Don’t worry! You’re just under the spot of pro-Israel watchdogs!

By Bassam Bounenni - Tunisian Journalist

If you happen to work for a Western news outlet and, all of a sudden, you’re invited to attend a social media use training session or undergo an investigation, then don’t look any further: your accounts have been under scrupulous scrutiny by one of the pro-Israel groups, which spread across the world and seem to be very keen in silencing any voice that dares criticizing Israel.    

Have you ever heard about CAMERA? Whatever your answer is, the Telegraph has made it its “most valuable source” for dismantling “media bias coverage” of the Israeli War on Gaza. Whether to unveil how 6 reporters from BBC Arabic “have been supporting Hamas” or to show Sky News’s special correspondent, Alex Crawford, “taking the Palestinian side” in the war, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis is behind all the newspaper’s “findings”, based on the “condemning” journalists’ behaviour on social media. However, the Telegraph has omitted to elucidate its readers on who is behind this media-monitoring group.

CAMERA was founded in 1982, in the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, to respond to the media’s “general anti-Israel bias”, as stated on its website. The expression sounds like a classical euphemism for a pro-Israel group.

Far from any conspiracy theories, it is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP), an unofficial umbrella for the most powerful pro-Israel groups in the US.

Over the years, CAMERA has spread its wings over the UK, along with projects in Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew. And, in the US, it’s just one of the groups that are on the lookout for any voice critical of Israel. The list is, indeed, long, and includes (but is not limited to) the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), Honest Reporting (HR) and the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

As it turns out, most of these groups are Middle Eastern-themed but only address anti-Israel content. The strategy is the same: summoning a bogeyman that will frighten those in charge of Western media outlets, which have, in most cases, already adhered somehow to the Israeli narrative of the Palestinian tragedy. It can be Nazism, the so-called ISIS or antisemitism.

In all cases, a campaign is launched to intimidate the media and push them to correct “the less disciplined”. Meanwhile, pro-Israel media-monitoring groups indulge in all excesses without disguise. On February 2nd, 2024, the Wall Street Journal runs, “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad capital”, an inflammatory Op-Ed that sparks outrage in the inner-ring suburb of Detroit, very famous for counting a large group of Arab Americans among its population. “Dearborn police will ramp up its presence across all places of worship and major infrastructure points”, Dearborn’s Mayor, Abdullah H. Hammoud, wrote on X, just hours later. Just like the Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal omitted to clarify that the Op-Ed’s writer was just Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director.

On the other side of the world, the very distant Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not leave one indifferent. On December 20, 2023, Antoinette Lattouf was fired by Australia’s ABC. Her “crime” was to post a Human Rights Watch video accusing the Israeli government of using the starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza on Instagram. ABC’s decision to terminate her contract was plagued with controversy, with many of its employees threatening to walk, in support of their colleague. But Lattouf, who is of Lebanese heritage, eventually, lost her job.

The Sydney Morning Herald found in an investigative report that Lattouf was sacked following a “high-level and coordinated letter-writing campaign from pro-Israel lobbyists that directly targeted the corporation’s chair, Ita Buttrose, and managing director David Anderson”. The report includes “dozens of leaked messages from a WhatsApp group called Lawyers for Israel”.

We may need an entire volume to enumerate cases of interference by pro-Israel groups to twist the strings to serve their interests. But what is most important, here, is to shed light on the existence of these groups and their declared goals. It is only one of the aspects that show the influence of a tightly-knit lobby network of several smaller support groups around the world that works to impose a specific narrative, despite its falsehood and misleading.

The Palestinian issue is also above all fought out on the narrative’s ground. This is a battle of awareness that may take decades to mature.

March 2024

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