I am a little late in posting this up. Recently respected Australian journalist, John Lyons recently released a memoir about his time in Jerusalem bureau for The Australian. As many will be aware, Murdoch's Australian is avowedly pro-Zionist/pro-Israel and Lyons has often been the lone dissenting voice on Israel-Palestine among its permanent roster of journalists.
In his memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons documents how both the Israeli government and Zionist pro-Israel lobby in Australia systematically targeted him and other journalists, seeking to favourably influence and/or undermine their reporting of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Please find below the Guardian's article from July discussing Lyon's memoir and the targeting of journalist by the Israeli government and Pro-Israeli lobby groups.
In solidarity, Kim
The ABC’s Sophie McNeill was one of the network’s two reporters who were put under the microscope by pro-Israel advocacy groups, a new book claims. Photograph: Sophie McNeill/Instagram
Pro-Israel advocacy groups in Australia targeted the Middle East correspondent of the Australian newspaper and two ABC reporters, a new book claims.
John Lyons says he was subjected to consistent pressure from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) while based in Jerusalem for the Australian for six years, as were the ABC’s Sophie McNeill and the veteran ABC correspondent Peter Cave.
In his Middle East memoir Balcony Over Jerusalem, Lyons says Cave told him another group prepared dossiers on Cave and other ABC reporters “and sent them to like-minded journalists and members of parliament”.
Lyons says pressure also came from inside his own paper. He says the former editor of the Weekend Australian Nick Cater refused to publish his work and the pro-Israel lobby bombarded editors with criticism of his reports.
“I phoned Cater and he confirmed that he’d asked for my work to no longer appear in Inquirer [the Australian’s Saturday opinion section],” Lyons writes.
“I let [editor-in-chief Chris] Mitchell know that, from my point of view, the exclusion from Inquirer was just the latest in a long series of disagreements with Nick Cater … he intervened and told Cater that excluding me from Inquirer was not acceptable.”
Lyons writes that an Israeli embassy official was invited by Cater to the Australian’s head office in Sydney, and told editors that the embassy was not happy with him. “To me the idea of an officer of a foreign government wandering the floor of my newsroom criticising me was outrageous.”
Lyons interviewed Mitchell and others for the book, but Cater declined.
In 2015, AIJAC sent a file on McNeill to Jewish members of the ABC board, including the then chairman James Spigelman, and this file claimed among other things that she was unsuitable because she had said “one of the saddest things I’ve seen in my whole life is spending time filming in a children’s cancer ward in Gaza”.
The then ABC managing director Mark Scott ordered a detailed response from corporate affairs, which he took to the board.
“I will not cower to the AIJAC,” Scott said, according to Lyons.
Scott was also forced to defend McNeill from attacks at Senate estimates after the dossier was sent to key parliamentarians.
“Before this reporter set foot in the Middle East, there was a campaign against her personally taking up that role,” he said in response to a question from senator Eric Abetz.
“I am saying that she is a highly recognised and acclaimed reporter … she deserved that appointment and she needs to be judged on her work.”
In a letter to the board, Scott wrote: “The article [by AIJAC] demonstrates to Sophie McNeill and the ABC that her every word will be watched closely by AIJAC and she starts on the ground with this key interest group sceptical. We are all aware she will be under even closer scrutiny now. As they seek to influence our coverage, this is a pre-emptive ‘shot across the bows’.
“The pre-emptive attack on McNeill is similar to the approach employed by lobby groups internationally. The US reporter Jodi Rudoren was targeted when she was appointed Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times in 2012 and accused of being biased against Israel and unsuitable for the post … The New York Times refused to bow to the pressure and Rudoren remained in the position.”
Lyons writes that AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein had unprecedented access to the Australian, speaking regularly to editors and even suggesting articles the paper should run.
After criticising Lyons’s reporting, Rubenstein emailed an alternative article to Cater.
Mitchell, who was supportive of Lyons, later told him that Rubenstein would go behind his back and call Cater if he refused to take his call, Lyons writes. “I got upset with Colin when he rang me and attacked [Australian reporter] Elizabeth Wynhausen as ‘a self-loathing Jew’.
I thought it was inappropriate for him to be making that kind of comment about one of my staff. For some time after that I stopped taking his calls.”
Lyons argues that Australian journalists should not accept the trips to Israel organised by the lobby . “During my time in Israel I would come to believe that Australia’s uncritical support of Israel is both illogical and unhealthy,” he writes.
“For more than 20 years, Australians have read and heard pro-Israel positions from journalists, editors, politicians, trade union leaders, academics and students who have returned from the all-expenses-paid Israel lobby trips. In my opinion, no editors, journalist or others should take those trips: they grotesquely distort the reality and are dangerous in the sense that they allow people with a very small amount of knowledge to pollute Australian public opinion.”
Rubenstein told the Guardian he had spoken to editors over the years, including Cater. “I find it hard to see in what way this is nefarious or improper.”
He added: “I certainly did speak to Chris Mitchell about Elizabeth Wynhausen in 2006, and specifically about a piece which read like a ‘hit job’ on both AIJAC and myself, while evoking all too familiar caricatures. I felt entitled to some right of reply - which I received in the form of a letter.
“I do not recall ever calling her a ‘self-loathing Jew’ and that does not sound like the kind of terminology I would use. As for Chris Mitchell’s claim about ceasing to take my calls, I must say I was not aware he felt that way at the time – which shows how infrequently I actually spoke to him.
“We did put together a public document explaining why we thought Sophie McNeill … was an inappropriate choice for Middle East correspondent for the taxpayer funded ABC, with its statutory obligations of impartiality.
”Everything we do - critiquing media stories; contacting editors, politicians and journalists and explaining our point of view to them; writing our our letters and op/eds; making complaints – are absolutely normal elements of deliberation and debate in a democratic society.
“I would call on those who oppose our views, including Mr Lyons, to engage with different views in a democratic, tolerant and constructive spirit, rather than demand, as he appears to be doing, that those who disagree with him be silenced or suppressed.”
The Guardian approached Cater but he declined to comment.