Thursday, June 29, 2017

Britain's great deception in Palestine

Consistency has never been Boris Johnson’s strongpoint.


When Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Foreign Office earlier this year, Johnson beamed as he pointed to the ‘desk where the Balfour Declaration was composed’. Johnson has both celebrated that November 1917 document as a ‘great thing’ and described it as ‘tragicomically incoherent’ and ‘bizarre’.


The Balfour Declaration is indeed bizarre. Britain had no legal or moral standing to dictate Palestine’s future in November 1917; it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. That did not stop Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, from issuing his pledge to facilitate the development of a ‘Jewish national home’ - code for a Jewish state - in Palestine. Lip-service was paid to the ‘civil and religious rights’ of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants but the idea that they could constitute a nation was not entertained. Through that deception, Britain threw its weight behind a colonisation project that is still continuing a century later. With the stroke of Balfour’s pen, Palestinians were condemned to upheaval and oppression.


That much became clear after Britain was tasked with administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate in 1920. Over the next five years, the British authorities issued around 150 ordinances, many of which facilitated the dispossession of and discrimination against Palestinians.


As well as favouring Jews in access to land and employment, the British enabled the so-called Jewish Agency - a body representing settlers in Palestine - to behave as a de facto government. As part of their efforts to quell Palestinian dissent, the British trained and recruited Jewish forces. Replicating Britain’s policies in other lands that it controlled, one section of the population was armed so that another could be subjugated.


That does not mean that Britain relied on proxies; its own forces - including some illustrious commanders - were guilty of immense brutality. Bernard Montgomery, a military chief later credited with a key battle victory in the Second World War, advocated a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against all those who took part in or assisted a Palestinian revolt in the 1930s. Jaffa’s Old City was largely demolished in that period; men from a number of villages were rounded up en masse; hospitals were attacked and torture chambers established. Many suspected rebels were interned without trial in a concentration camp - the precise term used by British representatives.


Britain bears much of the responsibility for the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Around 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted then by Zionist militia who had been mentored by the British Army. The expulsions from Haifa took place under British supervision.


The relationship between Britain and the Zionist movement has been occasionally fractious. Two armed Zionist groups even waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against the British in the 1940s. The relationship has nonetheless endured, albeit in an often grubby manner. Britain has tried at times to manipulate Israel - the state it sired - in order to advance its own agenda. That was certainly the case in 1956 when Britain and France persuaded Israel to attack Egypt over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, which lay on a key shipping route between Europe and India. Israel again declared war against Egypt in 1967. Though Israel was now acting on its own initiative, it received substantial supplies of arms from Britain. The result was the seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights - territories that remain under Israeli occupation 50 years later.


During the second half of the twentieth century, the British were forced to accept that they had been replaced by the United States as the world’s leading imperial bully. Henry Kissinger was among the key strategists in advancing American power. His approach towards the Middle East involved simultaneously courting Arab dictators and Israel. Britain connived in such efforts, which continued long after Kissinger ceased to play a direct US government role.


Tony Blair, for example, doubled up as a guarantor of arms contracts with Saudi Arabia and as a leading apologist for Israel. By applauding Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon - a criminal endeavour that involved spraying vast tracts of land with cluster bombs - Blair finally lost the confidence of his Labour Party colleagues. Yet that did not prevent him from bagging an international job focused on the Middle East ‘peace process’ within hours of saying farewell to Downing Street. That post ended without any tangible results, according to many pundits, yet it did allow Blair strengthen his connections with the Israel lobby. He was among the star attractions at the latest annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful pressure groups in Washington.


The Conservative-led governments of the past seven years have tried to hug Israel even tighter again. While serving as foreign secretary, Philip Hammond enthusiastically backed Israel’s 2014 offensive against Gaza. Not only was the British government unperturbed by how entire families were wiped out by the Israeli military, it has ordered significant quantities of Israeli arms tested out on Palestinian civilians. Securing a free trade deal with Israel, meanwhile, has been identified as a priority for Britain now that its membership of the European Union is coming to an end.


Following the recent general election, the newly retired MP Eric Pickles wondered how Labour candidates sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle could prove attractive to voters. Pickles’ remarks smacked of desperation. Foreign policy has been regarded as an elite issue by successive British governments; they have treated the views of ordinary people with contempt. The contempt may not be sustainable, especially if it is rejected at the ballot box. And while Britain’s support for Zionism remains solid after a century, the toxic alliance could ultimately collapse.


• First published by Left Book Club, 23 June 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pro-Israel group NGO Monitor teams up with Europe's far-right

The pro-Israel group NGO Monitor hunts for hidden motives where there are none. It has made many baseless allegations that human rights activists are hostile towards Jews.


Displaying enormous hypocrisy, NGO Monitor appears happy to ally itself with actual peddlers of bigotry. This week, it is jointly hosting an event in the European Parliament with a representative of the far-right Danish People’s Party.


Anders Vistisen, the politician in question, would be a suitable candidate to run Donald Trump’s Nordic fan club – if such a thing exists. In some respects, Vistisen has acted as a vanguard for the politics of division that the US president espouses.


Trump made his infamous call for a Muslim entry ban in December 2015. Vistisen urged similar measures in Denmark almost two years before then.


More recently, Vistisen has advocated that a barbed-wire fence should be erected on Denmark’s border with Germany in order to keep refugees out. He also favors the Australian model of detaining refugees in large camps.


Amnesty International has found that the Australian authorities have been deliberately cruel towards refugees. Those who arrive in boats are forcibly transferred to what Amnesty calls “abusive” camps in Nauru and Manus Island.


Promoting racism


Vistisen’s party promotes racism and religious intolerance.


Its former leader Pia Kjaersgaard has complained of Copenhagen hosting ethnic groups “at a lower stage of civilization.” Other members of the party have proposed that refugees be shot and that pressure be applied on Muslims to attend Christian services.


Although Vistisen styles himself as a champion of transparency, he is helping NGO Monitor to use deceptive tactics.


The flyers for this week’s event indicate it will focus on “evaluating” the impact of European Union funding to human rights and environmental organizations. There is no mention of the Middle East or explanation that NGO Monitor is an Israel lobby group.


The uninitiated could easily think, therefore, that NGO Monitor is some kind of charity watchdog.


This is not the first time that the group has been less than open.


Earlier this year, it circulated a paper in the European Parliament on funding of campaigning organizations. That paper, too, failed to spell out that NGO Monitor has a pro-Israel stance.


Evasive


Details provided by NGO Monitor to a register of lobbyists working on European affairs are comparably misleading. The only hint of the group’s Middle East focus is that a Jerusalem address is given for its head office.


