Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Has Israeli college in East Jerusalem been deceiving its EU donors?

Has Israel been resorting to deception so that it can benefit from European Union funding?

For the past few years, I've been protesting about how the EU is continuing to subsidize Hebrew University of Jerusalem, even though it has a campus in occupied East Jerusalem. Aiding the university, I have argued, runs counter to "guidelines" published by the Union in 2013, which say that Israeli firms and bodies located in land seized by Israel in 1967 are ineligible for grants or loans.

After making a few complaints to the Brussels bureaucracy, I now believe that Hebrew University is circumventing those guidelines.

Robert-Jan Smits, head of the European Commission's research department, has told me that Hebrew University names its campus at Givat Ram in West Jerusalem as its "place of establishment" when applying for science grants.

That appears misleading: the university's administrative headquarters are actually located on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem.

In his latest reply to my complaints, Smits acknowledged that Hebrew University is active on Mount Scopus. "We have carefully checked and we can confirm that Mount Scopus is located within the pre-1967 borders" of Israel, he stated.


He has provided an unconvincing "justification" for why the EU supports this institution.

Indeed, his attitude is at odds with the EU's general policy towards Jerusalem. Though riddled with inconsistencies, that policy has been one of avoiding measures that would confer recognition on Israel's ever-tightening grip on Jerusalem.
The most visible manifestation of that policy has been the EU's insistence that its embassy -- and those of its member governments -- for relations with Israel is situated in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem.

While it's correct that Hebrew University was built before 1967, it has supported and sought to exploit the occupation starting that year.

According to the potted history of the university on its website, "studies were discontinued" on Mount Scopus in 1948, the year of Israel's foundation. The reason cited was that "the road to Mount Scopus went through Arab areas and the convoys that camp up to the mount were an easy target for Arab snipers."

The same official history states that "efforts to return the university to Mount Scopus began immediately" after Jerusalem was "reunited" in 1967. "Reunited" is the term Israel uses to describe a brutal occupation.

In 1968, the Israeli government confiscated land belonging to Palestinians on Mount Scopus. Part of that land was sold to Hebrew University the following decade; its Palestinian owners were adamant that the sale was illegal.

In order to expand its facilities, Hebrew University has long been demanding the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Hebrew University is the top Israeli recipient of EU science grants. It took part in a total of 237 projects under a €53 billion ($61 billion) research program that ran from 2007 to 2013.

If the number one beneficiary can skirt around the 2013 guidelines with such ease, doing so shouldn't prove difficult for other Israeli companies and institutions.

Last year, I unearthed evidence showing that senior EU representatives had pledged to interpret the guidelines in a "flexible" manner. So it doesn't surprise me that the Union has shown no desire to halt its aid to Israeli weapons manufacturers.

The drone-maker Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was also one of the ten leading recipients of EU grants in the 2007-13 period. IAI is involved in joint research with Ariel University -- located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank -- on using nanotechnology to develop miniature satellites.


Under the aforementioned guidelines, the EU does not (as far as I can tell) directly give money to Ariel. Yet there is a high probability that some of Ariel's activities draw on research which the EU is financing.

An IAI "expert" sat on a panel that advised the EU on what to prioritize in nanotechnology research between 2010 and this year.

IAI has supplied warplanes used to bomb civilians in Gaza and surveillance equipment installed in the apartheid wall in the West Bank.

If the EU was serious about standing up for Palestinian rights, it would refuse to have any dealings with such companies. Instead, the Union is allowing them dictate the agenda for spending programs in which they are participating.

This sordid affair encapsulates how the EU's policies towards Israel are characterized by both confusion and cooperation. The timid guidelines that the EU introduced in 2013 have not reduced either.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2015.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Game over for Labour Friends of Israel?

These must be worrying times for Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).

The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being elected the UK Labour Party's new leader is something of a nightmarish scenario for its internal pro-Israel lobby. Not only is Corbyn a long-standing defender of Palestinian rights, he stated that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes in a BBC interview earlier this week.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- all the carnage Blair caused in Iraq, the former prime minister is still spoken of in reverential tones at LFI gatherings.

