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Propagandist: Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation and the Israel war machine

by Alan MacLeod | Jul 7, 2024 | Business, Latest Posts

“News Corporation is a reflection of my thinking, my character, and my values,” said Rupert Murdoch. Alan MacLeod investigates the media baron’s financial and political ties to the Israel war lobby and finds it’s number one propagandist.

Without a sympathetic media, Israel’s powerful military would be next to useless in its attempts to ethnically cleanse Gaza. It relies on crucial Western support for its project, and no one is as important in manufacturing consent for Israel as Rupert Murdoch.

The Australian-born press baron has close and extensive personal ties to the Israeli political elite and myriad business connections to the country. He has used his media empire to defend Israel and sing its praises, even amidst an attack on Gaza commonly condemned as genocidal. As such, his holdings effectively serve as an unofficial arm of the Israeli propaganda machine.

The Murdoch machine comprises well over 100 newspapers – some of them among the world’s most well-known and influential, as well as dozens of TV channels and a formidable publishing empire. This power allows him to set the political agenda across much of the world. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that Murdoch was an “unofficial member” of his cabinet and that he was one of the four most powerful men in the United Kingdom.

Political connections

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has described him as the world’s “most dangerous” individual. His influence on American public life – through ventures like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News – is well documented. Less understood, however, are his close ties to Israel, and in particular, to its political leadership.

In 2010, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published a leaked list compiled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of whom he considered his best sources of campaign contributions. Murdoch’s name appears on the list alongside the designation of number two, meaning Netanyahu considered him a close ally and one of the most likely sources of funds. An estimated 98% of Netanyahu’s contributions came from abroad.

At 93, Murdoch has relinquished much of the day-to-day running of his businesses to his son, Lachlan. Earlier this year, Lachlan traveled to Israel to meet Netanyahu and former prime minister Benny Gantz. While the details of the meetings remain murky, it is clear that support for the Israeli offensive in Gaza and beyond was a principal topic.

This was not the first time the younger Murdoch had met Netanyahu, In 2016, he flew to Israel for secret meetings with the prime minister, where, according to local newspaper Haaretz, he attempted to convince Murdoch to purchase Yedioth Ahronoth, and to start a Fox News-style TV channel for Israel.

Netanyahu, however, is far from the only prime minister with a close relationship with Murdoch. Ariel Sharon, for instance, has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the Australian mogul. Murdoch stayed with him on his farm and was treated to a helicopter tour of Israel, where the supposed vulnerability of Israel from its hostile neighbours was stressed.

Financial ties

In addition to his political ties, Murdoch has several economic commitments to Israel. In 2010, he and banking billionaire Lord Jacob Rothschild each purchased equity stakes in Genie Energy and joined the company’s board of directors.

While he was on the board, Genie was awarded a contract to drill for oil and gas over approximately 400 square kilometres of Golan Heights, Syrian territory that Israel has illegally occupied since 1967. In effect, Genie was attempting to profit from an occupation deemed illegitimate under international law.

Murdoch also owned Israeli software company NDS, which was at the centre of a hacking scandal that brought down British television company ITV Digital. NDS’s activities helped huge numbers of Britons access paid TV for free, causing the corporation to fold under reduced revenues.

Another ethically questionable connection is Murdoch’s reliance on lobbying firm LLM Communications. The billionaire hired the group, co-founded by Lord Jonathan Mendelsohn, to help them overturn British government laws that ensured trade unions could ballot for workplace recognition. Lord Mendelsohn was the chairman of the Israel lobbying group Labour Friends of Israel, which was crucial in smearing and defeating the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong peace activist and proponent of Palestinian rights.

Zionist hardliner

“My ventures in media are not as important to me as spreading my personal political beliefs,” Murdoch said, and supporting Israel and its expansionist policies is one of the core values the Australian has tirelessly worked towards.

At a 2009 meeting of the American Jewish Committee, he explained that he saw Israel as the linchpin underwriting Western civilisation:

In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States. I say to you: maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel… In the end, the Israeli people are fighting the same enemy we are: cold-blooded killers who reject peace… who reject freedom… and who rule by the suicide vest, the car bomb and the human shield”.

In 2005, he wrote the foreword to the book, “Israel In The World: Changing Lives Through Innovation,” a fawning tome lionising Israel as an unqualified success that has built a robust democracy and a vibrant economy despite setbacks and threats from its neighbours.

