Clayton Swisher, “The Lobby (Episode 1: Young Friends of Israel)” (Al Jazeera, 2017)
In recent years, a movement known as the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement has grown – especially among young people – to protest the Israeli government’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. To counter the BDS movement’s popularity in the United Kingdom, the Israeli government has resorted to penetrating university student unions, grassroots activist movements, think-tanks and youth groups allied to major political parties with propaganda, money and offers of trips to Israel. This first episode of a four-part series focused on the pro-Israeli lobby in the UK follows an undercover reporter, known as Robin, who ingratiates himself with activists in several of these groups and the contacts they have with the Israeli embassy in London.
For a 25-minute documentary, running at a brisk pace, this film is very dense with information on various groups, several of which are connected directly or indirectly to the British Labour Party – the film does not follow equivalent groups affiliated with the Conservative Party which already has a pro-Israeli platform – and in which a number of activists are working with a contact from the Israeli embassy to present a more benevolent and favourable view of Israel and its policies, and to push back “anti-Semitism”, as they define it. Astonishingly, most of these activists know one another and the Israeli embassy contact very well, and have also done some work at the Israeli embassy. Robin is encouraged not only to set up a pro-Israeli group but also to accept a job at the Israeli embassy, which is also interested in recruiting him. This perhaps suggests that these activists form a very small, cliquish network, and their work is likely to be cut out for them trying to convince others to join them. Unfortunately, due perhaps to Robin’s need to keep the real nature of his investigations secret, he does not ask these people how successful they have been so far.
One disturbing aspect of the film comes when two vice-presidents of the National Union of Students (NUS) talk to Robin about getting rid of President Malia Bouattia for supporting the BDS movement and criticising Israeli behaviour towards the Palestinians. One of the vice-presidents is revealed as having accepted a free trip to Israel through the Union of Jewish Students, which itself has received money from the Israeli embassy.
This film sheds a light on how Israel attempts through underhanded ways to influence political discourse on issues affecting not just its own politics but on the politics of other Middle Eastern states. It is worth following to get an overview of how far it will go to advance its own interests by infiltrating student organisations in universities and branches of political parties aimed at encouraging young people to enter politics.