I phoned Laura Silva from NGO Monitor’s Brussels office, asking why she is teaming up with the Danish far-right. She evaded that question by pointing out that other politicians are involved in next week’s event.


When I asked if NGO Monitor was itself a far-right organization, she replied: “I will not comment.”


NGO Monitor’s staff try to find clever and convoluted arguments to justify Israel’s crimes. Gerald Steinberg, the group’s founder, has contended that human rights are “utopian idealism” and “divorced from the reality of bitter and very violent conflict in much of the world.”


A new paper by NGO Monitor defends firms active in the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank. Although all of the settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law, NGO Monitor suggests that firms operating within them are not violating human rights. This argument is at variance with the findings of most reputable lawyers.


NGO Monitor has strong connections to the Israeli government. Steinberg has worked as a consultant for the Israeli foreign ministry and other official bodies.


He draws on the same sources of funding as some key players in Israel’s settler movement. One named donor of NGO Monitor, the Orion Foundation, also gives money to Elad, a group that seizes Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem so that they can be taken over by Israelis.


NGO Monitor has its own fundraising arm in the US. Previously known as American Friends of NGO Monitor, the fundraising division now calls itself REPORT.


Donors to REPORT – such as the Klarman Family Foundation – are known to have supported Elad, too.


NGO Monitor prides itself on asking awkward questions about human rights organizations and how they are funded. The bitter irony is that for all the accountability it demands from others, NGO Monitor is coy about what it is really up to.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 June 2017.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New British minister Michael Gove gets funding from Israel lobby

Rupert Murdoch’s influence over British politics is finally sagging. His best-selling paper The Sun – which in 1992 claimed to have won a general election for the Conservatives – tried its best to lampoon opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn ahead of last week’s general election. The efforts backfired: against the odds, Corbyn’s Labour Party dramatically increased its vote.


Murdoch has nonetheless been offered a consolation prize. Michael Gove, a Conservative with a record of sycophancy towards the media tycoon, is back as a cabinet minister.


Since his bid to lead the ruling Conservatives failed last year, Gove has been writing a column for The Times – a Murdoch title.


Gove has used that platform to argue that Britain should be more strident in its support for Israel. In one article, he advocated that Britain should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


That would be a reversal of official British policy – which opposes Israel’s settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem as they violate international law.


Gove has also worked as a pro-Israel lobbyist during the past 12 months.


Misleading


He has become a trustee of the Henry Jackson Society, which he has misleadingly called a “charity dedicated to upholding democratic values worldwide.”


The Henry Jackson Society is not actually dedicated to democracy – if democracy means ordinary folk having a genuine say in their nation’s affairs. Rather, the London-based outfit espouses a neoconservative worldview; it was founded in 2005 to make the case that the US and Britain “must shape the world more actively.”


Support for Israel is integral to its viewpoint. And the group’s staff frequently behave as mouthpieces for Israel – by, for example, depicting those who expose Israel’s human rights abuses as “terrorist” sympathizers.


The Henry Jackson Society is embedded within the wider pro-Israel network in London. In November last, Gove took part in an event that the Henry Jackson Society organized to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for Zionist colonization in Palestine. The event featured, too, an array of Israeli diplomats.


Earlier this year, Gove visited Washington. He met US government officials in his capacity as a lobbyist for the Henry Jackson Society, according to his parliamentary declaration of interests.


Most of his expenses for that trip were covered by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful organizations in Washington. Gove was a speaker at AIPAC’s annual conference.


Evangelical


He has been active, too, in Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group within his party that enjoys extremely close relations with the Israeli state apparatus.


It regularly brings members of parliament on trips to the Middle East. The trips are organized in tandem with and receive significant funding from the Israeli foreign ministry.


The staff at Conservative Friends of Israel include former employees of the Israeli state. Tanyah Murkes, who heads the group’s office in Tel Aviv, has previously worked in “public relations” for an Israeli embassy, for example.


Gove is especially close to David Meller, an entrepreneur in the jewelry and cosmetics trade who has been a senior officer with Conservative Friends of Israel.


When Gove held the post of education secretary in the British government a few years ago, he introduced “reforms” aimed at treating schooling as a commodity, rather than a basic right. Meller was involved in some of the projects under that rubric and was given a post in the education ministry while Gove was steering through his “reforms.”


A man named David Meller was among the donors to Gove’s failed Conservative leadership bid in 2016.


Gove now holds the environment portfolio in the reshuffled British cabinet. If his past performance is anything to go by, there is little chance that he will discard his neoconservative baggage and concentrate on saving the planet.


Before the 2015, general election Gove held the post of government chief whip. He still found time to engage in pro-Israel activities then. It is highly probable that he will do so again.


Parroting Israeli propaganda is almost mandatory for right-wing British politicians. Gove is evangelical in his support for Israel – to the point of praising that state as a “near miraculous” success story.


Perhaps Gove believes the hyperbole that he has churned out. His activities indicate, though, that he is not an independent analyst. He is a gun for hire.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 15 June 2017.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Britain aided Israel's 1967 war

The British press can display a dubious sense of priorities when it comes to marking important anniversaries. Far more attention has been paid lately to how The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is 50 years old than to how Harold Wilson’s government assisted Israel’s capture of Arab territories in 1967.


The assistance was both practical and diplomatic.


In March 1965, Levi Eshkol, then Israel’s prime minister, visited London to meet Wilson, his British counterpart, and other political figures.


Eshkol enquired if Britain would be willing to sell a large consignment of Centurion tanks. Denis Healey, Britain’s defense secretary at the time, proved receptive. “I see no reason to think that we shall not be able to meet your needs,” Healey told him.


The Centurion was the main British battle tank for around two decades following the Second World War and Israel had already placed orders for it before Eshkol’s trip.


By July 1965, Britain supplied Israel with more than 180 such tanks. Another 150 were transported between that month and May 1967.


They were not the only weapons that Britain gave Israel. Just one week before Eshkol’s government made a surprise attack against Egypt on 5 June 1967, a ship brimming with machine guns, tank shells and armored vehicles sailed to present-day Israel from the English port of Felixstowe. It was among a series of secret weapons deliveries.


“Handsome praise”


The Centurions were heavily used by Israel as it seized Arab territories.


The British embassy in Tel Aviv was pleased with that fact. It noted how Israeli military commanders were “particularly handsome in their praise” of the Centurion. The tank “apparently did far more than was ever expected of it,” according to an embassy memo.


