Exposed! John Lyons Twisted Words of Email to Support His ‘Powerful Zionist Lobby’ Allegation

Yesterday I posted about John Lyons and his disgraceful new book ‘Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment’, in which 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.

Jamie Hyams of AIJAC has now given a disturbing example of how Lyons distorts facts in order to build his case.

Sometimes the veracity of a piece of writing can be easily assessed from the way one source document is used, or misused. This is certainly the case with John Lyons’ latest publication, Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s toughest assignment.

Lyons produced this work to try to demonstrate that the “Israel lobby” in Australia is so powerful that it prevents the Australian media reporting the truth about what is allegedly happening in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

In the monograph (pp. 18-22), Lyons selectively quotes, and then misrepresents, an email from AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein to substantiate his claim that Rubenstein is so powerful that he could tell two editors of the Australian newspaper what they could and could not print, and they would apparently cravenly comply. In fact, the Rubenstein email made no such attempt at censorship.

The text of the email in full (with names deleted), dated 24/2/17, is as follows:

Dear XXXX and XXXX,

It was good to see you both yesterday. While I know it was off the record, Netanyahu certainly made settlements a key focus of what he wanted to say at the meeting. While you can’t use what he said there, I thought you might be interested in the attached fact sheet AIJAC has prepared on the subject – which even includes a good map of the sort Netanyahu was complaining he did not have. Anyway, you are welcome to use any or all of the factsheet in any way you see fit.

Thanks again for the wonderfully warm and informative coverage the Australian has provided of Netanyahu’s visit.

All the best,


PS. Please be aware the factsheet is a couple of weeks old, so it does not deal with the most recent developments, such as the controversial Settlements Regulation bill passed earlier this month.

All straightforward enough.  However, through sleight of hand, Lyons transforms this routine acknowledgement of the pre-agreed ground rules for the meeting into something far more sinister, something which he describes as “unadulterated power”.

According to Lyons, Rubenstein “told the editors that ‘you can’t use what he [Netanyahu] said there’ – he wanted to make sure that what Netanyahu said at the briefing remained a secret.” Stating that the issue Netanyahu had addressed in the briefing was settlements, Lyons continued that “The reason Israel and its lobby groups are so sensitive about settlements is that under international law they are illegal.”

After an attack on the settlements, Lyons then wrote, “I remember reading Rubenstein’s email and thinking how extraordinary it was. Having made clear the rule, Rubenstein went on to offer an alternative – what the editors were allowed to report.”

Lyons then provided a longer extract from the email, but cherry-picked only the part that fitted in with his misleading narrative:

While you can’t use what he said there, I thought you might be interested in the attached fact sheet AIJAC has prepared on the subject – which even includes a good map of the sort Netanyahu was complaining he did not have. Anyway, you are welcome to use any or all of the factsheet in any way you see fit.

Note that he left out the all-important line from the email, “While I know it was off the record.”

Lyons then stated, “The editors abided by Rubenstein’s instruction and did not publish a word of what Netanyahu had said at the briefing.” He then proceeded to provide his own misleading analysis, based on his distortion of the email, to make the central point of his monograph: “Those interested in a vibrant, open media should think about that email. A lobbyist is telling the editors of a national newspaper that they cannot quote what a foreign leader says to a briefing of editors and journalists – instead, they are ‘welcome’ to use a ‘fact sheet’ provided by that lobby group. What gives a lobby group the power to say this?”

He continued that “any other lobby group, or country, which tries telling the editors of that paper [the Australian] what they can or cannot report would be treated with the contempt that an interfering lobby group deserves. The European Union couldn’t get away with it. The United States couldn’t get away with it. Even the Australian prime minister couldn’t get away with it. The editors of the News Corp flagship would rise up against anyone else laying down the rules. But not Israel and AIJAC. This showed the potency of AIJAC.”

He added, for good measure, that “there are only three people who can tell the editors of The Australian what they can or can’t use: Rupert Murdoch, Lachlan Murdoch and Colin Rubenstein. Only one of them doesn’t have Murdoch as his surname. That’s power.”

Besides the dishonesty on display here, pointing out that the one guy with the Jewish surname has “power” is at best an antisemitic dog whistle.

Meanwhile, Michael Gawenda, former editor of The Age, has also taken Lyons to task:

Then I read the whole booklet. It turns out that the title is no joke. And the title sums up what’s so strange about this booklet, because what Lyons means is that Jerusalem was so damn tough because of a bunch of Jews in Australia, most of them middle-aged or elderly, that he calls the Lobby. That’s coming from a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, the former Middle East correspondent of The Australian and currently a senior journalist at the ABC.

Really, you might ask? Really, I must answer.

Turns out that this booklet is not an examination in any real way of the challenges of reporting the Middle East. It is not about the fact that most correspondents, Lyons included I presume, do not speak Arabic or Hebrew, that history, contested history, is a living breathing constant presence in Israel and in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. It is not about the obstacles the Israeli military and civilian officials put in the way of foreign journalists, the way Hamas in Gaza controls what foreign journalists can see, who they can talk to, where they can go and never unaccompanied.

Even had this been the subject of this booklet, describing the Jerusalem gig as the toughest assignment would have been a stretch. To put it mildly. Tougher than reporting the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan? Tougher than reporting the Syrian civil war? The Iraq war? Or the reporting of the ISIS caliphate during which journalists were beheaded? Seriously?

These are serious charges and if they are to be made, then evidence surely is required. Some examination of the way, for instance, that Australian journalists and their editors and executive producers covered the recent war in Gaza. And how the Lobby nobbled that coverage. Nothing to see here in this booklet. Nothing on any of the coverage except vague generalisations. No examples of compromised reporting, of doing the bidding of the Lobby. And so this is a smear really against unnamed editors and journalists.

Lyons himself, of course, unlike these compromised editors and journalists, reported the truth fearlessly, uncowed by the Lobby, perhaps the only correspondent, he implies, in living memory to have done so.

Read the entire thing.


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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