Criticize Israel and lose your career
Interview with Alison Weir
By Kourosh Ziabari
If you've ever tried to search for reliable information and analyses which expose the concealed and obscured side of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, you've surely come across to the website "If Americans Knew." This website belongs to a non-profit organization which focuses on the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the foreign policy of the United States toward the Middle East. "If Americans Knew" publishes commentaries and articles that the American mainstream media pusillanimously shun and reject because of their fear of the influential Zionist lobby which predominantly rules the U.S. administration and Congress. "If Americans Knew" releases statistical reports on the history of Israeli – Palestinian conflict including the number of Palestinian casualties, the number of children murdered by the Israel Defense Forces, the number of Palestinians detained in the Israel jails and the number of Israel's illegal settlements on the Palestinian lands.
American freelance journalist and researcher Alison Weir is the founder and executive director of "If Americans Knew." She has written several articles and compiled investigative reports on the Israeli Palestinian conflict and provoked the furious and frantic criticism of Zionist organizations such as Anti Defamation League. Her articles have appeared on a number of media outlets and news websites including Counter Punch, Antiwar.com, The Link, Znet, Los Angeles Times, Greenwich Post, Poynter.org and Washington Report for Middle East Affairs.
Alison Weir is at the forefront of combating the biased coverage of Israeli – Palestinian conflict in the mainstream media and through her sincere efforts has revealed the plight of the Palestinian nation under the occupation of Zionist regime. She believes that criticizing Israel in public will cost a journalist his career. She says that it's far less damaging for an American journalist to write critically of the United State government than of Israel.
What follows is the complete text of my interview with Alison Weir in which we discussed a variety of topics including the dominance of Israeli lobby over the U.S. administration and Congress and also the biased coverage of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict by the western mainstream media.
Kourosh Ziabari: Ms. Weir; Let me start with the question that, what would really happen if Americans knew? What would happen if they knew that their taxes go to empower an occupying regime which kills women and children ruthlessly, massacres innocent civilians relentlessly and destroys their homes unjustifiably?
Alison Weir: They would be outraged and would demand that this stop. I have found that when I speak to groups around the country the most common question I receive is, “What can we do about this?!”
KZ: What made you think of establishing "If Americans Knew?" Actually, what were your motives for taking such a sensitive step?
AW: When I returned from my first trip to Gaza and the West Bank, I was determined to tell Americans what was going on. I felt that while I could probably occasionally get articles into the mainstream media, the context would remain so distorted that they would make little difference. Therefore, I felt it was essential to begin an organization that would work to get the information straight to the public in as many ways as possible and that would also study and expose media malfeasance on this issue.
KZ: What difficulties did you face while working on this project?
AW: One of the most difficult aspects is raising enough money to sustain the organization. The good news is that we have been able to keep going for almost ten years. The unfortunate reality is that there’s never been enough money to go beyond a paid staff of about 2-3 people. Zionist organizations of all sorts have extremely large staffs, extensive offices, etc. They also have a great many people of sufficient wealth that they can work on this issue without compensation. We’re in a far different situation.
KZ: Have you ever been pressured by the Zionist-controlled mainstream media or the Israeli lobby in the United States not to talk of Israeli regime critically?
AW: I don’t recall being pressured by the Israeli Lobby directly. Instead, they frequently try to pressure local organizations not to have me speak.
Mainstream media organizations also don’t pressure me directly. Rather, they simply don’t report about my information or inform their audiences about the existence of If Americans Knew. Democracy Now is among this group.
One book editor commissioned an article by me and then attempted to censor what I wrote.
KZ: Have you ever been threatened or seriously intimidated for the content which you publish?
AW: Yes. I received a death threat in 2003. You can read the details here. We periodically receive obscene or harassing emails and phone calls from Zionists. There are websites that misconstrue my work and that defame me, including the very powerful Jewish “Anti-defamation League.”