Harold Wilson also gave advice to Israel on the circumstances under which attacking its neighbors would be deemed acceptable.


His book The Chariot of Israel refers to a letter that he sent Eshkol ahead of the war. The letter, Wilson explained, backed the US argument that Eshkol should only order military action against Egypt if its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, blocked Israeli ships from the Straits of Tiran, the narrow Red Sea waterway that all ships must pass to reach the Israeli port of Eilat. “If we are to give you the international support we wish, it must be based on your undoubted [shipping] rights,” Wilson wrote.


Nasser had long been perceived as hostile to Western interests. In 1956, Britain and France had persuaded Israel to invade Egypt over Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. While doing so, the Israelis committed massacres in Gaza that have been airbrushed by many historians.


Under a decision taken by Nasser in May 1967, oil tankers passing through the Straits of Tiran were required to submit documents saying that they were not destined for Israeli ports. The decision was taken amid an Arab League boycott of Israel.


Natural and proper?


Nasser did not present any existential threat to Israel. According to US intelligence assessments, Egypt’s military deployments in the Sinai were defensive and Israel would have no trouble defeating the combined armies of neighboring Arab states. That has even been acknowledged by the notoriously hawkish Menachem Begin when he was Israel’s prime minister in the early 1980s.


There was no proof in 1967 that Nasser was about to attack Israel, Begin declared 15 years later. “We must be honest with ourselves,” Begin said. “We decided to attack him [Nasser].”


As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented, Israeli leaders had harbored a desire, and prepared plans, to conquer the remainder of Palestine that they had not seized in 1948. They only sought the appropriate pretext.


Begin himself called the 1967 conflict a war of “choice.”


Harold Wilson was enamored of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.


The Chariot of Israel attributes his admiration for Zionism to what he learned about biblical prophecy during his childhood. The admiration was so intense that Wilson has ignored the victims of the Zionist project. His chapter on the 1967 war omits any mention of the 400,000 Palestinians displaced when Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank that year.


Wilson’s government officially backed UN Security Council resolution 242, which urged Israel to relinquish the territories it seized in 1967. Yet in 1972, Wilson (then an opposition leader), said “it is utterly unreal to talk of withdrawal.”


“Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation,” he added. “It is not recognized as a nation by the world.”


There was something both contradictory and consistent about Wilson’s stance. Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain promised to help establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. The idea that indigenous Palestinians could belong to a nation was not entertained.


Britain had backed a racist colonization project in 1917. The war of June 1967 was a continuation of that project. Once again, it was enabled by Britain.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 7 June 2017.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Britain's concentration camp in Palestine

Theresa May’s election manifesto contains a pernicious lie. Near the bottom of page 37, it says: “Britain is already a significant influence for good around the world.”


With May as prime minister, Britain is a force for ill in global affairs. Far from defending the downtrodden, her government has courted dictators and oppressors.


May has sanitized the history of Britain’s meddling in the Middle East. She has made a commitment to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride.”


That 1917 pledge to support Zionist colonization in Palestine “demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people,” May has said.


Her government has ruled out apologizing to Palestinians for the injustices inflicted on them because of Britain’s alliance with the Zionist movement.


The injustices are bigger than most people realize. While researching my new book Balfour’s Shadow, I learned that the British administration which ruled Palestine between the two world wars set up a concentration camp.


Mass incarceration


Although the term “concentration camp” has become synonymous with the Holocaust, it was in use long before then.


Early in the twentieth century, Britain established the first concentration camps of the 20th century during the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. And British archives dating from the 1930s are peppered with references to a “concentration camp” in Palestine.


During 1936, a major revolt against Britain and its support for Zionism erupted in Palestine. The authorities responded with a policy of mass incarceration.


In June of that year, Arthur Wauchope, the British high commissioner in Palestine, received a telegram from London officials. The officials informed him about a parliamentary query on “what steps are to be taken” to provide “reasonable conditions at Sarafand concentration camp.”


A British military base had been installed next to the village of Sarafand al-Amar on Palestine’s coastal plain and was, in Wauchope’s view, a “healthy locality.”


Wauchope tried to depict the camp positively by noting that it had been approved by an unnamed director of medical services and that access to tobacco was “unrestricted” and “facilities are given for daily exercise.”


Wauchope was less rosy in a letter he sent to the Colonial Office in London the next month. He acknowledged that one of the two sections in the camp had “no water closets and bathrooms.”


The section in question was initially reserved for villagers and peasants (fallahin in Arabic), whereas the other section was used for “the urban and effendi [noble] class of inmates,” according to Wauchope. As it was disliked by prisoners, Wauchope “abandoned” that system of segregation, he stated.


A paper drawn up for British diplomats in Geneva the following year was less rosy again.


Emergency regulations, it noted, had enabled harsher punishments against Palestinians who shot at British forces or possessed illicit weapons. More than 460 “agitators were confined for months in the concentration camp at Sarafand without trial” as a result, the file added.


The Palestinian revolt lasted from 1936 to 1939 and the British resorted to large-scale detention and killed thousands of people in that period.


Reputation of cruelty


In 1939, Malcolm MacDonald, then Britain’s colonial secretary, was asked a parliamentary question about “how many concentration camps are established in Palestine.” He replied that there are “13 detention camps at present in existence in Palestine.”


Another question was put to him about “the number of people interned in concentration camps in Palestine and how many of them are fallahin.” MacDonald stated that “the total number of persons at present under detention in Palestine is 4,816, of whom about 2,690 are fallahin.”


Harold MacMichael, Wauchope’s successor as high commissioner, reported to the Colonial Office in June 1939 that “1,154 Arabs and 63 Jews were detained in concentration camp.” It is not clear if he deliberately wrote “camp” in the singular.


Britain ruled Palestine under a League of Nations mandate that gave it the task of creating the conditions required for building the “Jewish national home” – a euphemism for a Jewish state.


And the British response to the 1930s revolt demonstrated how it was wedded to the Zionist project. Jewish colonists were hired in significant numbers to the British police force tasked with quelling dissent. Among the tasks assigned to Jewish police officers was to guard over the huts and stores in the Sarafand camp.


Many of the Jewish police officers belonged to the Haganah, a Zionist militia and the forerunner of today’s Israeli army.


One British soldier, Orde Wingate, brought Haganah commanders into the “special night squads” that he led. Those squads gained a reputation for cruelty; their tactics included rounding up all the male inhabitants of villages who lived near an oil pipeline connecting Palestine and Iraq and whipping their naked torsos.


Israel glorifies this cruelty to the indigenous Palestinians to this day with a number of memorials dedicated to Wingate.


