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What’s the Israel lobby? How does it work? - Now You Know

Thank you for signing up to my newsletter, Now You Know, which will track the Israel lobby’s influence on Canadian media. This is the first edition, so your early support is appreciated.
In this issue of the newsletter, I’ll tell you what you can expect from the project. To start, I want to explain what I mean when I refer to the “Israel lobby.” 
What Is The Israel Lobby?
In this newsletter, the “Israel lobby” refers to an informal collection of groups, each of which counts among its main purposes (or even its sole or primary one) defending Israel, often through pushing for policies and media coverage in Canada that benefits the Israeli government.
I’m not accusing these groups of being arms of the Israeli government, or of being wholly (or even partly) funded by it. While their campaigns often overlap with each other’s, they also aren’t a monolith, and aren’t controlled by some central leadership. Their activities aren’t illegal, and the tactics they use are often employed by groups with different goals as well.
Here are the groups I expect you’ll be hearing the most about in this newsletter: the Centre For Israel And Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC), and Honest Reporting Canada (HRC).    
While leaders of these groups might object to being labelled as part of an informal “Israel lobby,” they do publicly count ‘defending’ Israel to be among their main objectives. Here are some examples of them saying as much:
  • CIJA: One of the three main priorities listed on the group’s “About Us” page is “educating Canadians about the important role Israel plays in Jewish life”
  • B’nai Brith: The group’s “Who We Are” page states that they are recognized as a “a staunch defender of the State of Israel”
  • FSWC: The group lists “support for Israel” as one of their 10 main educational programs on their ‘about us’ page, stating, “We celebrate and advocate for the existence, safety and security of the State of Israel,” and, “We defend Israel against antisemitic motivated campaigns that aim to delegitimize, boycott, and defame the nation and place its security in jeopardy.”
  • HRC: The group’s “Who We Are” page states that they are dedicated to “promoting fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East.” An email subscription pop-up on their site calls on readers to, “Help fight media bias against Israel!”
How Does The Israel Lobby Influence The Media?
When I say these groups influence the media, I don’t mean they secretly control it, own it or anything of the sort. Rather, I mean that they organize to exert pressure on individual journalists, newsrooms and the industry at large to make changes to things that have already been published, and preemptively alter what will be published in the future. 
This is the HRC’s main function, and their website contains a “How to Monitor The Media” guide that offers some insight into the tactics they use. 
The group calls on people to, “Build an email list and alert the entire group when bias is spotted. This is the principle behind HonestReporting: One person acting alone may not be able to make a difference, but hundreds or thousands working together can. Be in touch with others from your city, for coordinated patrol activities.”
HRC claims to have a mailing list with more than 45,000 subscribers. They routinely send out “email alerts,” bringing attention to what they perceive to be an issue with media coverage, and call on their subscribers to email particular figures at the publication in question in an attempt to have the content altered.
They suggest readers do the following: “Don’t just demand that the media be pro-Israel – but rather, factual, impartial, and honest.” This gives away what their mission is: getting the media to be pro-Israel, but doing so through the guise of caring about facts, impartiality and honesty.
The things their alerts focus on rarely have to do with genuine factual errors though, instead being about framing. In a post titled “Glossary of Problematic Mideast Terms,” they offer some examples of what they’d like to see the media adopt: “terrorist” used instead of “militant,” even though they admit the latter is “strictly accurate”; “Judea and Samaria” instead of the West Bank; the end of the phrase “illegal settlements,” because the Israeli government doesn’t think they’re illegal. 
The goals of their campaigns are usually not just to have one article changed, but rather to influence a publication’s coverage going forward. As such, they call on readers to, “Arrange a meeting with local writers and editors to express your concerns, to better explain the Israeli position, and to hold the newspaper accountable for what it publishes. […] A newspaper’s entire ability to stay in business is based on their perception of being accurate and impartial. If you have evidence to the contrary, they will listen.”
Then, if they can get a meeting, the group writes about how they can force ultimatums on newsrooms: “At the end of the meeting, make them a deal: If they will agree to regular meetings, you will promise to restrain your rapid-response team and to restrict your complaints to only major errors. This takes tremendous pressure off the media, who abhor being flooded with email complaints and all the bad publicity.”
Essentially, they are admitting most of their activity isn’t focused on correcting “major errors,” even by their own standards, and they will stop bothering a publication if they’re allowed to influence future coverage. In effect, fact checking gets turned into a mere bargaining tool. 
And as I noted, the goal is to alter all coverage going forward. The group writes that these meetings can create “an ongoing dialogue, whereby local editors will eventually turn to HonestReporting activists as a resource on the Israeli perspective. You can then encourage local editors and reporters to visit Israel to see the complex issues first hand. Offer to help plan their itinerary and meet former local citizens who now live in Israel. And you can invite local reporters to meet with visiting Israeli academics or decision-makers.”
This is just one of the ways these groups influence media coverage relating to Israel. This newsletter will explore others as well. 
What Will This Newsletter Do?
As I noted earlier, Israel lobby groups use relatively common tactics. They are also not the only ones that attempt to have media organizations alter content to be more in line with their views. Media is often looked at as documenting the conflicts going on in the world, but in reality it’s also a space where these conflicts take place. 
When I announced this newsletter, a few people pointed out that Muslim advocacy groups also work to have media coverage altered on occasion. So, they asked, why am I focusing this newsletter on the Israel lobby’s activities instead of another group, or all groups?
There’s a simple answer: Muslim advocacy organizations work to ensure fair media coverage of a minority religious group that is a frequent victim of hateful attacks, including by the state; the Israel lobby works to get positive media coverage for a powerful apartheid state that already enjoys near-uncritical support from the Canadian government and media. That’s why I’m tracking what the Israel lobby does.
Occasionally stories of the Israel lobby altering Canadian media coverage will break through and get mainstream coverage. Most cases of this, however, go unreported, even in independent publications. My newsletter will attempt to track all of these changes, and the campaigns these groups launch to get them and others, so that they no longer go under the radar. The goal is to get people to understand just how much of an impact these groups have on Canadian media.
I also hope that my newsletter can feature journalists in Canada recounting what it was like to be on the receiving end of a pile on from these groups, so that the public can get a better idea of what it’s like behind the scenes.
I will need help to do this, so if you’re a journalist that would like to talk to me, or a news reader that spots examples of the Israel lobby influencing media, you can email me at nowyouknownewsletter@protonmail.com, or just reply to any of these emails.
In the next couple weeks, I plan to put out a short profile of HRC to give you a better idea of what they are, as well as a roundup of some notable examples of the Israel lobby influencing Canadian media coverage in 2021.
Thank you for reading. If you found this to be useful, please consider sharing the newsletter with your friends and social networks. You can also follow me on Twitter.
Best,
Davide Mastracci.  

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Davide Mastracci

Tracking the Israel lobby’s influence on Canadian media.

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