Monday, November 7, 2011

How EU science chief helps Israel's war industry

Ensconced in Brussels, the only controversy Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has been embroiled in over the past few years related to her bloated income. While she has displayed remarkable chutzpah in seeking to draw down both a European commissioner’s salary and Oireachtas and ministerial pensions, her personal greed is of little consequence compared to how she is abetting Israel’s crimes against humanity.

Israel is the most active non-European participant in the EU’s multi-annual scientific research programme, which Geoghegan-Quinn administers. According to the European Commission’s own data, Israel is currently involved in 800 EU-financed research activities with a total value of €4.3 billion. What the Commission is less eager to spell out is that the beneficiaries of this largesse include weapons manufacturers and technology firms that supply Israel with the tools of repression and occupation.

The Irish Times regularly publishes columns on the EU’s research activities by Conor O’Carroll from the Irish Universities Association. Because the seven universities O’Carroll represents receive funding from the EU’s science programme, he has a direct interest in presenting that programme in a positive light. Although The Irish Times is nominally committed to informed debate, its editors have told me on several occasions that they would not have space on their pages for an article explaining how Irish academics cooperate with Israel’s war industry.

Trinity College Dublin, for example, is taking part in a €14.5 million EU-financed project called Total Airport Security System (TASS), under which new surveillance equipment will be installed in Heathrow Airport ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in London. Among the other participants in the TASS consortium are Elbit, a company that has helped install surveillance equipment in the apartheid wall that Israel is building in the West Bank. Elbit was also one of two makers of the pilotless drones(or unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) with which Israel attacked Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

Duty not to assist apartheid

When ruling that the West Bank wall was illegal, the International Court of Justice stated in 2004 that public authorities throughout the world had an obligation not to render any aid or assistance to its construction. Norway – a country outside the EU - has taken that verdict sufficiently seriously to order that its state-owned pension scheme divest from Elbit. Yet Geoghegan-Quinn and her officials continue to subsidise that same company.

The University of Limerick is involved in a €70 million project called Maaximus for developing “more affordable” aircraft than those currently in use. Other participants in this project include Israel Aerospace Industries, another firm that has worked on the West Bank wall and provided warplanes used to kill civilians in Gaza.

University College Cork, meanwhile, is trying to give credence to the Israeli myth that it is saving the world from terrorist attacks. UCC is the official coordinator of an EU-funded project called CommonSense, which is focused on developing sensors for detecting bombs containing radioactive materials. This project also involves the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Israeli Institute for Technology in Haifa. Better known as the Technion, that institute has been responsible for such innovations as a remote-controlled bulldozer, explicitly intended for use in demolishing Palestinian homes.

Geoghegan-Quinn was pressurised by the Dublin government last year into returning her pension payments to the state. She has not come under pressure from any European government to cease assisting Israel’s military industry. This dearth of scrutiny has allowed her to remain in denial about reality.

Poorly informed

She recently dismissed concerns about an EU-financed surveillance technology project that includes Motorola Israel. The aims of that project – to design sensors for detecting “intruders” who venture near buildings or resources deemed to be of critical economic importance – appear similar to those of the “virtual fences” that Motorola has placed around Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. (Using thermal cameras, those “fences” are also designed to identify “intruders”). But when a British MEP alerted her to that similarity, Geoghegan-Quinn claimed her officials do not have “any information about any radar systems Motorola Israel might or might not have installed in the West Bank.” Her advisers should take greater care reading their email messages in future; a paper containing detailed information about Motorola’s work in the West Bank was sent to them by the Palestinian organisation Stop the Wall in May.

Geoghegan-Quinn will be kept busy in the coming months finalising plans for the next EU science programme, which is likely to have a budget of around €80 billion between 2014 and 2020. While the negotiations on the programme’s priorities remain ongoing, Israel’s participation in it has been guaranteed. This means that Geoghegan-Quinn will continue approving the allocation of grants to companies profiting from war and human rights abuses.

Why doesn’t her support for Israel attract more attention than the contents of her bank account?

●First published by Politico, 7 November 2011.

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