Recent comments from the LFI hierarchy prove that it is an amoral organization.

Jennifer Gerber, its director, claimed in July that "something has gone badly wrong with Labour's once warm relationship with the [Jewish] community."

Deceitful and dangerous

Writing for the website Labour List, she argued that since the party went into opposition in 2010, its leadership showed a "certain carelessness" towards Britain's Jews. "The rhetoric deployed by the party's front bench during last summer's Gaza war, for instance, seemed one-sided with little empathy with the fears of ordinary Israelis as their homes were under attack from Hamas rockets."

Gerber's "analysis" is both deceitful and dangerous.

First, it is simply not true that the party's grandees resorted to partisan rhetoric.

Ed Miliband, then Labour's leader, couched his timid criticisms of Israel with repeated references to "both sides." By doing so, he suggested there was some kind of parity between a nuclear-armed state assailing a besieged people with drones, bunker-buster bombs and white phosporous and a resistance group fighting back with crude projectiles.

Secondly, Gerber implies that defending Israel is a central concern for all British Jews. She negates how there are many Jews in the UK and further afield who are horrified by Israeli aggression and by its apartheid system.

Gerber has been trying to vilify Jeremy Corbyn for once describing Hamas and Hizballah as "our friends" at a meeting in the House of Commons.

Corbyn's choice of words was innocuous; the term "our friends" is used frequently in political discourse. Most people know that calling someone a "friend" doesn't mean you agree with him or her on everything.

Smear campaign

More than likely, Corbyn was just being polite to visitors from the Middle East at that meeting. Yet contributors to The Jewish Chronicle, a London-based Zionist newspaper, have exaggerated the significance of his comments in a smear campaign.

One of the paper's columnists, Geoffrey Alderman, has effectively accused Corbyn of anti-Semitism. Alderman made a big deal out of how Corbyn stated during a LFI-sponsored debate last month that the Balfour Declaration was opposed by "some of the Jewish members" of the British government.

At the time that Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, delivered his 1917 declaration in support of creating a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, Edwin Montagu was the sole Jew serving as a British cabinet minister.

While acknowledging that Montagu was indeed hostile towards Zionism and the Balfour Declaration, Alderman has tried to detect a sinister undercurrent behind Corbyn's remark.

"He might, of course, have made a genuine error," Alderman wrote. "But I believe his reference to 'some of the Jewish members of cabinet' was more in the nature of a Freudian slip and that what this error tells us is that Jeremy Corbyn sees Jews where there are none (or at least very few)."

"Corbyn -- in other words -- has a problem with Jews, whose political influence he grossly overstates," Alderman added.

There is an inevitability behind these kinds of insinuations. Hurling baseless allegations of anti-Semitism at Palestine solidarity activists is standard operating procedure for the Zionist lobby.


Other Israel supporters have been more subtle when trying to disparage Corbyn.
Jonathan Freedland, a pro-Israel pundit, has rebuked the numerous young people energized by Corbyn for being motivated more by social justice than power. He wants Labour strategists to persuade those callow idealists that "an identity built on the purity of impotence is not much of an identity at all."

Freedland is editor of The Guardian's opinion pages. Those pages have featured quite a few anti-Corbyn rants over the past few weeks.

From searching The Guardian's website, I counted eight opinion pieces in which Labour members were explicitly urged to reject Corbyn since Saturday 18 July. Owen Jones was the only Guardian writer to have a column endorsing Corbyn in that period.

It is easy to see why the mainstream media wants to stop Corbyn. His views on public services, taxation and foreign policy are anathema to an establishment besotted by capitalism and imperialism.

Labour Friends of Israel became a key pressure group during the Blair years. Joining it was considered almost mandatory for ambitious members of parliament.

It is also a simple fact that there has been a strong overlap between it and other groups linked to the party -- notably the Blairite "think-tank" Progress -- dedicated to narrowing the policy difference between Labour and the traditionally more right-wing Conservatives.

A Corbyn victory would certainly discomfit LFI. But I think it would be premature to pen that group's obituary. Regardless of who becomes leader, there will still be a sizeable Blairite wing in Labour. LFI will be able to rely on its support at least for the near future.