The British resorted to great brutality in crushing the revolt. The use of torture against Palestinian detainees was approved at a high level in the British administration; villagers were forced into cages; patients were shot dead in their hospital beds; and the Old City of Jaffa was largely demolished, leaving hundreds without shelter.


Around 5,000 Palestinians were killed during the revolt. On a proportionate basis, that casualty rate was higher than those caused by Israel during the intifadas which broke out in 1987 and 2000.


It was through such violence that Britain laid the foundations of the Israeli state.


That is the history in which Theresa May has expressed pride. Her claims that Britain has been a force for good merit nothing but contempt.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 June 2017.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine

Sometimes a fragment reveals more than a tome. Karma Nabulsi, a politics professor at Oxford University, introduced me to one such fragment. Did I know, she asked, that Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine?


That conversation helped me grasp why Irish people tend to feel a sense of affinity with the Palestinians. Our historical experiences are not identical but they do have striking parallels, which I became eager to explore.


This year marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The November 1917 letter to the Zionist movement committed Britain to support the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. Through that document, the world’s pre-eminent power gave its backing to a project aimed at colonising with Europeans a land where most of the population was Arab.


Arthur James Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary and the declaration’s signatory, had previously served as chief secretary of Ireland. He was best known for ordering police to open fire on an 1887 land reform protest in Mitchelstown, County Cork. Resulting in three deaths, the incident earned him the sobriquet Bloody Balfour.


Balfour was among many British political figures to leave a deep impression on both Ireland and Palestine. As home secretary in 1916, Herbert Samuel oversaw the internment of almost 2,000 people allegedly involved in the Easter Rising; he also approved Roger Casement’s hanging. Samuel became the first high commissioner of Palestine as Britain took charge of its administration between the two world wars.


Faced with unrest in 1921, Samuel ordered air strikes against Palestinian rioters and declared a state of emergency. At that juncture, Churchill, then colonial secretary, advocated that a “picked force of white gendarmerie” be established for Palestine, according to official records. Churchill’s idea was that the gendarmerie should be comprised of men who had served with crown forces during Ireland’s War of Independence.


Henry Hugh Tudor, commander of the Auxiliaries in Ireland, had advised Churchill that up to 800 “absolutely reliable men” could be made available from those forces. The Auxiliaries had worked alongside the Black and Tans and the two policing divisions were often regarded as synonymous. The gendarmerie founded at Churchill’s initiative contained members of both.


Ruthless


In effect, then, the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries were assigned to Palestine once their presence in Ireland was no longer deemed necessary. The parallel fascinated me. One of those forces’ most notorious escapades occurred in my hometown - Balbriggan, County Dublin. As revenge for the killing of a police officer by republicans in September 1920, the forces torched a hosiery factory that was a major local employer, as well as destroying and damaging numerous pubs and houses. The “sack” of Balbriggan, as the incident became known, prompted a Westminster debate about whether the crown forces lacked discipline.


Britain’s imperial archives show that some diplomats asked if the “Black and Tan tradition” was being followed in Palestine. One briefing document apparently written for the British Army pointed to how many members of the Churchill-initiated gendarmerie had formerly been based in Ireland. “This original composition gave the force a military efficiency, combined with a certain ruthlessness,” the paper added.


Douglas Duff had been stationed with the Black and Tans in Galway before moving to Palestine. His memoirs make clear that he brought a great deal of bigotry with him. Referring to the Palestinians of Haifa, he wrote: “Most of us were so infected by the sense of our own superiority over these ‘lesser breeds’ that we scarcely regarded these people as human.”


Officers who had served in Ireland played a prominent role in quelling protests by Palestinians against the expropriation of land where they lived and farmed. Raymond Cafferata, for example, had been part of the Auxiliaries during the Irish War of Independence. In 1933, he headed a contingent of foot police at a Jaffa demonstration which had been banned. A baton charge that he ordered was commended by British administration in Jerusalem for being “magnificently executed” despite how numerous Palestinians were shot dead during the protest.


Repression


Later in the 1930s, a full-scale Palestinian revolt erupted. Grattan Bushe, a legal adviser to the Colonial Office, warned that “repression by force is repeating the mistake which was made in Ireland”. His warning was ignored; military commanders were assured that they could take “whatever measures are necessary”. The measures were to include demolishing much of Jaffa’s old city, imposing collective punishment on villages with rebels in their midst and mass detention in labour camps.


Some of the men behind projects that are still reviled today were originally from Ireland. Around £2 million - a huge sum for the 1930s - was spent on erecting a rampart along Palestine’s northern frontier. It was the brainchild of Charles Tegart, a Derry-born police chief. Tegart was something of an innovator. He recommended that the most sophisticated surveillance technology of that era should be installed in “Tegart’s fence”, as the project was dubbed.


The Balfour Declaration’s purpose was to form a “little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”, according to Ronald Storrs, “the first military governor of Palestine since Pontius Pilate” (his words). Not everything went to plan: the Zionist movement fell out with and, in the case of two groups, waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against Britain in the 1940s. Storrs’ comment nonetheless encapsulates how the British elite viewed their nearest colony and the Middle East through the same lens.


On 14 May 1948, British rule in Palestine came to an end; Israel declared itself a state that same day. The transition was marked in a low-key ceremony at which Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner in Jerusalem, inspected a colour party.


Cunningham had been in charge during the mass expulsion of Palestinians by Zionist forces, an episode called the Nakba or catastrophe. The British authorities chose not to intervene.
The Palestinian flag is being flown over Dublin’s City Hall this month in solidarity with the Nakba’s victims. That is grimly appropriate. Alan Cunningham was born in Dublin.


•First published by The Irish Times, 19 May 2017.

The scholar who shills for Israel

For the first time, I have been flattered by a pro-Israel lobbyist.


Toby Greene, the lobbyist in question, emailed me a few days ago, seeking help with a project he is conducting for Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Given your knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian issues and EU politics, your insights would be invaluable for my research,” he wrote.


The flattery proved fruitless. I promptly told Greene that I supported the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. Before I could entertain his request, I would need clarity about who he represented.


Greene replied that his position at Hebrew University was being financed by the Israel Institute in Washington. He claimed, however, that the university and the institute merely “support and facilitate my research” and “like all academics in Israel, I have full academic freedom and I define my own research projects.”


I don’t buy that explanation and have refused to help Greene’s project – which apparently relates to how Israel is viewed by Europe’s political elites.


Cherishing freedom?


Greene is a lobbyist masquerading as an analyst. Apart from holding a post at Hebrew University, he works for a propaganda outfit called the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).