There are infiltrators in the pro-Palestinian movement who initiate whispering campaigns against me and work to prevent groups from inviting me to speak and from using our written materials. This often fails; sometimes it succeeds.
Recently a man knocked my phone from my hands. You can see this here.
Once when I tried to go to Palestine I was stopped at Ben Gurion Airport, held in a detention cell for 28 hours, and deported. Twice I have been briefly detained by Israeli soldiers while trying to film incidents in the Occupied Territories.
KZ: Several renowned politicians, academicians, activists and writers have likened Israel's treatment of the subjugated Palestinians to the deplorable situation of the blacks under the South African Apartheid regime. From the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan and from the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu to former Israeli Knesset member Uri Avnery, many people believe that Israel undeniably resembles aspects of the South African Apartheid regime. What's your viewpoint in this regard? Does the Israeli regime have the features of an apartheid state?
AW: While no two situations are ever identical, it is clear that Israeli actions are a form of apartheid. As you note, South African experts who have visited Palestine have stated this and they are clearly in a position to know.
The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa commissioned a legal study of the Israel-Palestine situation to “scrutinize the situation from the nonpartisan perspective of international law, rather than engage in political discourse and rhetoric.” Their 15-month investigation found that “Israel, since 1967, is the belligerent Occupying Power in occupied Palestinian territory, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.”
In addition, inside Israel itself there is systemic discrimination against non-Jews.
KZ: In your recent article, you referred to statistical studies which reveal that primetime network news shows report on Israeli children's deaths at rates up to 14 times greater than they report on Palestinian children's deaths. The same is applicable to the other aspects of mainstream media's portrayal of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. For example, we clearly witnessed the exercise of double standards by the Western media during the Gaza War of 2008 – 2009. Why do the American media treat the Israeli – Palestinian conflict so unfairly?
AW: I feel there are most multiple causes. Below are some of the main ones:
1. Advertising and consumer pressure by Israel partisans against media that begin to provide more accurate coverage on this issue. These are often orchestrated and cause considerable financial damage to news organizations.
2. Reporters and editors who are biased towards Israel. I recently was astounded to learn how many of the allegedly “objective” journalists in the region reporting for American media have close ties to the Israeli military. Ethan Bronner, New York Times bureau chief, has a son in the Israeli army. Others have themselves served in the Israeli military. “Pundit” Jeffrey Goldberg, who is often interviewed for commentary on U.S. mainstream news broadcasts, served in the Israeli military.
I’ve written several articles and made a video on this topic:
The Associated Press is probably the primary source of international news for media all over the U.S. and is probably an extremely significant cause of the problem. Its control bureau, through which virtually all reports on the region must pass, is located in Israel and is staffed largely by Jewish and Israeli journalists, many with close family ties to the Israeli military. Their reporting invariably contains pro-Israel spin and context. Quite often, they don’t even send out reports on newsworthy items that reveal negative facts about Israel.
3. Media owners, publishers, CEOs, etc. who are biased toward Israel, for example, Mortimer Zuckerman, Leslie Moonves, Sumner Redstone, etc. Journalist Jeffrey Blankfort has reported on this.
4. Editors who know nothing about this issue and would not necessarily be Israel partisans but are taken in by AP, the New York Times, etc. Journalists who have never been to the region, never read a book on it, or studied it independently, often think they are experts on the subject because they’ve been reading AP et al reports for years. They have no idea how filtered and slanted these are.
5. Journalists quickly learn that reporting honestly on Israel-Palestine is not a good career move and often self-censor. It is much safer not to touch the “third rail” of American journalism; they are aware that the people who pay them won’t like it. It is far less damaging to one’s career to write critically of the American government than of Israel.
6. Fear of being called “anti-Semitic” and of being black-balled. The ADL, similar organizations, and Israel partisans are quite powerful in the U.S. People don’t wish to come under their attack; they’ve seen what happened to Helen Thomas and others.