Nor is it beyond the bounds of possibility that Corbyn will weaken his stance on Palestine and other causes he has championed.

Broadly, I share his politics. As an Irishman, I am especially impressed that he recognized there were real injustices fuelling the conflict in my country. When the British establishment was fulminating about "terrorism" in the 1980s, he was advocating dialogue with Sinn Féin. It is now generally accepted that he was correct.

As a general rule, though, I do not trust politicians. The Labour Party's record in power does not inspire confidence.

The late Robin Cook is remembered for his eloquent resignation speech in protest at the invasion of Iraq. Yet, as foreign secretary in Blair's government, Cook approved the delivery of weapons to Indonesia, a military dictatorship conducting a genocide in East Timor.

The same Robin Cook had pledged to ensure that British foreign policy acquired an "ethical dimension."

I'm not comparing Corbyn to Cook. Rather, I'm saying that Blair has left an enormous stain on Labour's record.

Hopefully Corbyn will be able to wash off that stain. But I fear it is indelible.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 August 2015.

Israeli college in East Jerusalem bags $15 million of EU funds

Two years ago, the European Union was accused of causing an "earthquake" in Israel.

The "earthquake" claim was made by an unnamed official who was widely quoted in the press. The official had voiced displeasure at new EU "guidelines" stating that the Union would not award subsidies to Israeli firms or institutions based in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

I was skeptical of these guidelines. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted them as an existential threat to Israel, my feeling was that they did little more than reiterate the EU's official policies. Because they did not seem to be accompanied by a proper monitoring system, I also felt that it would be easy for Israeli institutions or companies active in the West Bank to circumvent them.

The latest available data on Horizon 2020, the EU's scientific research program, proves that my skepticism was well-founded.

After navigating my way through a spreadsheet that was the polar opposite of user-friendly, I calculated that Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been allocated nearly €14 million ($15 million) under the program so far. A significant part of Hebrew University is located in East Jerusalem.


My spreadsheet trawl was prompted by the patronizing reply I received when I complained to the European Commission about how it was continuing to subsidize Hebrew University. Robert-Jan Smits, head of the Commission's research department, told me to "rest assured" that projects involving Hebrew University had been subject to an "ethics review procedure."

Smits explained that Hebrew University is required to make a declaration when applying for EU grants that it will not carry out any of the research in question on land captured by Israel in 1967. "According to our official records and its self-declaration, the place of establishment of Hebrew University of Jerusalem is within the pre-1967 borders," Smits wrote.

If Smits and his colleagues examined Hebrew University's own publications, they would find details which contradict that "self-declaration."

A "students' guide" published by the university notes that before 1967, Hebrew University's original Mount Scopus headquarters was "an Israeli enclave in the eastern part of the city, then under Jordanian control."

The booklet adds that "expansion of the campus began" with the "reunification of Jerusalem in 1967."

Blatant theft

"Reunification" is Israel's euphemism for its brutal military occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem. The European Union has refused to confer any recognition on that blatant theft of Palestinian territory.

Hebrew University encroached directly into land around Mount Scopus that Israel confiscated from Palestinians in the early stages of the 1967 occupation.

The "self-declaration" to which Smits alluded is, therefore, worthless.

Similarly, it is hard to have any confidence in the ethics review procedure" about which he wants me to "rest assured."

A lawyer familiar with this procedure recently told me that it is little more than a "box-ticking" exercise. In most cases, it involves a "screening" of grant applications, rather than a rigorous assessment.

There is no reason to believe that those overseeing this procedure have challenged the veracity of Hebrew University's "self-declaration."

Israel is taking part in an equal basis to the EU's own countries in the Union's research activities. Hebrew University was the main Israeli beneficiary of the EU's previous science program between 2007 and 2013.

The EU's 2013 guidelines have had no effect either on funding for Israel's weapons industry. More than 70 of the Union's elected representatives recently called for Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli arms firm, to be excluded from Horizon 2020.

From searching through the EU's records, I found at least one Horizon 2020 grant already approved for Elbit. It has been given €400,000 ($436,000) to take part in an airport security project.

