If I had to rank the world's best publications, I would put the London Review of Books on top. Unlike its progenitor, the NY Review of Books, it is edgier, more daring in its politics. It also has a generally-superior stable of writers. The late Edward Said was a frequent contributor, so is my friend Tariq Ali. Its Israel-Palestine beat is covered by critical voices like Rashid Khalidi, Yitzhak Laor, Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, Uri Avnery, Charles Glass, Henry Siegman, Alastair Crooke, Avi Shlaim, Sara Roy, Raja Shehadeh et al -- writers you'd never expect to see in the NYRB or the New Yorker. And of course, in 2006 it did what no American publication dared do: it gave platform to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
Unsurprisingly, it has been the target of the lobby's wrath ever since. Earlier this year the neoconservative Standpoint magazine launched a campaign to have its (negligible) public funding revoked. It also smeared LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. Now comes another salvo. Just Journalism -- the UK counterpart to CAMERA -- has published a 'study', now being publicized by the ADL, which claims to prove LRB's anti-Israel bias (an allegation that has less sting in the UK than it does in the US). Just Journalism first tried to mask its Israel lobby origins by appointing the Egyptian-born Adel Darwish as its director. However, Darwish only lasted a few months, announcing his resignation in a rambling, semi-coherent post in which he warned that the overzealousness of the organization's principals risked turning it into 'a Maccarthist [sic] which-hunt of fellow journalists'. He also noted:
One significant handicap from which the project suffered from the start was the absence of any analyst or researcher with journalistic experience. Although they were excellent researchers of good academic minds (one was a lawyer), dedicated and enthusiast about the work; they lacked the experience of being reporters on the ground and were never exposed to newsroom culture. This resulted, sometimes in researchers being overzealous or under the illusion that unless they find reports and media news item that breached the code of good journalism it means they were non productive... As weeks and months passed, it was obvious that within Just Journalism, there was two irreconcilable views of media reporting on Israel. Mine, seen from a standpoint of a long experience in journalism; and that of the chairwoman, with her commercial background and experience in corporate management who wanted ‘value for money’ which had only one translation ‘as many items on the site as possible’ – obviously items of analysis of unbalanced or biased against Israel, and how many journalists per week were ticked off or contacted to be told that their work did not meet the criteria.
Because of the difference in the political culture, the lobby's tactics are different in the UK. The press recognizes that there is a bigger gap between public opinion and foreign policy and it does not respond well to overt campaigns of intimidation. The lobby has therefore adopted a behind-the-scenes approach. JJ initially tried to present itself as a mere media watchdog, with Darwish as its public face. It even succeeded in organizing events where British media icons like Jon Snow participated. It now appears to have adopted a new tactic: drop the mask and put the whole weight of the lobby and the Israeli embassy behind it. JJ has now a joint event planned with the Israeli embassy, the Henry Jackson Society (UK counterpart to Project for the New American Century, including some of the same board members), the Jewish Chronicle and Bank Hapoalim. Besides Henry Jackson Society, JJ also has links through its board with the Hudson Institute and the Center for Social Cohesion. The neocon network has also got a boost from the fact that at least one HJS veteran is now part of Cameron's cabinet. Michael Gove, the Education secretary, is a close associate of James Woolsey, and UK's leading purveyor of the Iraq-Al Qaeda link in the lead up to the war in 2003. The campaign against LRB is seemingly coordinated. It started with a smear campaign against LRB editor M-K Wilmers by Daniel Johnson, the editor of the neoconservative Standpoing magazine. And JJ's campaign against the journal started shortly after Johnson joined its advisory board. Of course, LRB will weather this storm as it has past ones, but this is mainly due to the loyalty of subscribers and Mary-Kay Wilmers's support. Over the past few years I have done my bit toward ensuring its sustainability by buying subscriptions for half a dozen friends. I would take this opportunity to encourage readers to consider subscribing to this superlative publication.