In a letter on Monday he called for the channel to “reshoot and re-edit” the film before its release to add “pro-Israel commentators.”
Clayton Swisher, Al Jazeera’s head of investigations, revealed in an article for The Jewish Daily Forward on Friday that he ran into Dershowitz at a restaurant when the Harvard law professor and prominent propagandist for Israel was recently in the Qatari capital Doha.
Swisher offered Dershowitz a private screening of the film, which uses undercover footage shot by an Al Jazeera reporter who infiltrated powerful Israel lobby groups in Washington by posing as a pro-Israel activist.
“I have no problem with any of the secret filming,” Swisher says Dershowitz told him afterwards. “And I can even see this being broadcast on PBS” – the US public broadcaster.
“What I do take issue with is the lack of balance this program has, for example, not having a voice like me,” Dershowitz said, according to Swisher.
Now Dershowitz has offered his own account in a letter responding to Swisher.
Dershowitz says he watched an hour and a half of the four-hour film.
First, Dershowitz attacks the documentary, claiming the “framing of the film is by virulent and notorious anti-Israel commentators.” He then accuses Swisher of distorting his words to provide a “qualified seal of approval” to the “unfairly one-sided” film.
While smearing some of those interviewed in the documentary – he names The Israel Lobby author John Mearsheimer, journalist Max Blumenthal and former AIPAC staffer MJ Rosenberg – Dershowitz does not contest any reporting he saw by Al Jazeera’s undercover journalist.
Dershowitz also accuses Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, of “blood libel,” for apparently referring to the well-documented statement by an Israeli minister calling for his “targeted civil elimination.”
The minister used Hebrew terms typically associated with assassinations.
Yet Dershowitz declares that the film does not meet “minimum standards of journalistic fairness.”
He protests that he would “not demand the censorship of this or any other anti-Israel video,” but then goes on to do precisely that, asserting that the government that funds Al Jazeera should dictate how journalists at the network do their work.
“If the Qatari government continues to finance Al Jazeera, it should insist that Al Jazeera meet acceptable journalistic standards, which include balance, objectivity and fairness in presenting all sides of a controversial issue, and avoiding anti-Semitic or other bigoted tropes,” Dershowitz states.
He also demands the film be fundamentally altered before airing, claiming that “the only way to cure the bias of the film [is] to reshoot and re-edit it with some neutral or pro-Israel commentators or narrators.”
Dershowitz demands all this as a condition for him to “participate in the re-editing.”
But when it comes to the work of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, Dershowitz does not have a leg to stand on.
In January 2017, Al Jazeera broadcast an earlier series, The Lobby, that used an undercover reporter to infiltrate pro-Israel circles in the UK.
It included undercover footage of an Israeli embassy official plotting with a British civil servant to “take down” a UK government minister deemed too critical of Israel.
Outraged Israel lobby groups filed multiple complaints with the UK’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
But in October, Ofcom fully vindicated Al Jazeera, ruling that the four-part film was factually accurate, correctly observed rules on fairness, impartiality and privacy, and was not anti-Semitic.
Shortly after the UK film was broadcast, Israel lobby groups in Washingron apparently deduced that Al Jazeera had been running a similar undercover investigation in the US.
Al Jazeera’s head of investigations Clayton Swisher confirmed this following the Ofcom ruling and announced that the US film would be broadcast “very soon.”
But more than five months later, the film has not been shown.
This month, a source who’d seen it exclusively revealed to The Electronic Intifada the first details of what is in the film.
According to the source, the film identifies a number of lobby groups as working with Israel to spy on American citizens using sophisticated data gathering techniques. It is also said to cast light on covert efforts to smear and intimidate Americans seen as too critical of Israel.
The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley spoke to The Real News about what the source revealed:
Israel lobby groups have mounted a major pressure campaign on Qatar not to air the film, as Swisher confirmed in his Forward article.
That pressure has included recruiting US lawmakers, among them Senator Ted Cruz, to demand that the US government investigate Al Jazeera and require it to register as a “foreign agent,” as the Russian network RT was recently forced to do.
“Foreign agent” threats
According to Max Blumenthal, Al Jazeera managers have assured their staff they will fight back against any move to invoke the Foreign Agents Registration Act – known as FARA – against them. But they are still silent about if and when the film will be shown.
Swisher too has fiercely defended the network’s editorial independence, noting that it has won multiple awards for its reporting all over the world.
But in a stinging line, he writes, “if our documentary does not air, it may well lend credibility to the claim these 14 US politicians have used and defamed us with – that Al Jazeera is indeed a foreign agent, at the direction and control of Qatar’s government.”
Now, in light of Dershowitz’s response to Swisher, some Qatari officials or Al Jazeera higher ups may see Dershowitz’s proposal to re-edit the film to introduce more “balance” as a face-saving way out, which would allow them to show the film while still appeasing Israel.
This would be a huge mistake. Dershowitz is not interested in “balance.” He is interested in doing damage control for Israel. He wants to dull the impact of hard-hitting reporting with spin, smear and propagandistic talking points.
Let’s recall that Dershowitz’s version of “balance” includes justifying Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians by accusing them of using their children as “human shields” so they can be killed just in order to embarrass Israel.
It also includes endorsing the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – in defiance of international law and world opinion.
Al Jazeera has already done all the necessary due diligence required of UK-regulated broadcasters.
Swisher revealed in The Forward that Al Jazeera had sent more than 70 letters to individuals and organizations featured in the US documentary providing them with an opportunity to respond.
Only three did so.
Any pressure from Al Jazeera managers to alter the film along the lines proposed by Dershowitz would be to abandon any pretense of independence or integrity. It would also confirm the power of the very lobby the film seeks to expose to sunlight.
Al Jazeera’s reputation has already been badly tarnished by this affair. The only way to begin to repair the damage is for it to broadcast its investigation of the US Israel lobby, in full, without further delay.