“Corporate level, enterprise-grade social media intelligence software” is the sophisticated tools used by Jacob Baime, executive director of Israel on Campus Coalition, to demonize and defame Palestine activists in the US and across college campuses. While the focus on Russia’s interference in US domestic affairs, the newly released documentary shows that Mr. Baime coordinates his activities with the Israeli “Ministry of Strategic Affairs” and shares directly “operations and intelligence brief” collected from the field, deserves equal if more attention than the Russian investigation. How did we become aware of all this material and intrusion by Israel operatives into the domestic affairs in the US?
The recent “unofficial” release of Al-Jazeera’s documentary, The Lobby-US, on the Electronic Intifada site exposed the strategies utilized by Israeli front groups in the United States in targeting Palestine’s advocacy, Students for Justice in Palestine and BDS successes on college campuses. The documentary was finished in 2017 but was kept out of the market due to lobbying efforts from major Zionist organizations and individuals. The Lobby-US follows a similar Al-Jazeera undercover investigative documentary that exposed the inner-workings in the British context and the efforts that targeted the Labor Party and student activism for their support of Palestinian human rights and calls for BDS.
Electronic Intifada’s release of the 4-part series online came after almost a year of the documentary being completed and subject to an intense effort to censor it by major Zionist figures in the US. After the Qatari-Saudi tension, a decision was made at the highest levels not to air it and focus more on an attempt to defuse the ongoing conflict. Keeping the documentary off the air came on the heels of the hiring of Nick Muzin, the US-based lobbying firm Stonington Strategies, to impact US policy on the on-going Gulf crisis.
The documentary is a must-see for anyone who is engaged in domestic US politics, campus organizing and for sure anything related to Palestine, Arab and Muslim world concerns. Undercover investigative reporting is a valuable tool to shed light on a shadowy network that operates in the US on behalf of a foreign state, Israel, with the single focus on keeping the $3.8 billion annual taxpayers’ payout to a country that continually violates international human rights standards.
Critically, the Lobby-US documentary exposes the direct control and involvement of the Israeli government in the domestic affairs in the US as well as massive intrusion into student organizing on college campuses. According to Electronic Intifada reporting, the documentary exposed the use of social media by “Julia Reifkind – then an Israeli embassy employee” – describing her typical workday on collecting and passing information Palestine activists in the US as “mainly gathering intel, reporting back to Israel … to report back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.” In one clip, Julia admits on the hidden camera to using all type of fake names in her effort to collect information on SJP and MSA of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
More alarming, the documentary, according to Electronic Intifada, provides details on “the efforts of Israel and its lobbyists to spy on, smear and intimidate US citizens who support Palestinian human rights, especially BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.” One clip shows the ex-Israeli military intelligence officer, Sima Vaknin-Gil, claiming to have mapped Palestinian rights activism “globally. Not just the United States, not just campuses, but campuses and intersectionality and labor unions and churches.” The collected data is utilized to mount a strategic campaign against Palestine activists on college campuses and across the country.
The web of well-funded groups and individuals that operate to silence and subvert US citizens and college students’ rights to speak and organize in relations to Palestine. In the past people focused on AIPAC as the focal point of the Israel lobby efforts, but the documentary provides a window into the complex web of groups that are working to defame and demonize Palestine advocacy in the US: the list includes Israel on Campus Coalition, Israel-American Council, The Israel Project, Israel Action Coalition, Canary Mission, Stand With Us, The Emergency Committee for Israel, Hoover Institute Fellowship Program and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that I worked with others to establish on the UC Berkeley campus back in 1992-93 and currently has over 200 chapters across the US, is the focal point of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs efforts due to the success on college campuses and bringing BDS into public attention. Far from being a grassroots effort to garner support for Israel, the documentary illustrates the “Astroturf” nature of pro-Israel mobilization across the country. In one clip, Hoover Institute DC Fellowship participants are recruited by Noah Pollak, the Executive Director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, and bused across town to stage a pernicious, highly Islamophobic and pathetic protest at the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference. Here, the documentary sheds light on pro-Israel organizations infusing Islamophobic discourses in their attempts at silencing Palestine activists. This is very significant information and comes on the heels of recent evidence of the SF and LA Jewish Federations funding of Islamophobic groups in the US.
Here, it is important to emphasize that the Students for Justice in Palestine activists do not receive support from university administrations, which likewise are subject to a systematic influence program directed by Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and coordinated by Israel’s consulate offices across the country. The effort directed at universities was brought to light in the work of Jackie Retig, the Director of Academic Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, stating as a matter of fact that “every university president takes our calls, take our meetings, works with us, because we are a legitimate government organization…There are so many organizations focused on BDS. For the most part, when it comes to BDS, we are very behind the scenes. I’m meeting with university presidents, faculty, students. What they’re doing is building relationships with local politicians, making sure politicians know to turn to them when Israel-sensitive things come to the table.”
Far from being neutral or uninvolved, university presidents across the country and high-level campus administrators are recruited through “relationship building” strategies and politicized to see Palestine and Students for Justice in Palestine only through an Israeli and Zionist lens. These relationship-building efforts are directed by the Israeli consulate office of Academic Affairs, and university presidents and ambitious administrators go along in the effort to censor Palestine and build institutional and academic checkpoints for students, faculty, and staff involved in Palestine related work or anything related to BDS.
In the aftermath of Associated Students of University of California Senate adoption of the first BDS divestment bill back in 2013, documents obtained through a FOIA request from the episode provided evidence that the university Chancellor, the Dean of Students and UC Berkeley’s public relations office coordinated their opposition and responses with the Israeli Consulate in SF. Berkeley’s coordination with the SF Consulate on matters related to student activism on Palestine is the norm rather than the exception. A similar case of coordination is the ongoing attacks and defamation of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi at San Francisco State University due to her tireless work to develop the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies in the School of Ethnic Studies and for forging academic relations with Palestinian universities.
I can provide countless cases of this type of coordination and subversion of the constitutional and academic rights of students on American college campuses to serve and protect Israel’s interest at all costs. Each university president and administrator must be held responsible for this structured process of silencing and targeting of Palestine activists. More critically, the discourses employed by the Israeli consulate offices across the country and the countless groups listed above are heavily laced with Islamophobic content that demonizes and express open bigotry toward Palestinian and Muslim students. University presidents and administrators become levers in the massive pro-Israel propaganda machine and provide the lubricating oil for the structured Islamophobic campaign that target Arabs, Palestinians, Muslims, progressive Jews and their allies on college campuses and in the community.
University presidents and administrators provide the public relations stage and oxygen for Israel propaganda machine and create the conditions that further target and marginalize Palestinians, Jewish voices and communities of color that are challenging Israel. Increasingly, the university leadership is using the euphemism of “campus climate” and “inclusion” strategies as a spear to hit Palestine activists on campuses. Often the focus is on Zionist complaints that conflate BDS movement with anti-Semitism. The targeting and demonization efforts are coordinated with fronts of the Israeli lobby as well as major Zionist organizations that are seeking to silence Palestine voices, criticism of Israeli Apartheid and the continued human rights violations. The time has come to demand an end to Israel’s intrusion on US college campuses and the administrators to commit themselves to provide real protection for the academic freedom and student rights to organize in opposition to the interest of a foreign state.