He has also put his money where his mouth is: in 2007, his News Corp business donated to the Jerusalem Foundation, a group that builds illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Murdoch has led the fight against the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, claiming that it represents an “ongoing war against the Jews.” “The war has entered a new phase,” he said.

“This is the soft war that seeks to isolate Israel by delegitimising it. The battleground is everywhere – the media, multinational organisations, NGOs. In this war, the aim is to make Israel a pariah.”

He made these comments at an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) event, where the organization presented him with its International Leadership Award. That the ADL, which purports to be a group standing against racism, would honor Murdoch with such an award, despite his networks pumping out relentless bigotry, underlines how little emphasis it places on genuine anti-racism and how much it works to simply promote Israeli interests.

The ADL is hardly the only Jewish organization that has heaped praise on the media mogul, however. The Simon Wiesenthal Center decorated him with their humanitarian laureate award; other groups, such as the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the American Jewish Committee, have also sung his praises. The United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York declared him their “humanitarian of the year” at a lavish ceremony, where Henry Kissinger presented him with the award.

ADL Data on Rise of Anti-Semitic Incidents Doesn’t Add Up

 

Rupert’s empire

Murdoch took over his father’s Adelaide newspaper in 1952 and quickly built a giant global enterprise, particularly across the English-speaking world. He used this power to spread his conservative agenda.

His British holdings, including The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, constitute one-quarter of newspaper circulation in the country. His News Corp company also operates Sky television, TalkTV, TalkRadio and TalkSPORT.

Murdoch is widely believed to have swung both the 1992 elections for the Conservatives and the 1997 election towards Labour after Tony Blair struck a deal with him. “It’s difficult to think of a prime minister in the last 40 years who has won against the Murdoch instinct,” said former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger.

In the United States, Murdoch owns influential outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, and much of the Fox network. This is in addition to owning the influential Harper Collins publishing house.

He is known as an unusually hands-on owner, insisting that the tone and political line of all his outlets conform to his thinking. “For better or for worse, The News Corporation is a reflection of my thinking, my character, and my values,” he admitted.

This included wholehearted support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “We can’t back down now, where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam… I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly, and I think he is going to go on with it,” he said. He also made sure that every one of his 175 global newspaper titles expressed similar vociferous support for the invasion.

Inside the industry, Fox News is known for its particularly strict, top-down editorial procedure. One former contributor claimed that working under Murdoch was “almost as if we were being monitored by a Stalinist system … it is very much an environment of fear”. A second confided that “if you don’t go along with the mind-set of the hierarchy, if you challenge them on their attitudes about things, you are history”.

But it is in his local Australia that his power reaches almost banana republic-like proportions. Murdoch owns 7 of the country’s 12 national or capital daily newspapers. In half of the country’s state or territory capitals, there is no local alternative to the Murdoch publication. Former prime minister, Kevin Rudd labeled his empire a “cancer” on Australian democracy.

Piers Morgan exposed

Until he recently went independent with his talk show, Piers Morgan was one of Murdoch’s most recognisable anchors. Hosting a popular talk show that reached millions, Morgan has played a crucial role in informing the public about Israel and Palestine.

Although he has claimed he is entirely neutral on the issue and does not support either side, Morgan has a number of close connections to Israel worth noting. Firstly, he has supported the Norwood Charity on a number of occasions, helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the group.

Norwood is headed by the aforementioned Israel lobbyist, Lord Mendelsohn, alongside his wife, Lady Nicola Mendelsohn. Lady Mendelsohn is also head of global business for social media giant Meta (the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram). She has consistently lobbied for Israeli causes and even met former president Shimon Peres. During her time at Meta, the company has begun to employ dozens of former agents of the Israeli spying group, Unit 8200 – all in sensitive positions within the company.

Facebook in particular has grown closer to Israel, even appointing former General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Justice Emi Palmor to its oversight board, the group that decides what direction the company goes and what content to allow and disallow on the platform.

Norwood’s previous president was Sir Trevor Chinn. Chinn is currently head of United Jewish Israel Appeal, a British-Israeli group whose goal is to increase young British Jews’ sense of connection to Israel. He is also on the executive committee of Britain’s largest Israel lobby group, BICOM, and has funded Labour Friends of Israel.

On October 22, at the height of Israel’s attack on Gaza, Morgan met Lady Mendelsohn in New York for dinner. Also present at the meal was Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, who has raised money for the Jewish National Fund, the largest settler-building body in Palestine. It is unclear what they discussed, but given their careers and interests, it is hard to see how news from the Middle East did not arise.

