The new Spinwatch report into BICOM, a leading force in Britain’s Israel lobby, makes for essential reading. MEMO is to be commended for funding its publication.
The Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, as its full title goes is not a particularly secretive organization. At the same time, however, its activities are not widely known or understood among the general public.
And reading the report, this is the main thing that struck me. Its activities are not generally understood by the public because BICOM no longer seems to bother appealing to the public. The cause of defending Israeli war crimes and apartheid has become more and more difficult over the years, as the state’s aggression has become more and more open.
Older versions of BICOM’s website, preserved on the Internet Archive, stated that “bring[ing] about a significant shift in opinion in favour of Israel amongst the general public” was one of the group’s main goals. But by now, this aim has disappeared from their site, as the report notes.
A 2011 conference organized by BICOM was originally titled “Winning Britain Back for Israel” – an admission it has lost the public.
Instead, as the report details, BICOM focuses on appealing to elites. These, of course, include politicians; but also journalists
One aspect of how BICOM operates is by persuading mainstream journalists to subtly tailor their work to make it more sympathetic to Israel.
In this way, BICOM operates much like a normal public relations agency – but PR for a state in this case, one engaged in massive war crimes and a complex system of legalized racial segregation in occupied Palestine.
This “strategy of engagement with elites appears to have enjoyed considerable success,” the report notes.
BICOM has made a conscious decision not to harass journalists. Instead, it focuses on influencing them. The Israel lobby is a large and diffuse network, so there are, of course, other organizations and blogs whose entire raison d’etre is to harass journalists deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel – CAMERA, HonestReporting, CIFWatch, plus the late and unlamented “Just Journalism” (led by the neocon fanatic Michael Weiss) – to name but a few.
These projects are often linked to the Israel government. The laughably named “HonestReporting” for example, is openly led by an Israeli army propaganda officer (a reservist).
But does the way BICOM operates in the shadows make it more insidious?
If so, as the report emphasises, this points to a wider democratic deficit in the way the British state works. PR agencies like BICOM are unaccountable to anyone but their funders – a London-based Finnish billionaire with strong ties to Israel in this case.
The report made me think about the way Palestine solidarity groups and campaigning organizations operate. We should not seek to emulate the Israel lobby – they are undemocratic. This is probably a moot point anyway, as Palestine solidarity groups do not have anything like the funds of a BICOM, and certainly not of US organizations like AIPAC.
Our strengths lie precisely in our democratic and popular character. Lack of funds does leave us at a disadvantage on the level of government policy, of course. But history shows that governments can be made to eventually follow where the people lead.
In the same way that popular pressure eventually led to changes of policy against apartheid South Africa, so we can also make a difference against Israel.
The Israel lobby often operates in the darkness, making it harder to expose. But this does also make it particularly susceptible to the light of scrutiny – such as the light shed by this report.
Understanding the way the Israel lobby works is most important. Do not be intimidated or despair. They are strong, but not all-pervasive as they would like us to think.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.