KZ: Many American citizens who voted for President Obama in the 2008 presidential elections had hoped that he would be a different, sincere and trustworthy politician and a real man of change who would detach himself from the hawkish policies of George W. Bush. However, no essential change of policy was observed during President Obama's administration. What's your analysis of the performance of President Obama? Why did he fail to fulfill his promise of change?
AW: Because he is aware that pro-Israel groups and individuals determine who has the chance to be a major contender for the Presidency of the United States. If he tried to do something substantial, there would be a powerful – and successful – campaign to prevent him from winning a second term. This campaign would consist of funneling donations away from him to his opponents and of defaming him on a variety of issues in the media. Plus, even if he tried to do something, Congress would over-rule him, out of the same fears. Long before Mearsheimer and Walt wrote their exposé on this, Paul Findley described this situation in his powerful book, “They Dare to Speak Out.” Richard Curtiss, Janet McMahon, and Delinda Hanley, from the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, have been exposing this for many years.
KZ: Following the 9/11 attacks, a wave of Islamophobic sentiments began to encompass the public sphere in the United States and the European society. The U.S. administration portrayed a horrific and appalling image of Islam and sowed the seeds of hatred against Muslims in the hearts of the Western citizens. However, we already know that they were not Muslims who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks. Even if we admit that it was Osama Bin Laden who masterminded the 9/11 attacks, I as a Muslim should promulgate that he was not a devout Muslim, but rather a CIA asset since the Afghan-Soviet war in 1980s. What's your viewpoint in this regard? Why is the American society's stance toward the Muslim so repulsive?
AW: Islamophobia in the U.S. has been largely promulgated by media, individuals, and organizations working on behalf of Israel. This is one of their most despicable and dangerous campaigns and has been going on for decades. Among those whose work, statements, and or funding have resulted in making Americans fear and hate Muslims are Pamela Geller, Steve Emerson, Aubrey and Joyce Chernick, Martin Kramer, Charles Jacobs, David Horowitz, David and Meyrav Wurmser, Frank Gaffney, Caroline Glick, Daniel Pipes, etc. John Sugg has written on this topic for years; more recently Max Blumenthal, Maidhc O Cathail, and several others have exposed it.
KZ: The Zionist lobby and organizations such as Anti Defamation League, as you have pointed out in your articles, denounce as anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish every single criticism of the actions and policies of the Israeli regime, thus demoralizing and discrediting the critics of Israel who dare to call into question the illegal and immoral actions of this regime. What's your take on this? How should the critics of Israel find podiums to voice their opposition to the actions and policies of the Israeli regime without being demonized?
AW: This is one of their most widely used tactics. Their intention is two-fold: to undermine the credibility of people speaking and writing accurately on Israel, and to intimidate people from doing this.
I feel that people should simply ignore these attacks and continue to write and speak as honestly and accurately as possible. Such smears have become so widespread that they are beginning to be a bit like crying wolf too often. An increasing number of Americans are rolling their eyes when they hear that yet another person with no record of bigotry is allegedly “anti-Semitic.” In fact, such an attack often helps to raise interest in the person being so maligned, many people assuming – often correctly – that this is a person giving the true facts on Israel and/or the Israel Lobby.
KZ: You may admit that as long as the United States gives its unconditional support to the Israeli regime, vetoes any UNSC resolution critical of Tel Aviv and prevents the international community from investigating its crimes and illegal activities, including its underground military nuclear program, no progress may be made in the course of holding Israel accountable for its actions and policies and therefore no change will be resulted and the suffering of the Palestinian nation will continue. Do you foresee a future in which Israel is eventually held responsible for its criminal actions before the international community? Is such a thing practically possible at all?
AW: Yes, I believe strongly that this will change when Americans learn the facts and demand a change in U.S. policies. The reality often forgotten in analyses on this issue is that Israel’s power comes from the U.S. When the sleeping giant in this relationship, i.e. the American public, wakes up, everything will change. The fact that this is already starting is reflected by the creation of entities such as J Street trying to co-opt this growing movement.