Al Jazeera Spied on American Jews to Make an Anti-Israel Film. Congress Just Got Invited to the Premiere

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February 26, 2020

Multiple congressional offices have received an invitation to the screening of a never-before-seen anti-Israel documentary produced by Al Jazeera that relies heavily on footage obtained by an undercover Qatari spy.

The event will feature a screening of The Lobby: USA, a previously unreleased documentary produced by Qatar’s Al Jazeera network, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The documentary never aired because it was revealed that much of the footage was obtained during a 2018 undercover surveillance operation on American Jews and pro-Israel groups in Washington, D.C.

Revelations of the spy effort sent shockwaves through the pro-Israel community—members of which were caught on film purportedly trying to extend Jewish influence in American politics. Concerns over the film's reliance on undercover footage prompted members of Congress to call for Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires state-backed actors to disclose their ties to foreign governments.

The documentary will finally see the light of day on Friday at an event for congressional staffers.

Two progressive foreign policy think tanks—the Center for International Policy (CIP) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS)—are slated to screen the documentary later this week during an event on "the pro-Israel lobby in the United States," according to a copy of the invitation addressed to congressional staffers. It is unclear how many offices received invitations.

At the event, a "panel of experts will discuss domestic groups that are working with the government of Israel to stifle critics and Palestinian rights advocacy in the U.S., but have not registered under FARA," according to the invitation.

The organizers maintain that pro-Israel organizations in the United States should be subject to FARA disclosure laws because of their work to foster an alliance with the Jewish state. Liberal critics of the pro-Israel movement insist these groups are beholden to the state of Israel, thus necessitating FARA disclosure.

Al Jazeera—which is funded and said to be controlled by the state of Qatar, a nation known for funding anti-Israel movements and taking a permissive attitude towards terrorism financing—has not registered as a foreign agent under FARA.

Al Jazeera has rebuffed demands for it to register under FARA, maintaining that while it is funded by the Qatari government it retains editorial independence in its journalism. The network says this setup is no different than other publicly-funded networks, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Al Jazeera also says it played no role in organizing the congressional event.

The panel discussion "will be preceded by a screening of a 24-minute segment from the never-shown 2018 Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby: USA on the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. This four-part documentary never aired following the Qatari government's decision to 'postpone' its release," the event invitation says.

The panel discussion on the Al Jazeera film will feature several anti-Israel activists, including James Kleinfeld, the individual identified as conducting the 2018 spy operation on the Jewish and pro-Israel communities in the United States. After his identity was discovered, Kleinfeld fled the United States, but has now returned to promote the Al Jazeera documentary.

One Republican foreign policy official familiar with the documentary told the Free Beacon that any congressional official who attends the event is legitimizing Qatar's efforts to spy on and demonize the Jewish community in America.

"On one side you have Americans who support Israel and care about Jews, and that's the Republican Party," said the source, who spoke only on background. "On the other side you have anti-Semites holding seminars and broadcasting spy operations paid for with Qatari money to demonize American Jews, and that's where the Democrat Party is heading. They're not even hiding it any more."

A second source who was targeted as part of the documentary told the Free Beacon that it is hypocritical for these organizations to talk about potential FARA violations in the pro-Israel community at the same time Al Jazeera itself refuses to register.

"It seems pretty brazen for people who violated federal wiretapping laws, engaged in foreign espionage, and stole American trade secrets at the direction of a foreign government to gather in Washington, D.C., to discuss FARA and invite members of Congress," said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter. "It sort of seems reckless on their part and I can't imagine Qatar or Al Jazeera is happy about it."

Other panelists include Phyllis Bennis, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a virulently anti-Israel group; Eli Clifton, co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank closely aligned with the historically anti-Semitic isolationist movement; and Ben Freeman, a member of CIP, which is sponsoring the event.

The invitation says the event is part of a larger effort to expose what the organizers claim is Jewish and pro-Israel influence in the U.S. political system.

"The event is part of a broader investigation by CIP’s Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative and others of how foreign governments skew U.S. policymaking towards the Middle East," the invitation says, "including a just released report on foreign government funding of U.S. think-tanks, forthcoming updates on the Washington lobbying efforts of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and new forthcoming reports on Washington lobbying by Qatar and Israel."

Representatives from CIP and IPS, the organizers of the event, did not respond to Free Beacon requests for comment.

Update 12:23 p.m.: This post has been updated with further information.

Published under: Al Jazeera , Israel