He has previously been a staff member with Labour Friends of Israel. That pressure group – embedded in one of Britain’s largest political parties – coordinates its activities with the Israeli government, as a recent Al Jazeera documentary illustrated.


Greene inferred that his sponsors at the Israel Institute cherish academic freedom. Is that really the case?


The institute was established in 2012 by Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli diplomat, and is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.


The Schusterman Foundation has made clear that it is supporting academic research with the intention of “strengthening Israel at home and abroad.” The foundation’s declared mission includes funding “efforts to identify, mentor and train student leaders to support Israel and advocate for strong US-Israel relations.”


That is anathema to the whole concept of academic freedom.


Truly independent academics are focused on the production of knowledge, not on the “strengthening” of states or disseminating propaganda to further their political agendas.


I asked Ari Roth, director of the Israel Institute, if it had sponsored any academics who criticized Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. Rather than answering that question, he stated that “descriptions of our grantees can be found on our website.”


Dishonest


I could not find any criticisms of Zionism on its website. But I did find publications which were fundamentally dishonest. One of them claimed Israel had made “notable efforts to avoid civilian casualties” during its major offensive against Gaza in 2014.


Israel killed almost 1,500 civilians – including more than 550 children – in that offensive. That means around one in every 1,000 residents of Gaza was killed.


How can that be construed as a notable effort to avoid civilian casualties?


Toby Greene has told a similar lie. In 2014, he spoke of Israel’s “desire to avoid civilian casualties” while bombing Gaza.


He then had the impudence to scold Jon Snow from the broadcaster Channel 4, one of the few British journalists willing to challenge Israeli spin doctors. Accurately describing the effects of Israel’s attacks on children – as Snow did three years ago – meant he had “abandoned all pretense at objectivity,” Greene wrote.


Greene has a long record of downplaying crimes by both Israel and Britain.


Back in 2006, he advocated that powerful governments should be “ready to reward” Israel’s political leaders who make “positive steps” towards Palestinians. One reward that he recommended would be “international recognition that some of the settlement blocs [in the occupied West Bank] will remain as part of a future land-swap deal.”


That proposal echoed an argument by George W. Bush, then US president, in 2004 that it would be “unrealistic” for Israel to fully withdraw from the West Bank. By making that comment, Bush signaled that he would tolerate Israel’s settlement activities, despite how they violated international law.


Flexible flunky


Greene is also an apologist for Tony Blair.


When an official British enquiry issued a damning verdict last year on Blair’s determination to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Greene wrote a lengthy article that was highly sympathetic to the former prime minister.


To Greene, Blair’s only “sin” was “hubris: an overinflated misperception of his ability to shape international politics.” Causing hundreds of thousands to die and destroying an entire country are more grievous sins than hubris – though not, it would appear, in Greene’s mind.


Greene is still lying in the service of Israel. He recently alleged that an event held as part of a campaign to make Britain apologize for supporting Zionist colonization in Palestine was characterized by “anti-Semitic bluster.” A parliamentary investigation into the same event, which was held at Westminster, found no evidence to support the accusations of anti-Semitism made by the Israeli government and its surrogates.


Greene has written a book about the British Labour Party and Palestine. It is a 298-page fan letter to Blair disguised as sober analysis.


A note in the acknowledgements section of that book states: “Two employers, Labour Friends of Israel and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, generously allowed me the flexibility to pursue my research while under their employment.”


The note is perhaps the most instructive thing about the book. Greene has implicitly admitted that he is a flexible flunky.


He is a scholar who shills for Israel.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 18 May 2017.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Buying respect for Israel in Brussels

Rogues can buy respectability – or a semblance of it.


The cigarette industry provides a textbook example of how to exert pressure by stealth. Knowing that its public image is toxic, it funds various front groups to cajole the powerful.


The European Policy Centre is one such group. It was established in the 1990s by the late Stanley Crossick, a consultant for British American Tobacco. Before long, Crossick’s outfit was styling itself as one of the leading “think tanks” in Brussels, deftly pushing an agenda favored by big corporations.


Political and business representatives continue to mingle at its invitation-only events today; the cigarette industry remains an important, if discreet, sponsor.


Has the European Policy Centre now offered its services to the Israel lobby?


Headed by hawk


One of the contributors to the center’s budget is the European Leadership Network. That insipidly-named organization is dedicated to strengthening relations between Israel and the European Union.


Despite claiming to support the “pursuit of peace,” the European Leadership Network is headed by a hawk. Larry Hochberg, the hawk in question, has previously chaired Friends of the IDF, which finances recruits to the Israeli military.


I asked Fabien Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, why he accepts funding from a pro-Israel group. He argued that the funding from the European Leaders Network “in no way affects” his center’s “independence.”


Gauging whether the European Policy Centre enjoys any real autonomy is hampered by the secretive activities with which it is involved.


“Experts” from the center have been participating in a “strategic dialogue” that the European Leadership Network initiated in 2010. Each session of the “dialogue” takes place in a “private and secluded venue,” according to its official website.


One member of the team behind this “dialogue” is Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier-general in the Israeli military. Herzog has been indicted under Spain’s “universal jurisdiction” law in relation to a 2002 bombing attack on a residential area of Gaza.


Appeasing gangsters


The scarce information available about the “dialogue” does not suggest that it encourages intellectual freedom. A paper based on the “dialogue” and published by the European Policy Centre contends that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, “must strike a difficult yet indispensable balance” between calls made by parties in his ruling coalition and those of his “diplomatic partners” abroad.


Those are weasel words. The Netanyahu-led government includes ministers who have urged that most of the West Bank be annexed, that Palestinians living inside Israel be expelled and that Gaza’s women be exterminated.


The “balance” advocated by the European Policy Centre would mean appeasing such gangsters.


The European Leadership Network is less than transparent about its activities, too.


According to details supplied to a register for lobbyists who interact with the EU institutions, the “network” only began “regular activities” in Brussels during 2016.


Yet documents filed with the US authorities state that the network’s Brussels office had been receiving grants from across the Atlantic for a number of years before then. In 2014, for example, it was given almost $500,000 by a “friends of” group registered in Larry Hochberg’s name, using an address in Illinois.


That “friends of” group was led at one stage by Mark Moskowitz, another pro-Israel lobbyist. Both Hochberg and Moskowitz have formerly worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, widely regarded as one of Washington’s most influential pressure groups.


Moskowitz is now a vice-president for “global philanthropy” with the Jewish Agency, a body working directly for the Israeli state.