Thus, while Morgan may have invited individuals from all points of the spectrum of debate on Gaza, he does appear to move in circles filled with top Israel lobbyists.

Revealed: The Former Israeli Spies Working in Top Jobs at Google, Facebook and Microsoft

 

Blatant propaganda

Unsurprisingly, given what we have seen, Murdoch’s top publications have displayed an overwhelming bias in their coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza, constantly defending Israeli actions and demonising both Palestinians and those who have opposed the violence.

On October 19, an Israeli airstrike targeted the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, where hundreds of refugees had taken shelter. In describing the attack, the Wall Street Journal ran with the headline “Blast goes off at Orthodox Church Campus in Gaza,” turning what was one of the most notorious incidents in Israel’s months-long assault on Gaza into a regrettable accident.

At no point during the article did the Journal suggest that the “blast” might have been an attack or even hint at Israeli involvement.

The Journal has also led the attack on Americans protesting the onslaught. “Who’s Behind the Anti-Israel Protests: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and others are grooming activists in the U.S. and across the West,” ran the headline of one story, clearly intended to vilify people opposing a genocide as agents of a foreign power.

Another story, entitled “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital,” echoed Bush-era levels of Islamophobia in its attempts to equate the heavily Arab-American city with anti-American hatred. Campus demonstrations, meanwhile, were written off as “terrorist-glorifying protestors” who constitute “the left-wing counterparts to the Charlottesville mob that chanted ‘Jews will not replace us.’”

The newspaper has also published articles demanding the U.S. go to war with Iran. “The U.S. and Israel Need to Take Iran On Directly. Make the ayatollahs pay for sowing chaos through their Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthi proxies,” wrote former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett.

And for Palestine? The Wall Street Journal envisages its future as a giant arms factory making the weapons for Israel’s assault on Iran. In an op-ed entitled “A Plan for Palestinian Prosperity,” columnist Andy Kessler wrote that producing the weapons for the next Israeli attack would bring middle-class jobs to Gaza. “They can even work on Saturdays” and “without handouts from the politicised United Nations,” he claimed, although he cautioned that perhaps the explosives should be added elsewhere by more trustworthy employees.

No ‘babies beheaded’

Murdoch’s other publications have followed suit, relentlessly supporting Israel and demonizing its critics. Fox News, for example, spread the now-debunked assertion that Palestinian fighters had beheaded 40 Israeli babies on October 7. In reality, no babies were beheaded, although Israeli bombs or bullets have since decapitated countless Palestinian children.

The New York Post, meanwhile, published a remarkable article titled “Just how many of Gaza’s civilians are entirely ‘innocent’?” in which it repeatedly insinuated that essentially every adult in Gaza was a legitimate target, even using the word “civilian” in scare quotes.

On Israel/Palestine, journalists in corporate media are under enormous pressure to toe an ownership-imposed line. The New York Times, for example, has told its reporters not to employ words such as  “genocide,” “slaughter,” and “ethnic cleansing” when discussing Israel’s actions. It has even forbidden the use of terms like “refugee camp,” “occupied territory,” or even “Palestine,” making it virtually impossible to report accurately on the situation.

Murdoch publications are surely no different. Indeed, this sort of stifling censorship has been in place for decades, if former employees are to be believed. In 2001, Sam Kiley, a former correspondent for The Times of London, revealed that he was instructed never to refer to Israel as “assassinating” or “executing” their opponents. And when he was tasked with interviewing an Israeli Army unit responsible for killing a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, he was asked to file the article without somehow mentioning the dead child at all.

Friends in high places

The nine-month-long Israeli attack on Gaza has inspired outrage across the world. While its standing has dropped even further in the Global South, Israel still maintains a considerable base of support in the West. This is down in no small part thanks to oligarchs such as Rupert Murdoch, who have marshaled their considerable resources to fight a committed media war in support of the Israeli state, attempting to hide its atrocities and shore up support for its expansionist project.

For Israel, which could not continue in its current form without outside support (particularly from the United States), the battle for public opinion is every bit as important as the fight on the ground. Fortunately for Netanyahu and his ilk, they can rely on Rupert Murdoch, who has for decades championed Israel’s cause and is now pushing his media empire into overdrive to defend the indefensible. If the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, then Rupert Murdoch is one of Israel’s most powerful weapons.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consentas well as a number of academic articles.

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