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(photo credit: Channel 4 Web site)
The UK Jewish community is bracing itself for the screening of a television documentary that questions the work of community organizations and individuals, implying they are part of a "powerful" and "influential" pro-Israel lobby.
Set to be screened during prime time on Monday evening, Channel 4's Dispatches program will investigate "one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain, which is working in support of the interests of the State of Israel."
"Despite wielding great influence among the highest realms of British politics and media, little is known about the individuals and groups which collectively are known as the pro-Israel lobby," the program notes.
Labor MP Denis MacShane, who chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and is the author of Globalizing Hatred: the New Anti-Semitism, questioned the existence of such a lobby.
"If there is a Jewish/Israel lobby here, it is not very effective, as Israel is almost treated as a pariah state in the media and has few friends in politics," he told The Jerusalem Post.
"I assume that Dispatches, having done some tough stuff on Muslim hate preachers, wants to do a UK equivalent of the Walt and Mearsheimer book and prove there is a powerful Israel 'lobby' here. If they can find it, I hope they let me know."
The show's creators - an independent production company called Hardcash - have been accused by Jewish organizations of having a sinister agenda after they aggressively pursued certain community organizations, charities and individuals, including bursting through their doors.
What's more, Hardcash has been working on the program for over four months, but approached Jewish organizations only last week to respond to the allegations leveled against them.
One of the organizations targeted in the show is the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that works closely with the government and police to monitor anti-Semitism. The organization also provides security at Jewish events, but has no Israel remit.
"The program-makers waited until two weeks before transmission to contact the targets of their investigation," said Mark Gardner, CST's director of communications.
"Perhaps they believed their own publicity and feared that the incredibly powerful UK 'Israel Lobby' would get the program canceled.
"Alternatively, they were never interested in our opinions and have behaved as if they are investigating a criminal gang rather than various Jewish community-linked organizations," Gardner continued. "The latter explanation is far likelier, but it does not bode well for a fair and balanced program."
CST has also accused the producers of using the standard tropes of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in their promotional material, with phrases such as "one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies," "wielding great influence" and "the tactics it employs behind the scenes."
The promotional material continues, "Political commentator Peter Oborne sets out to establish who they are, how they are funded, how they work and what influence they have, from the key groups to the wealthy individuals who help bankroll the lobbying. Oborne examines how the lobby operates from within parliament and the tactics it employs behind the scenes when engaging with print and broadcast media."
"Sadly, the program seems to have a predetermined agenda," said Poju Zabludowicz, chairman of the Britain Israel Communications Research Center (BICOM).
"Some people have suggested that the production team felt compelled to 'balance out' their two recent programs exposing the footprint of radical Islamism in the UK. I come to this conclusion with a heavy heart, having been led [through] a not-so-merry dance over the past 10 days by the program-makers," he added.
Zabludowicz also said that when BICOM had agreed to help, the program-makers had become "obstructive and uncooperative."
"BICOM is an advocacy organization; we work with journalists every day. It is in our DNA to put our side of the story forward and to be transparent," he said.
"We were willing to offer a spokesperson for interview on the program and to talk candidly to the producers about all aspects of our work," he said. "Last week, every time we attempted to engage with the production company, they proved to be obstructive, uncooperative and opaque."
The show producers also sent an e-mail to Simon Plosker, managing editor of media monitoring organization Honest Reporting, asking him to justify his work.
"We would like to ask you in an interview about your role as managing editor of Honest Reporting and its part in 'the battle for public opinion.' We would like to ask you about its targeting of the British media, in particular e-mail campaigns against the Guardian and BBC. We would also like to ask you about your previous roles at BICOM, NGO Monitor and your work for the IDF Spokesperson's Unit," the letter read.
"We will be in Jerusalem on Monday and hope you will welcome the opportunity to explain your role as managing editor of Honest Reporting," it concluded.
The e-mail was sent over Shabbat. The following Monday, the producers stormed into Honest Reporting's Jerusalem offices with cameras rolling, demanding to know where Plosker was.
"It was as if in an attempt to catch some sort of criminal activity. They demanded to know where I was, claimed that I was a 'major player in the UK' and asked whether I had something to hide," Plosker, who is currently in London, told the Post.
"Channel 4 has still failed to make clear why my professional background is of such interest to them," he went on. "I have nothing to hide, and aggressive actions such as bursting into my office with cameras rolling, pursuing me, can do nothing to dispel the suspicion that this documentary is nothing more than a cynical hatchet job aimed at the Anglo-Jewish community and supporters of Israel."
The letter was sent by the program's producer Ed Harriman, who also writes for the London Review of Books and was the first to review Walt and Mearsheimer's book The Israel Lobby in March 2006.
"The entire premise of the program is extremely disturbing, playing as it does on classic anti-Jewish prejudice. If a well-oiled and effective lobby existed, then I'd be out of a job and Israel's image in the UK would not be in the shocking state it is in today," Plosker said.
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