Stop the Wall, a Palestinian campaign group, has documented how Elbit is known to have made nine applications for funding under the EU's program, which runs from 2014 until the end of the decade.

Profiting from war crimes

Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries were the two main suppliers of drones used to attack Palestinians in Gaza during July and August last year. Despite its profiting from war crimes, IAI has also been awarded at least two Horizon 2020 grants to date.

Their combined value comes to more than €2 million ($2.2 million).

Elta Systems, a subsidiary of IAI, is taking part in Horizon 2020, too.

The European Commission is part of a "troika" that is inflicting enormous hardship on Greece. It has refused to respect the clear rejection of the Union's austerity agenda by Greek voters in both an election and a referendum.

Considering its contempt for democracy within Europe, nobody should be surprised that the Commission is at variance with public opinion on Palestine.

The EU's citizens have demonstrated their solidarity with the Palestinians by marching against the attacks on Gaza and by refusing to buy Israeli goods. Smits has, instead, actively encouraged Israel to milk the EU's science program.

During 2014, he told a Horizon 2020 launch event that Israel's scientific cooperation with the EU has been "a success for both sides."

Regurgitating Zionist propaganda, he praised Israel as a "start-up nation."

The 2014 attack on Gaza was a showcase for the "start-up nation." Cutting-edge drones were tested out in bombing raids against a besieged population.

Those drones were developed by the same arms companies that the EU is happy to subsidize. Until those subsidies stop, it would be foolish to "rest assured" about anything.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 July 2015.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tony Blair recruited by cheerleader for Israel's crimes

Scanning the headlines about Tony Blair's latest appointment, I wanted to believe that someone was playing a joke. The war criminal who morphed into a Middle East "peace envoy" will now work pro bono for an Israel lobby group. For that is the most accurate way to describe Blair's new "employer", the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.

While its name might give the impression that it is a dispassionate intergovernmental body, the ECTR is a project of the Zionist zealot and fertilizer tycoon Moshe Kantor.

As well as being the ECTR's founder, Kantor is the president of the European Jewish Congress. Despite how he claims to represent 2.5 million Jews, Kantor regularly panders to anti-Semites.

By acting as a cheerleader for Israeli aggression, Kantor lends credence to the fallacy that Israel enjoys a universal blessing from Jews. He is completely out of sync with the growing number of his co-religionists who are speaking out against Israeli apartheid.

Kantor's stance is also at odds with that taken by Blair as prime minister. Officially, the UK views the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal under international law. Kantor, on the other hand, has argued that such colonization facilitates the "positive interaction" between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a joint opinion piece with Kantor published yesterday by British newspaper The Times, Blair identifies "creating clearer definitions of what is racist and anti-Semitic" and giving judiciaries greater powers to prosecute "hate speech" as priorities for his work with the ECTR.

Blurring the distinction

Careful scrutiny of Kantor's activities indicates he is not really interested in bringing clarity. Whereas opposition to Zionism is very different from a blanket animosity towards Jews, he is seeking to blur the distinction between these two phenomena.

For example, the ECTR has drafted a convention on "promoting tolerance." Its preamble refers to "the current increase in anti-Semitism in many European countries", alleging that "this increase is also characterized by new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

Kantor's European Jewish Congress has invested much energy into accusing the Palestine solidarity movement of being responsible for "new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

I have obtained a letter sent by the EJC to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency in April 2012. The letter alleges that "the new form of anti-Semitism, which emanates from pro-Palestinians, from Arabo-Muslim extremists [sic], is today considered by European Jews as a real threat, which creates fear and tension among European Jews. Therefore, the definition of anti-Semitism should be clarified: the new form of anti-Semitism emanates from Arabo-Muslim extremists, from pro-Palestinians, being one way importers of the mid-East conflict into Europe."

Such lobbying has proven effective. In response to pleas from the EJC and similar groups, the EU's agency decided to include calls for boycotting Israel -- a key tactic of the Palestine solidarity movement -- as examples of anti-Semitism in a report it issued during 2013.

Dodgy dossier

The agency, which has been tasked with monitoring racism and xenophobia across the Union, has failed to acknowledged that the Palestinian-led mobilization for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targets goods, companies and institutions -- not individuals.

