Thursday, November 24, 2016

How EU secretly embraced Israeli ministry in East Jerusalem

European Union representatives secretly decided to cooperate with an Israeli ministry based in occupied East Jerusalem, it has been revealed.

The decision is at odds with the EU’s official stance that it does not recognize Israel’s colonization of the territories captured in 1967.

Dating from 2013 but not previously reported, the decision relied on a loophole in an EU paper on cooperation with Israel.

The paper received a hostile response from the Israeli government. It stated that activities undertaken in the settlements Israel is building in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, were not eligible for EU funding.

Although the paper was dry and insipid, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, publicly condemned it by saying Israel would “not accept any external edicts on our borders.”

Often referred to as the “guidelines,” the paper was prepared in anticipation of Israel’s involvement in Horizon 2020, the EU’s latest program for scientific research. Amid the controversy, however, a salient fact was overlooked: Israel’s science and technology ministry has its headquarters in East Jerusalem.

That point was raised in a 2013 briefing document drafted for Catherine Ashton, then the EU’s foreign policy chief.

The briefing, obtained under EU freedom of information rules, effectively told Ashton not to worry about this matter as a loophole had been inserted into the guidelines to ensure that they did not cover public authorities.

The location of Israel’s science ministry in East Jerusalem “will not obstruct” cooperation with it, the document stated.


The science ministry is part of the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate, a body that coordinates Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020. A formal accord setting out the terms of Israel’s involement in the program was signed between the EU and Yaakov Perry, then Israel’s science minister, in 2014.

The loophole means that the entire program – for which almost €80 billion ($85 billion) has been earmarked between 2014 and 2020 – is tainted.

The EU cannot seriously claim to oppose Israel’s gobbling up of East Jerusalem if it has embraced an Israeli ministry that is ensconced in East Jerusalem.

The European Commission, which oversees Horizon 2020, trotted out a typically bureaucratic excuse when asked for an explanation as to why it cooperates with Israel’s science ministry. Pointing to the aforementioned loophole in the guidelines, a Commission spokesperson said that, as a public authority, the science ministry was “exempted” from their scope.

Different from Trump?

To all intents and purposes, the EU’s stance differs little to that of Donald Trump, the newly-elected US president, and the Republican Party.

In the platform on which they fought the recent election, the Republicans undertook to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital if Trump won the presidency. By embracing Israeli institutions in East Jerusalem, the EU is essentially doing the same.

At least, the Republicans have been more transparent about their objectives.

The EU stands accused of saying one thing in public and something quite different behind closed doors.

During her five years as foreign policy chief, Ashton issued a number of statements against how Israel was tightening its grip on East Jerusalem. Her objection to the demolition of Shepherd’s Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city, for example, was covered extensively by the Israeli press.

Her willingness to approve an accord with the science ministry – which is located near Sheikh Jarrah – indicates that her concern was insincere.

Worse, Ashton was hugely accommodating to firms which profited from Israel’s crimes against humanity.

Towards the end of 2013, she negotiated a deal with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s justice minister at the time. The deal enabled Israeli weapons producers to receive grants under the Horizon 2020 program.

As a result of that deal, the makers of drones and surveillance equipment tried out on Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank are currently being subsidized by the EU. Stop the Wall, a Palestinian campaign group, has documented how a major EU scheme nominally concerned with airport security may be utilizing technology that has been tested in settlements built by Israel in violation of international law.

Israel is treated as equal to the EU’s own member countries in the research program.

That Israel’s arms industry has been adept at soaking up subsidies is especially alarming given that there is a concerted push within the EU’s institutions to reserve part of a future research program for developing new weapons.

The only positive thing that can be said about that push is that it might usher in a modicum of honesty. Until now, the EU’s representatives have insisted that they only allow funding for civilian research.

That claim has become increasingly implausible as Israel’s war profiteers grab every grant they can get their bloodstained hands on.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 November 2016.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

U2 manager supports Israeli war crimes

The manager of U2, a rock band well known for human rights campaigning, has taken part in fundraising activities for an organization that supports Israel’s war crimes.

Guy Oseary, who also manages Madonna, attended a 2014 fundraising gala in Los Angeles, California, for Friends of the IDF.

