The caravan to Israel – journalist jaunts, political passengers, diplomatic dispatches and jobs lost

by Jommy Tee | Jan 20, 2024 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

With reports of workers in media, government, business, academia and medicine coming under pressure from the Israel war lobby – some losing their jobs – Jommy Tee examines the power of the Zionist lobby groups.

Israel’s disproportionate killing of approximately 25,000 men, women and children in Gaza in response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas has been conducted under the guise of self-defence, and treated with kid gloves by Australia’s political leadership and the mainstream media.

The Israeli government’s annihilation of swathes of Gaza – currently the subject of genocide proceedings in the International Court of Justice  – and the media’s framing of those actions has brought dissension within Australia’s journalistic ranks, leading to the sacking and resignation of scribes.

The most controversial departure is the recent sacking of journalist Antoinette Lattouf by the ABC following complaints to Ita Buttrose by the Lawyers for Israel lobby; but in the ABC alone, a number of top journalists have left due to coverage of the conflict, namely Helen Tzarimus, Tracey Holmes and Nour Haydar.

Should we be surprised by the national political timidity and mainstream media slant?

In the context of a concerted four decades-long lobbying campaign by pro-Israel groups seeking to influence Australia’s media and politicians, then the answer is ‘probably not’.

Journalistic jaunts, political pilgrimages, diplomatic drives and behind-closed-door wheedling have been the modus operandi since 1983 for pro-Israel lobby groups.

Strategies utilised by the Israel lobby have included sponsored travel to Israel for journalists and politicians alike, back channel private diplomatic initiatives, and old-fashioned hectoring of politicians and media institutions, especially publicly funded bodies such as the ABC and SBS.

MWM has previously highlighted how, over decades, the grand poobah of pro-Israeli lobbying, Mark Leibler, plied his backroom cajolery.

Israel, Gaza and Australian politics: master lobbyist Mark Leibler reveals how power really works

Leibler, the acquaintance of many a prime minister and former long-time chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), often made direct contact with prime ministers, ministers and their advisers as well as pressuring public institutions such as the ABC to tone down what was deemed by the AIJAC) as unfavourable coverage.

The lobbying of senior journalists by the pro-Israel advocates also came under some limited scrutiny following The West Report video here, and when Crikey published an article in November 2023 (updated mid-December last year) that covered the issue of journalists (and politicians) going on sponsored trips to Israel.

The updated article identified approximately 130 journalists and politicians – many of them still currently occupying very senior leadership positions who had been on Israel lobby junkets. By contrast, Crikey identified 13 journalists and politicians who went on trips to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Journalists’ jaunts and political passengers

The history of this concerted campaign can be traced back to the early 1980s when the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) – the representative voice of the Jewish community of NSW – inaugurated its “Journalists Mission” program.

Archival material clearly points to 1983 being the starting date for this annual selection of less than a handful of journalists, usually 3 to 4 journalists, to travel to Israel – a significantly earlier beginning to the “Journalists Mission” than the JBD proclaims on its website of “about 25 years”.

A second and additional wave of lobbying activity commenced in 2003 when the AIJAC bolstered the efforts of the JBD by running its own ‘fellowship program” – the Rambam Israel Fellowship. It had political support from the beginning, with senior Labor party stalwart Kim Beazley launching the program.

This extended the demographic by moving beyond senior journalists to incorporating politicians and political advisers, as well as senior public servants.

According to the Australian Jewish News (AJN), the initial intake of Rambam fellows included “future leaders” former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then NSW Liberal Party secretary, former leader of the Federal ALP, Bill Shorten (then Australian Workers Union national secretary), and current NSW Premier, Chris Minns (then a NSW ministerial adviser).

Other Ramban alumni include Prime Ministers Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Julia Gillard. The current leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, is also an alumnus.

Showing a commitment to a common cause, the JBD and AIJAC, at times, co-badged the journalists’ missions.

The commencement of the Rambam fellowships vastly increased the number of participants going on trips to Israel.

Within the space of two years, the AIJAC was proclaiming it had sent 50 political influencers and future leaders on sponsored trips to Israel.

A 2005 AJN article, Winning the Propaganda War, reveals some of the movers and shakers who were amongst the first 50 Rambam fellows.

Noteworthy in the article is the quote from the AIJAC’s executive director, Colin Rubenstein:

We don’t expect every day to come back card-carrying Zionists, but we do expect them to be more knowledgeable and more empathetic.