Blair's call for a crackdown on "hate speech" should be seen against the backdrop of attempts to smear Palestine solidarity campaigners. The attempts have made an impact. Canada's right-wing government is in trying to criminalize BDS campaigning by categorizing it as "hate speech."

Violence against Jews is a real problem. Just this year, there have been attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris and a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen.

To tackle the hatred behind such incidents, it is necessary to remain focused. Smearing Palestine solidarity activists with bogus accusations is a distraction.

It would be comforting if Blair and Kantor could be dismissed as yesterday's men. Sadly, both are influential.

Kantor even has a center called after him in Tel Aviv University. It publishes annual reports that pretend to give a global overview of anti-Semitism. According to the latest such report, Israeli soldiers were blamed for "every evil on earth" at demonstrations sparked by Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.

No evidence is provided to back up that wild assertion. But such sloppiness does not seem to worry Blair and Kantor, who refer to the report in their aforementioned opinion piece.

Come to think of it, this isn't the first dodgy dossier that Blair has endorsed. Didn't he invade Iraq to search for weapons that did not exist?

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 June 2015.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arms dealer Airbus adapts Israeli drone for refugee boat surveillance

The weapons-maker Airbus is promoting an Israeli-designed drone as suitable for tracking boats used by refugees.

A new brochure from Airbus Defence and Space lists "border surveillance" and "anti-smuggling" as potential applications for the Harfang. That drone was developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries and the Franco-German arms giant EADS, now owned by Airbus.

The possibility that such warplanes could be used in attacks that result in refugees being killed is far from academic. WikiLeaks has just published a classified EU plan for military action against boats in Libya which transport refugees to Europe.

According to the plan, this action should draw on the "full range" of surveillance equipment and knowhow available to EU governments.

The Harfang is among such equipment as it has been deployed by France while bombing Mali and Libya over the past few years and as part of the French contribution to NATO's war in Afghanistan.

Gaza "debut"

Not only has the Harfang been developed in tandem with IAI, it is modeled on an Israeli drone known as the Heron TP. DefenseNews, a publication popular with arms dealers, has noted that the Heron TP received its "operational debut" during Israel's three-week bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during that offensive.

Last week I took part in a debate with Chris Henny, a representative of Airbus, at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.

I am forbidden from disclosing what Henny said on that occasion. The debate was subject to the "Chatham House rule", protocol drawn up by a British think tank which prevents those who attend its discussions from attributing comments to the person who made them.

However, I subsequently asked Henny to comment on the record about why Airbus was suggesting that a drone tested in Gaza would be helpful in tracking refugees trying to reach Europe. He sent me a snide reply by email: "The topic for discussion during the debate at the Institute of European Studies was 'securing Europe’s border.' Israel and Palestine are not part of Europe as far as I am aware. "

"Airbus is working with many legally constituted and sovereign states and state enterprises around the world to help them control their borders through the use of technology, some of which we help to develop ourselves, and other technologies which we buy in, or license to others." he added. "What those technology partners choose to do with their own developments, in their own countries, is, of course, their business."


That attempt to put some distance between his firm and Israel should not go unchallenged. While Henny insinuates that Israel has nothing to do with him, his Airbus colleagues use their Israel connections as a selling point. Last year, Airbus issued a statement celebrating how the Harfang was based on an Israeli drone which was "combat proven."

That terminology is identical to that of Israel's arms industry. "Combat-proven" is a polite way of saying that the weapons have been tested out on Palestinians.

Henny's cavalier attitude is in keeping with the dodgy history of Airbus and EADS. Their record betrays a willingness to engage in pretty much any activity that will turn a profit.

EADS was part of a consortium known as MBDA which helped arm Muammar Gadaffi's regime in Libya. The very same consortium later benefited from NATO's 2011 assault on Libya, an "intervention" with ruinous consequences for ordinary people across several countries.

Airbus' border management activities have, to put it mildly, proven controversial. The firm is under investigation in both the UK and Germany for allegedly paying bribes to the Saudi dictatorship. The probes relate to Airbus' role in building a fence along Saudi Arabia's borders.

