Funding Blacklists of U.S. Citizens, Playing D.C. Against Iran: Israeli Gov't Implicated by Shelved Al Jazeera Investigation

Haaretz obtained the Al Jazeera documentary on the Israel lobby, in which the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry director admits it serves as a liaison to Jewish right-wing organizations in the United States

Pro-Israel supporters during Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 1, 2014
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The Strategic Affairs Ministry coordinated with a Washington D.C.-based think tank that lobbied against the nuclear deal with Iran, the ministry's director-general says in a shelved Al Jazeera documentary about the Israel lobby. The documentary was obtained and seen by Haaretz blogger in Hebrew John Brown.

Brown reports of a special screening of the documentary, which took place in Bethlehem, on the security wall Israel built, near Banksy's "Walled Off Hotel." Only a small number of people attended the screening of the first episode of the Al Jazeera investigative report into the Israel lobby in D.C.

The documentary, spanning four episodes of 50 minutes each, tracked an undercover Al Jazeera reported who infiltrated the lobby in late 2016. Brown reported that he has obtained all four episodes.

According to Brown's report, the first episode is devoted to "secret activities" by the lobby's organizations, in cooperation with the Strategic Affairs Ministry, tasked with combating the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and with fighting delegitimization of Israel abroad.

The report says that these include activities against pro-Palestinian organizations in the United States., collecting information on Palestinian organizations on U.S. college campuses, churches, and labor organizations, and how to thwart them.

According to Brown, Sima Vaknin-Gil, the director-general at the Strategic Affairs Ministry, describes in the episode the apparatus for collecting information, and admits that it serves de facto as a liaison to Jewish right-wing organizations in the U.S. She also describes the ministry's collaboration with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a D.C.-based think tank that led a wide campaign in the U.S. against the Iran nuclear deal.

The first episode also reportedly reveals the activity of a propaganda organization called Kela Shlomo, a non-governmental organization created and partially funded by the ministry to combat BDS overseas. Sagi Balasha, Kela Shlomo's director, tells Al Jazeera about the activity of Israel Cyber Shield, a company that collects information about BDS activists for the Strategic Affairs Ministry. According to Brown, the documentary appears to show that Kela Shlomo serves as a conduit to transfer money to pro-Israeli organizations in the U.S. in order to hide the fact that the funds are government money, which would require the groups to register as foreign agents in the United States.

In this first episode, Brown says, the directors of the Israel on Campus organization talk about a system that can locate relevant publications or events on American campuses and generate automatic alerts. Israel on Campus also sets up websites akin to Canary Mission, which disseminate "blacklists" of pro-Palestinian activists.

The episode, according to the report, features a testimony from an Israeli embassy employee in Washington, explaining that her activities include keeping track of pro-Palestinian organizations with the help of fake social media profiles. Another testimony reportedly comes from an employer of the Al Jazeera undercover reporter inside an Israel lobby group in D.C., who explains how he had caused the cancelation of a "Black Lives Matter" event because of its support for BDS.

The documentary is said to describe the Strategic Affairs Ministry as acting not only against BDS activists, but also against people who boycott goods from the settlements, for example. Vaknin-Gil herself reportedly explains in the film that one of the problems the ministry has to contend with is that young Jewish Americans don't accept the Israeli military regime in the West Bank, and are distancing themselves from Israel because of it. The film also reportedly portrays the ways in which the ministry funds right-wing entities in the U.S.; exploits anti-Semitism to fight claims against the separation policy in the West Bank; and ways with which to make activists pay a price for their activity.

The blogger says that he big picture that arises from the documentary suggests pro-Israeli organizations collect a great deal of information on American citizens and smears them, all in complete coordination with the Israeli government.

Last February, Haaretz reported that Qatar had given assurances to U.S. Jewish leaders that Al Jazeera would not air the documentary. The Haaretz report cited five reputable sources in pro-Israel circles in Washington, who said the Qatari leaders gave their assurance in late 2017 not to air “The Israel Lobby,” a move that was part of the emirate’s campaign to improve its image in the American Jewish community.

A day later, the Qatari Foreign Ministry denied it had promised to stop Al Jazeera from airing the documentary. A spokeswoman for the ministry called the Haaretz report "false news" and accused it of conspiring with the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, that have placed a blockade on Qatar.