Top European Union officials seem to be in denial about how they are subsidising Israel’s war industry in the name of innovation.
Although it probably won’t send pulses racing in many newsrooms, a vitally important debate is taking place at the moment about the future of Europe’s policy on scientific research. The debate directly concerns Israel because it is the most active non-European participant in the Union’s multi-annual programme for research. Manufacturers of the weapons used to blitz Gaza during Operation Cast Lead have proven especially adept at accessing funds from the programme, which has been allocated 53 billion euros ($37 billion) between 2007 and 2013.
The ethical and legal questions behind handing over taxpayers’ money to Israeli arms companies are being avoided by the Brussels elite. On Friday (10 June), Europe’s science commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn will host a conference to discuss what the priorities of the successor programme – beginning in 2014 – should be. If the agenda for the event is anything to go by, the discussion will be dominated by big picture themes like “strengthening competitiveness” and “tackling societal challenges”. Israel is barely mentioned in preparatory documents – or at least in those that have been made public.
The EU’s cowardice towards Israel is in stark contrast to the stance taken by Norway. In 2009, the Oslo government decided that a state-owned pension scheme should withdraw its investment in Elbit because that Israeli company had supplied an electronic surveillance system to the annexation wall in the West Bank. Yet despite how the wall was declared unlawful by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004, Elbit has been deemed eligible to take part in at least four EU-funded science projects for the 2007-13 period.
Both Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) made the pilotless drones or unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) used to bomb Gaza’s civilians in 2008 and 2009. IAI has similarly contributed components to surveillance equipment fitted into the West Bank wall. And IAI is doing nicely, too, out of the EU, taking part in no fewer than 15 of its research projects.
I have quizzed Geoghegan Quinn and her aides about Israel on several occasions. The pat response I have always got is that all of the schemes being financed are of a civilian nature, so there’s nothing to worry about. That is hogwash. There are no safeguards in place to stop the Israeli companies from applying the fruits of this research to developing more sophisticated warplanes than they have in their present arsenal. And you don’t need to be a bearded boffin to see how the results of these projects could be adapted for military purposes. A 70 million euro project named Maaximus – involving IAI and bankrolled by Europe - aims to create lighter and more affordable aircraft. Could it be helping develop the slimmed-down warplanes of the future?
It is a measure of how reliant academics have become on corporate and even military funding that they can defend this grotesque situation. Konstantin Novoselov, 2010 winner of Nobel Prize for Physics, was in Brussels during May to give his input to the debate on Europe’s science policy. The Russian-British scientist told me he was “sick” of people complaining about Israel and argued that the EU gains more from Israel’s participation in its research activities than Israel does itself. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that his views echo those of many Brussels officials, who claim that because Israel invests heavily in technology, the EU needs to court Israel if the Union’s domestic technology sector is to ever flourish.
Fortunately, there are other academics more willing to speak out. The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) has filed a complaint with the European Commission recently. “The EU continues to fund Israeli research in full knowledge of its exploitation by the state of Israel in the oppression of the Palestinian people,” BRICUP wrote. In total, the Israelis expect they will have pocketed more than 500 million euros from the current research programme once it concludes at the end of 2013.
The aforementioned ICJ verdict stipulated that every country is under an obligation not to “render aid or assistance” that would help sustain the illegal situation created by the West Bank wall. Surely, the granting of EU subsidies to companies that helped build that wall constitutes such “aid or assistance”. Why are Europe’s representatives so nonchalant about their support for crimes against humanity?
·First published by Mondoweiss (www.mondoweiss.net), 8 June 2011