explain that lobbying is a legitimate part of the political process.”
The broadcasting regulator Ofcom had received 17 complaints about the programme by Wednesday, when it publishes its weekly figures.
Mr Oborne said he was outraged by charges of antisemitism against the programme, which he defended as legitimate journalism. But he said he had been horrified by some of the attacks on Jews that had been circulating in response to the programme.
He said: “Certain comments on websites have been antisemitic and horrible. One of the vindications of the programme is that it dispelled any notion of a conspiracy. The whole point is that it is a legal, innocent, legitimate lobby that should be more transparent. Those who have reached antisemitic conclusions are disgusting.”
A spokeswoman for Channel 4 added: “We’ve had a relatively small amount of complaints and a large amount of appreciative comments about the programme. The programme’s subject matter is a legitimate area for journalistic investigation and we stand by the film. We utterly reject the idea the programme is in any way antisemitic.”
The CST said comments on the Dispatches website justified its fears that the language used in promoting the programme was “unwittingly playing up to antisemitic stereotypes”. The CST pointed to four examples:
“Good. We want our country back. The agents of a foreign power embedded at all levels of our government and politics need flushing out. They are a menace to our foreign policy, security and reputation abroad...”
“This is remarkable. We have tried for years to have this shadowy support mechanism for Israel exposed... It isn’t just the media and MPs this monster controls, it also has a mechanism to attack any individuals who oppose Israel, in any way.”
“Let’s see the hand of global Zionism at work. Please do keep and show ALL the information and don’t fall for the old accusations of racism when doing programmes like this, to mar any unpleasant truths that may be found.”
“It is disgraceful that C4 is intending to expose the pro-Israel lobby. Surely it is a signatory to the “National Press and TV Zionist Agreement”, which stipulates in paragraph one: ‘Thou shalt not print nor broadcast any reference to the undemocratic control by the agents of Israel over the House of Commons and/or the House of Lords.’”