Suspected Al Jazeera Undercover Reporter Volunteered as an Intern at The Israel Project

Sources tell Haaretz that the undercover reporter was also in touch with employees of ten other organizations, as well as Israeli Embassy staff

Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon
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A man works at a desk in the Al Jazeera America broadcast center in New York, August 20, 2013.
A man works at a desk in the Al Jazeera America broadcast center in New York, August 20, 2013.Credit: REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – The person suspected of working undercover for Al Jazeera to make a documentary film about the Israel lobby managed to become involved as an intern at the leading pro-Israel organization The Israel Project and had access to some information about its donors, sources in the Washington-based pro-Israel community have told Haaretz. The sources stated that the same person was also in touch with employees of as many as ten other organizations, as well as staff of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

On Monday, Al Jazeera admitted publicly for the first time that in the summer of 2016, it had sent an undercover reporter to infiltrate pro-Israel organizations in the United States to make a documentary film about their actions, similar to the documentary series “The Lobby,” which the network broadcast in 2016 and which was focused on pro-Israel organizations in the United Kingdom.

Al Jazeera's admission did not come as a surprise to a number of pro-Israel organizations in Washington, which have suspected since early 2017 that the Qatari-owned network had been working on such a film. The suspicions were first reported by journalist Armin Rosen, who wrote about the issue in Tablet Magazine in January. Rosen said that the person suspected of being Al Jazeera's “mole” in Washington is a British-born pro-Palestinian activist named James Anthony Kleinfeld, who used a different name when applying for jobs in pro-Israel organizations in Washington and who managed to become involved in pro-Israel activities in the U.S. capital.

Five sources with knowledge of the situation told Haaretz that Kleinfeld – whom they suspect, but don't know for certain, was indeed working for the Qatari news network – managed to become involved as an intern at The Israel Project, an organization that works to improve Israel's global image. The sources offered different accounts of Kleinfeld's involvement in the organization. Some said he showed up at The Israel Project's Washington offices three to four times a week during the summer of 2016, while others claimed he only spent a total of around 20 hours at the organization's offices.

All of the sources said that one of the issues Kleinfeld focused on during his time with the organization was donor relations. As part of that responsibility, he made calls to potential donors and also had access to certain files about the organization's donor base.

One of the sources, all of whom asked not be identified, said it was “strange” that Kleinfeld was “very eager to work on donations,” explaining that “this is not typically an issue that young and passionate volunteers want to work on. Usually, that kind of person would ask to do public relations stuff.”

A person who had spoken to Kleinfeld during his time in Washington said that Kleinfeld “was telling people that he had gone to events at the Israeli embassy, made friends with embassy workers, and also tried to get a job in the embassy.” Haaretz was able to verify several of those details; Kleinfeld indeed had one meeting with a junior embassy worker, which focused on fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and he also invited a number of junior embassy workers to parties at his apartment in Washington.

One senior official in a pro-Israel organization called the incident “a wake-up call” to such organizations, who, the official said, “need to start realizing what we're up against in these times.” According to the official, Al Jazeera invested tens of thousands of dollars into the project. “They rented an apartment for him that cost more than $5,000 a month,” the official said. “We don't know what kind of recording equipment was placed inside that apartment, and what kind of equipment he took with him to meetings in offices all around town, but I assume it was of the highest quality. This is not just a television report, it's closer to state-sponsored espionage.”

The official added that “this is only the tip of the iceberg,” explaining that Kleinfeld “was in touch with senior people in at least ten organizations, all of whom could have been recorded talking to him. He built a wide network with people from different organizations, on both a professional and social level.”

Another source who knew Kleinfeld during his time in Washington expressed concern that “whatever information he may have gathered could get not only to Al Jazeera, but also to other places,” noting that the international network is owned by Qatar – “not exactly a friendly nation.”

Kleinfeld, according to several sources, also visited the offices of the Israel on Campus Coalition, an organization that aims to “unite and empower pro-Israel campus organizers.” It should be noted that the first part of Al Jazeera's series about the Israel lobby in the U.K. focused mainly on pro-Israel activities at British universities.

Two of the sources said that the organization which introduced Kleinfeld to the pro-Israel scene in Washington is Fuel For Truth, which works to “equip” young leaders with “the basic skills and facts necessary to advocate for Israel.” The report in Tablet Magazine in January also stated that Kleinfeld went through a training session with that organization, and one of the sources who spoke with Haaretz explained that “this was his entry card.”

Al Jazeera's announcement about the undercover reporter came shortly after a government regulation agency in the U.K. stated on Monday that it is rejecting complaints that the network's series on pro-Israel groups in the U.K. was anti-Semitic.

The regulator, Ofcom, concluded that the program was “a serious investigative documentary which explored the actions of the Israeli Embassy and, in particular, its then Senior Political Officer, Shai Masot and his links to several political organisations that promote a pro-Israeli viewpoint.”

Following the ruling, the director of investigative reporting at Al Jazeera, Clayton Swisher, said in an interview on the network's main Arabic channel that “at the same time we had an undercover in Britain, we also had an undercover in the United States.” He explained that the network did not want to broadcast the materials gathered in Washington before the regulator in the U.K. would issue a verdict on the British part of its reporting.

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