I don’t envy the 81 members of the US Congress who are on an expenses-paid trip to Israel this week. Having to listen to Zionist claptrap throughout the junket’s packed schedule is not my idea of a fun vacation.
But I was struck by how the jaunt, organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has received some attention from the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic. London’s right-wing Daily Mail noted that AIPAC’s critics believe it operates on behalf of the Israeli government and has “secured too much influence on Congress”.
While it’s positive that AIPAC’s activities are coming under greater scrutiny, it is noteworthy that little attention has been paid to how a similar lobbying outfit is being developed in Europe. In February, around 400 members of parliaments from across this continent were brought to Israel in a trip hosted by the European Friends of Israel (EFI). They included 120 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) -- one-sixth of that assembly’s total membership.
When I checked The Daily Mail’s online archive, I could find no reference to the February trip. That was despite how British MEPs are among some of the EFI’s most zealous supporters. The Conservative Party’s Charles Tannock was one of the group’s founders in 2006, declaring at the time that the EFI was required to counter the “black propaganda” of Palestine solidarity activists.
Although the EFI has claimed to be independent of AIPAC, it is mimicking that committee’s modus operandi. AIPAC has not made details of the itinerary for this week’s visit by Congress members public. It’s a safe bet, though, that the itinerary is broadly similar to that followed by the EFI earlier this year. As well as being given a chance to marvel at the production sites for Israeli weapons, participants in that jaunt were greeted by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and other leading political figures.
One crucial difference between the US and Europe is that there is some degree of transparency about how AIPAC behaves in Washington. By searching “lobbying disclosure” sites, I learnt that AIPAC $2.75 million on schmoozing Congress in 2010. I could also peruse lists of laws the group has sought to tweak in its favor.
By contrast, the EFI has not signed up to a register of “interest representatives” set up by the European Commission, so we don’t know how much it spends in Brussels and other European capitals. Unlike the US, the European Union does not have a mandatory financial disclosure system for lobbyists who prowl the corridors of its institutions.
On a few occasions over the past three years, I have asked the EFI’s office and parliamentarians belonging to it for details of how its work is funded. All of my requests have either been refused or have elicited no reply.
Donors a mystery
The only “information” that the EFI has given me is that its donors are from Europe. Yet The Jerusalem Post has reported that one of the group’s key contributors is Alexander Machkevitch. When I did some research on Machkevitch, I realized he is a mining magnate with dual Kazakh and Israeli nationality. Given that neither Kazakhstan nor Israel belong to the European continent, it would appear that EFI’s staff either flunked geography at school or have deliberately tried to mislead me.
While I consider AIPAC to be dangerous and racist, American citizens are at least able to track what it is up to. There is far greater secrecy about the Israel lobby in Europe and no appetite by most journalists to expose how it is a growing force. Surely, this culture of silence should be challenged.
·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 11 August 2011