London Review of Books in the Israel Lobby’s crosshairs

If I had to rank the world’s best publications, I would put the London Review of Books on top. Unlike its progenitor, the NY Review of Books, it is edgier, more daring in its politics. It also has a generally-superior stable of writers. The late Edward Said was a frequent contributor, so is my friend Tariq Ali. Its Israel-Palestine beat is covered by critical voices like Rashid Khalidi, Yitzhak Laor, Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, Uri Avnery, Charles Glass, Henry Siegman, Alastair Crooke, Avi Shlaim, Sara Roy, Raja Shehadeh et al — writers you’ll never see in the NYRB or the New Yorker. And of course, in 2006 it did what no American publication dared do: it gave a platform to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

Unsurprisingly, it has been the target of the lobby’s wrath ever since. Earlier this year the neoconservative Standpoint magazine launched a campaign to have its (negligible) public funding revoked. It also smeared LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. Now comes another salvo. Just Journalism — the UK counterpart to CAMERAhas published a ‘study’, now being publicized by the ADL, which claims to prove LRB’s anti-Israel bias (an allegation that has less sting in the UK than it does in the US). Just Journalism first tried to mask its Israel lobby origins by appointing the Egyptian-born Adel Darwish as its director. However, Darwish only lasted a few months, announcing his resignation in a rambling, semi-coherent post in which he warned that the overzealousness of the organization’s principals risked turning it into ‘a Maccarthist [sic] which-hunt of fellow journalists’. He also noted:

One significant handicap from which the project suffered from the start was the absence of any analyst or researcher with journalistic experience. Although they were excellent researchers of good academic minds (one was a lawyer), dedicated and enthusiast about the work; they lacked the experience of being reporters on the ground and were never exposed to newsroom culture. This resulted, sometimes in researchers being overzealous or under the illusion that unless they find reports and media news item that breached the code of good journalism it means they were non productive…

As weeks and months passed, it was obvious that within Just Journalism, there was two irreconcilable views of media reporting on Israel. Mine, seen from a standpoint of a long experience in journalism; and that of the chairwoman, with her commercial background and experience in corporate management who wanted ‘value for money’ which had only one translation ‘as many items on the site as possible’ – obviously items of analysis of unbalanced or biased against Israel, and how many journalists per week were ticked off or contacted to be told that their work did not meet the criteria.

Because of the difference in the political culture, the lobby’s tactics are different in the UK. The press recognizes that there is a bigger gap between public opinion and foreign policy and it does not respond well to overt campaigns of intimidation. The lobby has therefore adopted a behind-the-scenes approach. JJ initially tried to present itself as a mere media watchdog, with Darwish as its public face, even duping British media icons like Jon Snow into participating in its events. It now appears to have abandoned the pretense and opted for putting the whole weight of the lobby and the Israeli embassy behind it. JJ has now a joint event planned with the Israeli embassy, the Henry Jackson Society (UK counterpart to Project for the New American Century, including some of the same board members), the Jewish Chronicle and Bank Hapoalim. Besides Henry Jackson Society, JJ also has links through its board with the Hudson Institute and the Center for Social Cohesion. The neocon network has also got a boost from the fact that at least one HJS veteran is now part of Cameron’s cabinet. Michael Gove, the Education secretary, is a close associate of James Woolsey, and UK’s leading purveyor of the Iraq-Al Qaeda link in the lead up to the war in 2003.

The campaign against LRB is seemingly coordinated. It started with a smear campaign against LRB editor M-K Wilmers by Daniel Johnson, the editor of the neoconservative Standpoint magazine. And JJ’s campaign against the journal started shortly after Johnson joined its advisory board. Of course, LRB will weather this storm as it has past ones, but this is mainly due to the loyalty of subscribers and Mary-Kay Wilmers’s support. Over the past few years I have done my bit toward ensuring its sustainability by getting subscriptions for half a dozen friends. I would take this opportunity to encourage readers to consider subscribing to this superlative publication.

This post first appeared on Mondoweiss.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

4 thoughts on “London Review of Books in the Israel Lobby’s crosshairs”

  1. ‘The Atlantic’ mag. refused to publish ‘The Israel Lobby’ on the grounds of ‘poor scholarship’, as if it were an academic journal, and Mearsheimer and Walt were not serious scholars. This is so obviously false, it’s like the Atlantic was trying to demonstrate liberal America’s submission to the Lobby. The LRB is in a different class.

  2. Ms Wilmers and the LRB came under fierce attack from many of its institutional US subscriberss just after 9/11 for the magazine’s measured and independent response to the attack, unlike that of most of the ‘serious’ press on both sides of the pond. She kept her cool and it was she who was ultimately vindicated by events and the misinformed and mislead American academics who ended up looking stupid.

  3. Just signed up for the LRB myself and giving it to all of my children and friends for Christmas.
    Imagine anyone stating that God has given them the right to dispossess someone else because of something that may or may not have happened 2000 years ago.
    Global BDS until there is a binational state with equal rights for all inhabitants and the end of apartheid.

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