Journalist John Lyons Disgraces Himself With Accusations of Powerful Pro-Israel Lobby Trying to Silence Him and Others

John Lyons, former Middle East correspondent for The Australian, has written a book titled ‘Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment’. In it, he alleges that he and other journalists are intimidated by a powerful Israel lobby into not telling the truth about what happens here in Israel and the disputed territories.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an excerpt from the book, which is enough to see just how biased, inaccurate, and yes – antisemitic – he sounds.

Over four months, I’d become the fittest I’d been since I was 18. I needed to be: I was about to face the full fury of Australia’s pro-Israel lobby. I was busy working on a story — Stone Cold Justice — as a guest reporter for Four Corners. I knew the hardline supporters in Australia of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories well enough to understand that this story would unleash a propaganda fatwa against me.

I knew that if I reported the truth about the treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank, I would be the target of a backlash which would be tough, nasty and prolonged. I knew that the report would not encourage a debate about the central theme of the story — whether it was fair that in the West Bank there is one law for Jewish children and one for Palestinian children — but rather a round of attacks on me.

Most journalists based in Jerusalem who report exactly what they see in front of them are trolled and abused. As an indication of how far right much of the pro-Israel lobby has leant, correspondents of The New York Times — traditionally one of the newspapers most supportive of Israel — have been systematically targeted.

Jodi Rudoren, who was from an observant American Jewish family and came to Jerusalem to report for that paper when I was there, was attacked even before she landed in Israel. Her crime? After she was announced as the new NYT correspondent, an Arab American sent her a note of congratulations. She replied with a thank you in Arabic: “Shukran”. For that, she became a target. Later, a prominent US-based pro-Israel lobby group branded her “a Nazi bitch”.

Having lived with these sorts of attacks for many years — and this book will lead to a new round — I believe that they are a deliberate tactic. I think the aim is to make journalists and editors decide that, even if they have a legitimate story that may criticise Israel, it is simply not worth running it because it will cause “more trouble than it’s worth”. As Agence France-Presse correspondent Philippe Agret says, the aim is to “exhaust” journalists and editors so they think twice before writing anything critical of Israel.

Over my time as a journalist and editor, I’ve upset a lot of powerful people. As the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, I dismayed both major party leaders in Australia at that time — John Howard and Paul Keating — along with a few others, such as Kerry Packer.

But nothing matches the fury of the right-wing supporters of Israel, who are often bundled together and described as “the pro-Israel lobby”. When I refer to “the pro-Israel lobby”, I include the Israeli embassy in Canberra, several of the formal lobby groups, and several individuals who are affiliated with these groups — activists who support the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

This book is the story of why many editors and journalists in Australia are in fear of upsetting these people and therefore, in my view, self-censoring. It’s the story of how the Israeli-Palestinian issue is the single issue which the media will not cover with the rigour with which it covers every other issue. And, most importantly, it’s the story of how the Australian public is being short-changed — denied reliable, factual information about one of the most important conflicts of our time.

Material which the lobby opposes being published in Australia is routinely published in Israel.

Depriving Australians of objective information about Israel and its occupation of the West Bank means they, as citizens, cannot evaluate or question Australia voting for Israel at the United Nations, no matter the issue, or if Australia’s continued support of Israel’s 54-year occupation meets our values and interests.

Lyons late on uses the old and tired claim that allegations of antisemitism are just made to silence legitimate critics of Israel – like him.

Finally, to the most important matter of all when it comes to language: that the accusation of anti-Semitism cannot be used to shut down debate. In recent years in Australia, we’ve seen some tough and confronting reporting of the Australian military. Mark Willacy, Dan Oakes and Sam Clark from the ABC, and Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters from Nine [the owner of this masthead], have revealed some horrible things done in the Australian uniform in Afghanistan. No one could reasonably suggest that by doing this reporting they were being “un-Australian”.

Likewise, the notion that anyone who criticises Israel or its army is being anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic is nonsense. Worse than that, in my view it’s used way too often to try to scare the media away from reporting without fear or favour. I spoke to scores of senior journalists and editors for this book, and over and over I was told words to the effect: “No editor wants to be accused of being anti-Semitic.”

This is a point supported by Rupert Murdoch’s former senior editor, Chris Mitchell. He says that while there are, indeed, anti-Semites, the accusation of anti-Semitism is too often used to block debate.

One of the most eloquent recent warnings of the misuse of anti-Semitism came from former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans in a letter to the Herald: “Calling out China for its persecution of Uighurs is not to be a Sinophobic racist. Calling out Myanmar for its crimes against Rohingya people is not to be anti-Buddhist. Calling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their murder and suppression of dissidents is not to be Islamophobic or anti-Arab. And calling out Israel for its sabotage of the two-state solution and creation of a de facto apartheid state is not to be anti-Semitic.”

But as usual, this claim is disingenuous.

For a start, note the language that Lyons uses to describe the “lobby” – they are so powerful that “nothing matches” their fury. Surely, Lyons is aware of the antisemitic trope of the all powerful group of Jews controlling things and silencing people – one which he is clearly evoking.

It does not help that he mentions clearly identifiable Jews like Morry Schwartz as part of the “problem”:

Some media outlets believe the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is given too much attention. Schwartz Media is the most notable of these. Founded by Melbourne-based property developer Morry Schwartz, the group publishes The Saturday PaperThe MonthlyQuarterly Essay, Black Inc books and Australian Foreign Affairs.