With its start-of-the-art surveillance equipment, the fence has been presented as necessary to defend Saudi Arabia against ISIS. Yet because the fence was planned before ISIS emerged as a serious threat, it would appear that its real purpose is to keep Iraqi refugees out of Saudi Arabia.

Another thing I noticed is that Airbus' brochure points to the Harfang's use in "regular national homeland security missions on French territory since the end of 2008." I can't imagine that everyone in France would be happy to know their law enforcement authorities are undertaking surveillance with Israeli-designed drones.

But I'm sure Airbus representatives have a ready-made response for any complaints: what clients do is, of course, their business.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 June 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are property speculators bankrolling European Friends of Israel?

An investor in "distressed" Spanish real estate is among the wealthy supporters of the most prominent Israel lobby group in Brussels.

Dan Meyer, founder of the firm REInvest Capital, is a board member with European Friends of Israel (EFI), according to papers filed recently with the Belgian authorities.

For the past few years, REInvest has been trying to turn Spain's economic woes to its advantage. The firm's website says it is focused on "distressed Spanish opportunities", particularly in "prime city center" locations and on the coast.

Meyer, who previously worked for the banking titan Goldman Sachs, has more than two decades experience in the real estate market. His firm claims to have invested in property worth around €11 billion ($12.3 billion) since the mid-1990s.

He was one of several business people to sit on the EFI board last year.

Another was Davina Bruckner, chairperson of the Luxembourg-based firm Eastbridge and with Belgium's largest insurer Ageas.

Eastbridge has gone from importing branded consumer goods like Nestlé and L'Oreal into central and Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s to snapping up skyscrapers in Manhattan. In 2011, it bought 70 Pine Street, formerly the American International Building, in New York's financial district.

Reportedly managing more than €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in assets, Eastbridge has strong connections to EFI. Davina's father Yaron Bruckner, who set up Eastbridge and remained active in it until his death in August 2013, was one of EFI's founders.

Marc Grosman, owner of the men's clothing retailer Celio, has also been a board member of Eastbridge. Grosman, too, sat on the EFI board last year.


On several occassions, I have asked EFI for details about who finances its activities. While the group has always refused to divulge those details, there are good reasons to believe that it relies on its board members for a significant proportion of its funding. Papers lodged with the Belgian authorities indicate that its board members pay annual subscriptions of up to €5 million ($5.7 million).

EFI's influence could be seen in the European Parliament's official response to Israel's attack on Gaza last summer.

In July 2014, the parliament approved a resolution which essentially copied and pasted talking points provided by EFI. That motion referred to a "ceasefire plan" that was "so far only accepted by Israel."

Not only did the parliament lend credence to the fallacy that Israel coveted peace, it neglected to mention that Hamas had not even been consulted about the "truce" offer in question.

Lately, EFI has been promoting fundraising appeals for the Israeli military, despite how it stands accused of committing war crimes.

EFI seems to have disappeared from a register of lobbyists administered by the European Commission. Although groups seeking to shape EU policies are not legally obliged to sign up to that register, they are required to do so if they want access badges for the European Parliament.

EFI did not reply when I asked why it can no longer be found in the register. The group had registered for 2014 and was required to update its details by the end of April this year. Its previous entries to the register have been skimpy. For example, the group reported that its overall budget for 2012 came to €400,000 ($453,000), all of which came from donations.

No scruples

As well as its management board, EFI has a political board, comprised of a cross-party alliance in the European Parliament.

Before last year's election to the Parliament, that board was chaired by a Polish politician Marek Siwiec. A biographical note posted on Siwiec's Facebook page indicate that he is now the EFI's president, even though he no longer has a seat in the European Parliament.

He has continued to visit the parliament's headquarters and can be seen in a program filmed there by Revelation TV, a pro-Israel channel, in December last.

I contacted Siwiec asking him if he is indeed EFI's president and if he is receiving money from the organization or its supporters. He did not reply.

Siwiec has combined being an elected representative with working as a corporate lobbyist. During his decade in the European Parliament, he found time to advise Yalta European Strategy.

