A prominent American pro-Israel lobbyist and a Voice of America producer indulged in what The Intercept website called a "sexist" and "degrading" email exchange last year about a Palestinian journalist.
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The exchange began when Hooman Bakhtiar, a producer with the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, asked The Israel Project head Josh Block whether he could suggest a pro-Israel speaker for an on-air debate with Israeli-born Palestinian journalist and author Rula Jebreal.
Block is a former spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and currently head of The Israel Project, which engages in pro-Israel hasbara.
Bakhtiar explained to Block that both Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and the former spokesman of the Prime Minister's Bureau Mark Regev had turned down an invitation to appear – and “I cannot have this lady Rula all by herself.”
Block promised Bakhtiar to look for someone appropriate, before launching into a tirade against Jebreal.
"Rula Jabreel (sic) is a crazy person will not (sic) real legitimacy," he wrote. "The challenge here is to find someone not strident who wants to fight with a slanderous anti-Semite and doesn't worry about imparting their credibility to a non-entity like her."
Bakhtiar responded a short while later that his representative in Israel had managed to book someone to "take on Lady Rula." He continued by saying that while her credentials as a Middle East analyst may be questionable, "my editor was keen on having her on because of her looks (although she is hardly my type."
"Now that makes sense!" Block responded.
The Intercept disagreed strongly with Block. "Jebreal’s seriousness is striking given her career accomplishments and credentials: Fluent in four languages, she was the first foreign journalist to anchor an evening news program in Italy, writes frequently for political outlets around the world, and has authored three books, including two novels," it wrote.
"A critic of Israel, she is an articulate, substantive, sophisticated, and highly knowledgeable commentator on Middle Eastern debates."
Block's proposed debate opponent for Jebreal was “someone like Ghaith al-Omari, who is a former PLO official and peace process negotiator.”
Al-Omari, The Intercept pointed out, "is a fellow at the D.C.-based Washington Institute for Near East Policy — alongside pro-Israel stalwarts such as longtime pro-Israel U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross and former Bush Treasury official Matthew Levitt — and, as such, remains faithfully within the D.C. consensus for how Israel and Palestine are discussed."
The email exchange, The Intercept wrote, "highlights how Israel advocates like to compile and maintain lists of Officially Approved Spokespeople whom they deem are sufficiently pliant and thus can be heard when someone needs to hear from a Palestinian perspective."
“When I read things like this, I know I am doing my job,” Jebreal told The Intercept. “What they are doing is bullying, harassing, and attempting to silence any voice that challenges the dominant narrative. The emails are deeply revealing because they show that even outlets like Voice of America are so married to these institutional relationships that they are willing to bend over backwards to please them. It’s shameful.”
The emails were obtained by The Intercept as part of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.