The event – which reportedly brought in $33 million to the organization’s coffers – was held just a few months after Israel’s 51-day bombardment of Gaza that year.

Although photographs of Oseary attending the event were posted on the Internet, his participation has not drawn any criticism before now.

His participation can only be interpreted as an endorsement of the Israeli military and its activities. Friends of the IDF helps recruit for the Israeli military. It does so by sponsoring “lone soldiers” – Israeli troops with family living abroad – for the entire duration of their service.

The gala that Oseary attended featured a tribute to soldiers who had attacked Gaza earlier in 2014. Friends of the IDF assisted that offensive by supplying mobile showers, snacks, underwear and cell phone chargers to troops invading Gaza.

By giving that aid, Friends of the IDF can pose as a charity that is providing comfort to Israeli soldiers. The group has stretched the concept of “humanitarian” activities to its limit. Genuine humanitarians would be more concerned with helping the victims of Israeli aggression than meeting the personal hygiene requirements of the aggressors.

Friends of the IDF can count on support from the most powerful political and business figures in the US. Donald Trump, the president-elect, has pledged money to the group in the past – although it has been reported that someone else actually made the $250,000 donation that he promised.

Oseary did not respond to multiple requests asking how much he has donated to Friends of the IDF. The organization itself also did not reply to a request for comment.

Organizing galas is one of Friends of the IDF’s preferred methods of fundraising. Tickets for one such gala – scheduled to take place in Boston next month – are priced at $3,600 for a table of 12.

The gala which Oseary attended was hosted by Haim Saban, an entrepreneur who helped finance Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign for the presidential election.

Oseary’s support for Friends of the IDF is at odds with U2’s professed concern for human rights.


Since the 1980s, U2 has been vocal in its support for human rights group Amnesty International. Amnesty has accused Israeli troops of displaying “callous indifference to the carnage” they caused while attacking Gaza in 2014. According to the group, Israel’s violence against civilian homes “brazenly flouted the laws of war.”

Amnesty International issued a brief statement when asked if the organization was concerned about Oseary’s support for Friends of the IDF.

“We are not in a position to comment on a private donation made by an individual who is not a staff member or official representative of Amnesty International and would urge you to contact U2 or their representatives directly,” the group stated. “U2 are prominent supporters of Amnesty International’s work and have regularly sought to raise awareness of human rights issues.”

The band and its then manager Paul McGuinness were given Amnesty’s annual “ambassador of conscience” award in 2005.

Oseary replaced McGuinness as U2’s manager in 2013. Born in Jerusalem – though based in the US for most of his life – Oseary combines his music industry activities with investments in Israel’s technology industry.

Band of hypocrites

Sound Ventures, a firm which Oseary established with the actor Ashton Kutcher, is part owner of Meerkat, an Israeli app maker. U2 heavily promoted Meerkat’s livestreaming service during its world tour last year, using the app to broadcast clips from the band’s concerts.

While that streaming service is no longer available, the company behind Meerkat is still active and has recently launched a new video chat application called Houseparty.

Meerkat exemplifies the cozy relationship between the military and the Israeli technology industry. As part of efforts to build up Israel as a leading manufacturer of weapons and surveillance equipment, the Israeli military has devoted considerable resources to developing the computer skills of its soldiers. One of Meerkat’s founders, Roi Tirosh, is a former instructor in the Israeli military.

Oseary’s Sound Ventures has also provided funding to Moovit, the Israeli firm that boasts of inventing the world’s most popular public transport app. Moovit’s CEO, Nir Erez, is a graduate of the computer science academy run by the Israeli military.

U2 – and, especially its lead singer Bono – have long displayed double standards.

Bono has defended and personally benefited from tax exemptions for the super rich, while masquerading as a campaigner against poverty. And despite writing “Bullet the Blue Sky” – a protest song against militarism and the arms industry – Bono has lavished praise on Shimon Peres, the recently deceased Israeli politician who helped introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East and who ordered massacres in Lebanon.

Bono and U2 are not credible advocates of human rights. Amnesty should have realized that ages ago.

The clear proof that the band’s manager has supported Israel’s war crimes means that Amnesty no longer has any excuses. It is past time for Amnesty to publicly disown U2, a band of hypocrites.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 14 November 2016.