The “friends of” group was established in 2011, after it was given almost $4 million in assets from StandWithUs, a lobby outfit partly financed by Israel and with close ties to the Islamophobia industry in North America.


Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUs, has also helped run the European Leadership Network, according to documents filed with the Belgian authorities.


I asked Ines von Behr, Brussels director with the European Leadership Network, if her office receives funding from the Israeli government. I also enquired if the “network” coordinates its activities with the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. “We are not replying to any media questions at this point,” von Behr told me.


Her reticence is not surprising. The European Leadership Network appears to be a fan club for Israeli aggression masquerading as a forum for debate and analysis.


Using sneaky tactics, it is trying to confer respectability on a rogue state.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 11 May 2017.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

UKIP dominates new support group for Israeli settlers

The UK Independence Party specializes in distorting reality.


Nigel Farage, UKIP’s former leader and still its best-known representative, poses as a no-nonsense patriot. Curiously, his patriotism does not extend to insisting his chief backers pay their taxes in his beloved Britain.


One of Farage’s allies and donors was the multi-millionaire tax exile Aaron Banks. The aptly-named Banks accompanied Farage as he raced across the Atlantic in November last year, determined to be the first British politician received by Donald Trump, the newly-elected US president.


Banks has subsequently fallen out with the party over apparently trivial matters. Though such squabbles are entertaining, they should not distract from how – despite its claim to champion ordinary folk – UKIP frequently sides with the world’s bullies.


That much is clear from the strong level of UKIP involvement in a recently-formed group dedicated to supporting Israel’s war crimes.


Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament, as the group is called, has been set up in response to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.


Fifteen members of the European Parliament support the new group, according to its website. Three of the 15 belong to UKIP, making it the only party to have more than one declared supporter.


Judea and Samaria is the name that Israel gives to the occupied West Bank. The “friends of” group seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.


Moreover, it seeks to build a direct link between the Brussels institutions and Israeli settlers.


Diehard


The group was founded by Yossi Dagan, chair of Samaria Regional Council, which is a local authority for some of Israel’s illegal settlements.


Dagan – who was invited to Trump’s inauguration earlier this year – is diehard settler.


He came to prominence by vociferously opposing the evacuation of a small number of settlements in the West Bank.


The settlements were evacuated as part of what was (inaccurately) described as a “disengagement” plan implemented by the Israeli government led by Ariel Sharon in 2005.


In a 2015 interview with Arutz Sheva – a media network supporting the settler movement – Dagan bragged of his “public relations” skills. Politicians and journalists that he had brought on tours of Israeli settlements “now form the core of lobbying groups in their respective countries, advocating for Judea and Samaria, as well as against BDS,” he claimed.


Roger Helmer is among the UKIP representatives supporting Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament. Asked why he has endorsed an organization that defends Israel’s illegal conduct, Helmer replied that there is an issue of “strategic defense.”


“Having stood on the hills of Samaria and looked out over Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport all the way to the Mediterranean – a mere 10 miles or so – it is clear that the State of Israel is simply indefensible without control over those heights,” Helmer added. “This is an existential issue.”


If Helmer really believes his own words, then he has swallowed so much propaganda that he must have constant indigestion.


Only Israel and its supporters view the occupation of the West Bank as a matter of “strategic defense.” Every other analyst recognizes that it is the result of a belligerent act undertaken in 1967 and that the building and expansion of settlements contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Put more simply, they are war crimes.


Balanced?


Petr Mach, a Czech politician who is allied to UKIP, teamed up with Dagan to form Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament. Mach claimed that the group’s “main goal” is to promote a “balanced” and “fair” EU approach “regarding the West Bank.”


“We just wish to have free trade with everybody and we wish peace to everybody,” he stated by email.


The group’s professed desires for fairness and peace are bogus. A leaflet it has published alleges that the EU imposes “trade barriers” on “Jewish goods from the West Bank.”


That accusation is based on how the EU officially refuses to regard Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel. Whereas the EU allows most goods from present-day Israel to be exported free of tax or customs duties, such privileges do not apply to produce from settlements in the West Bank.


The “trade barriers” of which the group complains have proven easy to circumvent. Casimex, a French company, markets wines from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights as “Wine of Israel.” The latter territory is a part of Syria, which Israel has occupied since 1967.


The group also peddles the lie that the European Union is funding “terrorism” by giving money to the Palestinian Authority.


“Terrorism” is the catch-all term that Israel and its supporters use to describe acts of Palestinian resistance.


Far from encouraging resistance, the EU has been financing cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In so doing, it has helped transform the Palestinian Authority into an enforcer of the Israeli occupation.


Apart from endorsing the Friends of Judea and Samaria group, UKIP representatives have flaunted what one called their “absolutely massive” support for Israel in other ways.


An apparently separate outfit, Friends of Israel in UKIP, has been circulating comparable baloney. One of that group’s absurd claims is that calling settlement activities in the West Bank illegal “impedes Israel’s security.”


Three years ago, Friends of Israel in UKIP found its logo derided on Twitter. Featuring a pound sign inside a Star of David, the logo triggered accusations of employing an anti-Semitic trope.


Although the group apologized for any offense caused, that image – or a very similar one – is still emblazoned on its Facebook page.


UKIP’s appreciation of Israel appears clumsy and its representatives appear to have a superficial knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs. That does not make its cheerleading for war crimes any less dangerous.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 April 2017.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Britain hands over embassy to Israel's war industry

Does Britain conceal the full extent of its support for Israel?


Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative politician, recently urged the prosecution of British citizens who fight for the Israeli military.


Warsi should be commended for raising an important issue – just as she did when resigning as a government minister over Britain’s refusal to condemn the 2014 bombing of Gaza.


Yet Britain provides more direct assistance to Israel than allowing Londoners and Mancunians join a foreign army.


One example of that assistance has avoided scrutiny: Britain’s embassy in Tel Aviv has hired senior players in Israel’s weapons industry.


Since 2011, the embassy has hosted an initiative called the UK Israel Tech Hub.


The initiative is chaired by Haim Shani, a civil servant-turned-entrepreneur. In 2012, Shani was appointed a director of Israel Aerospace Industries, a leading manufacturer of drones used in attacking Gaza.


The biographical note for Shani on the UK Israel Tech Hub website omits any reference to his post with the weapons firm.


It does, however, state that he is a former head of NICE Systems. No explanation is offered of how NICE, an Israeli corporation, has made surveillance equipment for police services and spying agencies around the world.


Shani is credited with overseeing a seven-fold increase in NICE’s revenues. Following his departure from the firm, its “cyber and intelligence” division was sold to Elbit, another supplier of drones to the Israeli military.