Schwartz Media’s coverage of Israel has resulted in a social media campaign launched against it, which Morry Schwartz believes is motivated by anti-Semitism: “The campaign is like information terrorism. We’re being targeted by an extremely savage social media campaign. And you know why this is happening? In my view, it’s because I am Jewish. In my view, this is anti-Semitism. I’m from a Holocaust family, and I know what anti-Semitism feels like.”

In 2014, Schwartz launched The Saturday Paper. The person hand-picked to be its editor, Erik Jensen, contacted Hamish McDonald and said he would like McDonald to be the publication’s world editor. McDonald said yes. But then, McDonald recalls, Jensen said “something like, ‘There’s one touchy subject — Morry [Schwartz] is very sensitive about stories about Israel. He would not like to see Israel under attack’.”

Then there’s his claims that are at best misleading and at worst deliberately dishonest. Like this:

Most journalists based in Jerusalem who report exactly what they see in front of them are trolled and abused. As an indication of how far right much of the pro-Israel lobby has leant, correspondents of The New York Times — traditionally one of the newspapers most supportive of Israel — have been systematically targeted.

As someone who closely follows the media, including the New York Times, it is entirely wrong to suggest they are “traditionally one of the newspapers most supportive of Israel.” This may have been true decades ago, but this has not been at all the case in more recent times. To use criticism of their biased coverage as a pointer to “how far right much of the pro-Israel lobby has leant” seems highly suspect.

Lyon’s description of what happened to Jodi Rudoren is also misleading:

Jodi Rudoren, who was from an observant American Jewish family and came to Jerusalem to report for that paper when I was there, was attacked even before she landed in Israel. Her crime? After she was announced as the new NYT correspondent, an Arab American sent her a note of congratulations. She replied with a thank you in Arabic: “Shukran”. For that, she became a target. Later, a prominent US-based pro-Israel lobby group branded her “a Nazi bitch”.

Lyon’s is not telling the full story. While I do not condone the actions of anyone who hurled abuse at Rudoren, it was not due merely to replying with “Shukran.” She acted very buddy-buddy with some of the worst of the worst, including actual Jew-haters like Ali Abunimah, and showed extreme one-sidedness:

Within an hour of confirming on Twitter that she would soon be arriving in Jerusalem, Rudoren responded to a tweet from Ali Abunimah, the founder of the website Electronic Intifada.

“Hey there. Would love to chat sometime,” she wrote to Abunimah, adding that she had heard “good things” about him from a Cairo-based New York Times colleague.

Abunimah, a Palestinian-American, is an anti-Israel activist who has described Zionism as “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today.

”Rudoren also responded to a tweet from Philip Weiss, founder of the blog Mondoweiss.

Weiss is a self-described anti-Zionist whose site is dedicated almost entirely to content critical of Israel and Zionism.

She then re-tweeted Times columnist Roger Cohen’s favorable review of a forthcoming book, The Crisis of Zionism, by author Peter Beinart. “Book is terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection,” Rudoren wrote. Beinart is the author of a much-discussed 2010 essay in the New York Review of Books calling for an end to what he described as the false equation of Israel criticism and anti-Zionism, and warning of eroding liberal Jewish-American support for the Jewish state.

On Wednesday, Rudoren retweeted two articles posted by Sami Kishawi, a Palestinian- American blogger who says of himself on his Twitter profile, “I dabble in the art of Zionist-busting.”

One of the articles, “Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid,” was from Al Akhbar, the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah newspaper.

As Twitter followers extended their congratulations on her new position, Rudoren responded five times within two hours with the word shukran (Arabic for “thank you”), but not once with its Hebrew equivalent – todah.

By Wednesday evening, Rudoren seemed to have realized she had misstepped.

“Thanks for all the new folos, and the advice re Tweeting. Plan to Tweet from all sides of conflict. Welcome suggestions of other books,” she wrote, in apparent reference to Beinart’s book.

Writing in The Atlantic, blogger Jeffrey Goldberg remained unconvinced. “All of this is fine, of course, if she wasn’t stepping into the most sensitive job in journalism,” he wrote.

“Reaching out to Abunimah is normal, of course: He’s a player in extremist circles, and someone she might wind-up covering. But it would have been better if she had twinned this reach-out with one to a Kahanist or some sort of radical settler rabbi, for balance,” Goldberg said.

Likewise, singling out “the Israeli-Palestinian issue” (and by this, he means Israel’s treatment of palestinian Arabs” as “the single issue which the media will not cover with the rigour with which it covers every other issue” is incorrect. Singling out the Jewish state like this is also an indication of antisemitism.

And let’s face it, when Lyons quotes an AFP journalist who alleges our endgame is “Greater Israel”

AFP’s Philippe Agret says he believes Israel’s endgame is Eretz Israel [a “Greater Israel” which annexes the Palestinian territories]. The global picture, he says, is: “Let’s do it progressively, gradually, quietly, building, building, building. We cannot get Nablus, so let’s leave Nablus as a Bantustan. We cannot get parts of Hebron, so let’s leave Hebron as a Bantustan.”

ignoring the multiple peace offers we have made, as well as the very real security issues we face, I have to question his intentions.

Update: Australia’s ABC interviewed Lyons about the book. You can hear the interview below.

I want to draw your attention to the section about Jennine Khalik (from about 5:12), who he calls a “very, very good journalist.” This is the same Jennine Khalik who figuratively wiped Israel off the map by referring to an Israeli-Arab as “Palestinian”, and called for the so-called palestinian “Right of Return”, all while working for the ABC. As I pointed out in my post at the time, this was contravening the ABC’s own code of practice (I would like to think my post had something to do with her leaving the ABC and journalism, and I am hardly part of an organized, powerful “lobby”).

If Lyons thinks she is a “very, very good journalist,” what does that say about him?

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media

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