Crossword clues and bullying – the influence of Australia’s pro-Israel lobby unveiled

The Rambam fellowships even gained some official recognition when the 2007 cohort received a mention in DFAT’s “Australia & Israel: A Pictorial History”.

In 2012, the AIJAC proclaimed it had sent over 400 politicians and journalists, together with political advisers, senior public servants and student leaders, to Israel.

Over its ongoing life, the Rambam fellowships have encompassed both bi-partisan delegations, as per the visit late last year, and single political party delegations.

The AIJAC also picked up the tab for former prime minister Tony Abbott’s May 2017 trip to Israel.

The various Israel trips involved reporting back to the JBD and AIJAC on the benefits of the trip – most of the feedback from participants appears to be glowing, from the earliest participants all the way back in the early 1980s describing the trip as an “invaluable understanding”.

More contemporary feedback has been “Israel captured my heart and mind”, and, not to be outdone, an “eyeopener” and “genuinely life-changing”.

Diplomatic dispatches

A separate adjunct to the Journalist Missions and Rambam fellowships commenced in 2009, with the advent of the ‘Leadership Dialogue Institute’.

Despite its relative anonymity, it has harnessed a coterie of international senior political friends of Israel originally drawn from Australia and Israel, expanding to encompass politicians, and their advisers and some media representatives, with participants also drawn from the USA, Canada and France.

The Institute has had various name changes, currently going by the name of the Leadership Dialogue Institute.

This little-known private diplomatic channel was started by well-connected Melbourne businessman Albert Dadon.

The genesis of the Dialogue stemmed from the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE) founded by Dadon and launched by joint declaration on 2 December 2002 by Australia’s former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and former Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, Binyamin Netanyahu.

In 2009, the original goal of AICE was to promote understanding between Australia and Israel through exchange projects in film, art, and literature. It later grew a side-arm known as the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum.

According to Dadon, the Forum takes decision-makers to discuss geopolitics and strategy for their governments.

The first delegation travelled to Israel in 2010 and consisted of 54 participants, including 17 federal politicians and five senior journalists. The full list of the inaugural participants can be found here.

At the time, Dadon said, “all participants would pay their own fares, and his organisation would meet the expenses in Israel itself with the exception of the Ministers who would meet their own”.

During its life, The Forum has boasted a roster of political leaders, including Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Tony Blair, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Olmert.

Dadon gained some political notoriety in 2010 when he was a guest at a private dinner held on 3 June by then prime minister Kevin Rudd. The tête-à-tête between Rudd and another guest, Mark Leibler, became public with the release of Rudd’s memoirs in 2018 and centred on federal Labor leadership issues. The tone and context of the conservation are contested by the parties, but within weeks of the Rudd dinner, Julia Gillard became the new prime minister. Dadon, as it happened, was also the employer of Julia Gillard’s then partner, Tim Mathieson.

Another guest at that dinner was Robert Goot. Goot’s name and private WhatsApp messages messages were recently leaked, implicating him and others in seeking to have ABC journalist, Antoinette Lattouf sacked.

Dadon also sponsored Tony Abbott’s July 2018 travel to Israel and the US.

As the international net of the Dialogue extended the level of Australian participants decreased. Nonetheless, the last Dialogue held in 2021 had 12 Australian participants.

The hard sell and softly-softly criticism

The four-decade-long hard sell by the pro-Israel lobbyists has resulted in well over 500 politicians, journalists, editors, political advisers, and asserted movers and shakers receiving sponsored travel to Israel.

Many of the current crop of senior politicians have been on Israel journeys, including Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Jim Chalmers, Tanya Plibersek, Peter Dutton, Sussan Ley, Simon Birmingham, Dan Tehan and Paul Fletcher.

Not all of the participants have returned with a pro-Israel perspective, but the sheer number of participants over 41 years has greatly increased the chances that enough of Australia’s senior decision-makers and opinion shapers have returned to holding a more empathetic position on Israel.

The bi-partisan reluctance to criticise Israel’s rampage in Gaza appears to be solid.

Editor’s Note: due to the capture of the mainstream media by pro-Israel war lobby groups, a number of workers in media, business, academia, government and the medical profession have reached out to MWM with their stories. Some have lost their jobs and been shamed in the pro-Israel media due to complaints about antisemitism.

Jommy Tee is a long-time career public servant, having worked in the policy development field for 25+ years as well as an independent researcher interested in politics, current affairs, and Nordic noir.

Don't pay so you can read it.

Pay so everyone can.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This