Parroting propaganda


I contacted the British embassy in Tel Aviv, asking why it is hosting an initiative led by a man with such strong connections to Israel’s war industry.


The embassy did not answer that question. Rather, a spokesperson replied that “Haim Shani is a well-respected Israeli businessman.”


The spokesperson claimed, too, that the UK Israel Tech Hub has “improved life” in Britain by facilitating cooperation with Israeli firms involved in health care and the environment.


Those comments indicate that the British embassy is parroting Israeli propaganda. Israel constantly boasts of innovations in water technology and medical treatment – as if such innovation cancels out Israel’s bombing of sewage treatment plants and hospitals.


Other members of Shani’s team also have strong connections to the Israeli war industry.


Naomi Krieger Carmy, director of the UK Israel Tech Hub, is described on the initiative’s website as an “8200 alumnus” – without any elaboration.


Unit 8200 is part of the intelligence corps in the Israeli military focused on technological research. Maor Chester, “digital solutions manager” at the hub, also states on her LinkedIn profile that she served in “an elite intelligence unit (8200)” of the Israeli military.


Amoral outlook


Every so often, the business press publishes articles celebrating how Unit 8200 has contributed to Israel’s “start-up nation” ethos.


Yet there is a far murkier side to its activities than helping to shape the Internet’s activities. Yair Cohen, a former head of the unit, has admitted that it has been involved in spying operations during all of Israel’s major offensives.


Those include activities by Mossad, the Israeli secret service.


In 2014, three dozen Unit 8200 veterans and reservists revealed that the unit deploys its capabilities to collect intimate personal information on Palestinian civilians living under occupation that is “used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”


They charged that the unit’s activity against Palestinians “fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”


The UK Israel Tech Hub was officially launched by George Osborne, then Britain’s finance minister, in 2011.


During a visit to the Middle East, Osborne rhapsodized about Israel’s “amazing economic achievement.”


The achievement is a byproduct of profound injustice.


Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has enabled its weapons-makers to test out their products. Palestinians have been used as specimens in sadistic experiments.


The British embassy is coy about how it is encouraging such experiments. Yet it does hint that Israel’s much-celebrated technology sector is inextricably linked to an army that denies Palestinian rights.


“Cyber security” has been identified as a priority for cooperation. “Israel is a global leader in the cyber field, with a robust ecosystem drawing on capacity developed in the military arena,” the embassy has noted.


Last year, the embassy arranged for businesspeople based in Britain to visit Israel’s “cyber security” industry. Lockheed Martin, a US military giant with investments around the world, was among the firms to take part.


Matthew Hancock, a British government minister who joined that trip, has said that he wished to study how the partnership between private firms and public authorities that was deemed essential to the success of Israel’s technology sector could be emulated in Britain.


His comments reveal the amoral outlook of the British ruling elite. That elite is impressed by how Israel has turned a military occupation into a business opportunity.


The admiration runs so deep that Britain has handed over part of its embassy to the profiteers of occupation.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 4 April 2017.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Cooperating with Israel: sacred or sinister?

p>For Mahmoud Abbas, cooperating with Israel’s military occupation is “sacred.”


It is so sacred that Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, apparently bragged about jailing the intellectual and resistance fighter Bassel al-Araj less than a year before his assassination.


Contrary to what Abbas may infer, he does not have a divine duty to enforce the occupation. Rather, he is following a game plan hatched by governments in the West a couple of decades ago.


During the first six months of 1998, Britain held the European Union’s rotating presidency. As part of that work, diplomats based in Brussels drew up a proposal for “security cooperation” between Israel and the PA.


The proposal was drafted ahead of a visit by Tony Blair, Britain’s then prime minister, to the Middle East in April that year. It recommended that an EU “security” specialist and the heads of “preventive security” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza would meet every two weeks or “at time of crisis.”


The purpose of these discussions would be to allow the EU to identify what “practical assistance” it would provide the Palestinian Authority. The assistance would contribute towards fulfilling the PA’s “security obligations to combat terrorism.”


Those “obligations” were elaborated on in the Wye River Memorandum, a document signed by Yasser Arafat – predecessor to Abbas as the PA’s leader – and Benjamin Netanyahu, then (as now) Israel’s prime minister, in October 1998.


Under the “memorandum,” the PA was required to take a “zero tolerance” approach towards “terror and violence.” That would involve arresting all those suspected of violence and banning “terrorist” groups.


Capitulation


The PA was also told to “issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence and terror” – terms which when defined by Israel have been used to suppress a wide range of political activity against the occupation.


The Wye River Memorandum, in effect, made the PA’s forces subservient to Israel.


It required that Israel be given details of all the PA’s police officers – as if to emphasize that Israel was ultimately their master. The US was given responsibility for supervising such “cooperation” – though perhaps capitulation would be a better word.


Britain and the US have been willing to hold the keys for the jailers of Palestine.


That was literally the case during the second intifada. In 2002, Israel approved a deal under which six Palestinians were locked up by the PA in the West Bank city of Jericho.


Part of the deal was that Britain and the US would provide guards to oversee the detention. One of the detainees – Ahmad Saadat, a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – had not been charged with a recognizable offense.


Eleven years ago this week, Israel raided the Jericho jail where the six were being held.


The raid was enabled by Britain and the US. Israel was given advance notice that they had decided to withdraw the prison guards (supposedly for the guards’ safety).


All six of the men were seized by Israel and are still behind bars today.


Britain has subsequently been a key player in an EU operation to mentor the Palestinian police. Most of the men who have headed this operation to date previously served in the British police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the north of Ireland.


They include its first chief, Jonathan McIvor. He was the most senior uniformed officer on duty in Plumstead, the area of London where the Black teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.


An official inquiry into that crime found there was a culture of “institutional racism” in the London Metropolitan Police. The inquiry criticized McIvor for failing to meet his responsibilities on the night of the murder and for lacking sufficient knowledge about racist violence in the area.


Tools of repression


The criticism did not stop the British government from nominating McIvor for the EU job.


Britain proved its commitment to McIvor by paying most of the bills during the first year he managed the EU operation. McIvor quickly began assessing how to equip the PA’s police with tools of repression like batons, tear gas and rubber bullets.


The operation’s tacit objective was to make Israel happy. That goal has been attained.


Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for the Israeli police, has credited the EU with boosting cooperation between Israel and the PA.


A related initiative was launched by the US in 2005. It involved appointing a US military general as a “security coordinator” to train the PA’s forces.


Britain and Canada have supplied personnel to that initiative, too.