Run by one of Ukraine's richest men, Viktor Pinchuk, YES has been pushing for closer bonds between Ukraine and the EU. The stronger trading links advocated by YES would almost certainly benefit Pinchuk directly. As Siwiec was active on foreign policy issues in the European Parliament, his involvement with YES was surely a conflict of interests.

I doubt that caused him too many pangs of conscience, however. Supporters of war crimes do not tend to have scruples. With public opinion increasingly critical of Israel, their future depends on groveling to the rich and powerful.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 May 2015.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Head of new pro-Israel group makes series of racist comments

A leading pro-Israel lobbyist in Brussels has made a series of racist comments about Muslims.

Alex Benjamin has been the director with both European Friends of Israel (EFI) and the newly-formed Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) over the past six months. While speaking on behalf of each of those organizations, he has displayed an anti-Islam bias.

In December last year, Benjamin contended that one explanation for the willingess of some EU governments to recognize Palestine as a state was that "the demographics in Europe are changing."

"There is huge populations of Muslims in France, in Germany, all over the place," he says. "And politicians are finding, rightly or wrongly, that in order to get their votes they have to pander to certain stereotypes."

Those remarks were delivered during a program broadcast by Revelation TV, a channel identifying itself as Christian. Benjamin appeared on the same show in late February, by which time he had taken up his post with EIPA.

During that second appearance, he again infers that Muslims should be perceived as a hostile presence in Europe.

"Hornets' nest"

In a discussion prompted by the killing of a Jewish security guard at a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen earlier that month, Benjamin implies that Muslims in general are to blame for anti-Semitic crimes.

"I see anti-Semitism and the rise of fundamental Islam and the changing demographics in Europe as inexticably linked. It's a bit -- if I could use a rather crude analogy -- it's a bit like having a hornets' nest at the end of your garden."

He argues that the rise in anti-Semitism he perceives "can't just be because of Israeli actions." Then he says: "There's something more fundamental behind it. And it's not a very pleasant thing to do but sometimes you need to lift up the carpet and look at the horrible things underneath it."

Referring to new security measures taken in EU buildings following the January attacks on the French satiricial magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, he says:

I use the analogy deliberately about the hornets' nest at the end of the garden and I would say that either you protect your house and you stop the hornets from flying in -- like we have outside the [European] Commission; like we have outside the [European] Parliament. That is a short-term solution. The hornets are still going to be there. So do you go down to the end of the garden and you try to deal with the nest or do you just try and protect yourself in the house and say "well listen, I'm too scared to go down there, I might get stung. I don't know what's going to happen. All I can do is stop them from getting in the house."

Inciting hatred

Comparing Muslims to hornets closely resembles the terminology by influential Israeli politicians when inciting hatred against Palestinians.

The late Rafael Eitan, who served as both chief of staff in the Israeli military and as a minister in several governments, once called Palestinians "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." Ayelet Shaked, Israel's new justice minister, has described Palestinian children as "little snakes."

Benjamin's repeated references to population issues also echoes how the Israeli elite considers Palestinian babies as a "demographic threat."

Arnon Soffer, an academic who has undertaken research for the Israeli military, said in 2004 that once Gaza's population reached 2.5 million "those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam." Soffer's recommendation for Israel was to "kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."

I contacted Benjamin on Thursday, asking him to clarify some of his comments. He did not reply to my email messages. When I phoned the EIPA office, I was told that he was away from Brussels.

Before he became a full-time Israel lobbyist, Benjamin worked as a press officer for British Conservative members of the European Parliament. His résumé includes, too, a stint as communications director with the Ulster Unionist Party in Belfast.

EIPA is one of several lobby groups trying to promote a positive image of Israel. In an attempt to distract from the crimes committed against the Palestinians, it has been using Facebook to highlight the aid which Israel provided to Nepal's earthquake victims and to celebrate innovations by Israeli scientists.

It is an offshoot of the similarly-named Europe Israel Press Association. Among the propaganda events that association has hosted was a talk given last year by Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic who has advocated that Israeli soldiers should rape Palestinian women.

Benjamin seems to be settling in nicely to his job. His racist remarks are perfectly in sync with the Israel lobby's toxic worldview.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 8 May 2015.