Keith Dayton, the security coordinator from 2005 to 2010, promoted disunity among Palestinians. He facilitated the mass round-up of people suspected of Hamas connections in the West Bank during 2007.


Dayton was also a key figure behind a botched plan hatched by the administration of George W. Bush. The plan involved arming and training Palestinian proxies in Gaza to overthrow the Hamas-led administration, after the party won Palestinian Authority elections in 2006.


The US intervention provoked deadly battles between supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party in 2007 and led to the ongoing political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


Later, Dayton gloated about the success he enjoyed in convincing the PA to “allay Israeli fears.” Some Israeli troops stationed in the West Bank joined Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. They left their usual posts, Dayton has claimed, because “they could trust” the PA’s forces.


Those forces did not let the Israeli oppressor down. The PA suppressed protests held in the West Bank against the Israeli invasion of Gaza.


It is continuing to suppress protests.


Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah in the past week, denouncing the PA’s complicity in Bassel al-Araj’s killing and the persecution of other activists. The demonstrators have been met by police officers wielding batons and firing tear gas.


Bassel’s father, Mahmoud al-Araj, was among those beaten.


It is disgraceful that a man who has just lost his son could be treated with such brutality. That is what happens when the Palestinian Authority strives to please the oppressor by copying its tactics.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 March 2017.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Who funds Irish4Israel?

Each time Israel’s supporters in Ireland decide to smear the Palestine solidarity movement, there is a strong likelihood that a man called Barry Williams will be quoted in the media.


Williams and his group Irish4Israel have featured prominently in two recent stories.


First, they objected to a conference on Israeli “exceptionalism” which is being organized by professors at University College Cork. And next, they depicted a protest against a visit by the Israeli ambassador to Trinity College Dublin as a denial of free speech.


Despite the group’s persistent claims that the Dublin media harbor a pro-Palestinian bias, Irish4Israel has enjoyed an easy ride from journalists. The mainstream press has not bothered to ask who Williams represents or to examine how his arguments are riddled with contradictions.


Irish4Israel only demands free and uninterrupted speech for Israel’s apologists, not its critics. Responding to the Trinity College protests last week, Williams declared it “sad” that police and security guards “didn’t do enough.”


What exactly did he mean? Did he want a peaceful protest to be broken up aggressively?


Inconsistent


Williams’ championing of free expression is inconsistent with other positions taken by Irish4Israel.


Last year, the group took pleasure in how Bank of Ireland had decided to close down the account of the country’s main Palestine solidarity group. “This is amazing news,” stated Irish4Israel in a message to its supporters. “Without a bank account their work is extremely restricted.”


Irish4Israel, meanwhile, has made the spurious claim that a slogan chanted during the Trinity protest was “genocidal.” The slogan in question was “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”


The claim reflects a well-worn tactic of the pro-Israel lobby: infer that there is an anti-Semitic motive behind a simple call for equality and justice.


The irony is that Williams has responded in a tepid manner when Israel’s supporters have displayed a lust for extreme violence.


In November 2012, Israel bombed Gaza for eight consecutive days. When a Facebook page was set up for a pro-Israel demonstration in Dublin, one man posted his opinion that Muslims “must be destroyed or at least driven out of Israel.”


Williams replied by writing: “Sorry guys, this forum is public and is probably being looked at by those who would love to demonize us. Comments supporting driving Muslims out don’t help. We must always put our best side out for Israel.”


The 2012 demo was organized by Naomi Dara Gibson. The previous year, she had commented on Facebook that her dream would be to see God destroy Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque – one of Islam’s holiest sites.


Williams has himself expressed a desire for Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a document seen by The Electronic Intifada. And his insistence on putting “our best side out for Israel” sits uneasily with a willingness to defend the most outrageous pronouncements of that state’s diplomats.


In December 2012, Israel’s embassy in Dublin issued a Christmas message, which read: “If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians.”


The message spawned many unwelcome headlines, yet Irish4Israel argued that the embassy was “stating the truth.”


Secretive


That willingness to go to bat for Israel might explain why Williams is the embassy’s favorite lobbyist, judging by how eagerly it promotes his group on Facebook and Twitter.


Until a few years ago, Tom Carew of the Ireland-Israel Friendship League was regarded as the top pro-Israel lobbyist in the country. Carew resigned as chair of that organization in 2013, after publicly opposing an assault by Israeli troops on a French diplomat.


Williams has filled the niche that Carew used to occupy.


From its modest beginnings as Williams’ hobby in 2010 – when he was a Cork-based student – Irish4Israel has morphed into what looks like a slick propaganda machine.


BlueStar, a US-based organization, is known to have raised funds for Irish4Israel. Yet Williams is generally secretive about how his activities are financed.


He did not reply to a request for comment.


At the moment, Irish4Israel is running an essay competition for students, with the prize of a free trip to the Middle East.


An earlier version of this competition was won by Sean Tyrrell, a candidate in 2014 elections to Ireland’s local authorities.


I was told by a reliable source that Tyrell is now working for the Israeli embassy in Dublin.


When I called the embassy asking to speak to him, a receptionist asked me who I was. After I identified myself as a journalist, the receptionist said “where did you get Sean’s name?”


“From a contact, I cannot say who,” I replied. I, then, enquired “You do have a gentleman by that name working at the embassy, yes?” “No, we don’t,” the receptionist said.


I have also emailed the embassy, asking how much money it gives to Irish4Israel. My request has gone unanswered.


The embassy’s reticence looks uncharacteristic. Last weekend, the embassy responded rapidly when I and others challenged it – via Twitter – about Israel’s bombings of Palestinian hospitals.


Last September, lawyers in Israel filed freedom of information requests asking the government to reveal its covert financial support to foreign organizations and individuals assisting Israel in its propaganda efforts.


A documentary broadcast by Al Jazeera in January revealed how Israeli diplomats in London were courting students.


Something similar is happening in Ireland.


Last autumn, Irish4Israel notified its supporters that the country’s first pro-Israel student society had been formed in Maynooth University. Alan Lyne, one of the group’s founders, had gone on an Irish4Israel junket to the Middle East.


In a recent message to its supporters, Irish4Israel indicated that it hopes to facilitate more such trips for students. Participants in previous delegations have been selected “for their potential to be future leaders, politicians or journalists,” the message added.


Can groups like Irish4Israel have an influence on policy? The short answer is yes.


Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s current foreign minister, is among a number of Irish politicians who are openly sympathetic to Israel. During Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, Williams said that Ireland’s ruling coalition had been more “even-handed” than previous governments had been in comparable situations. The foreign ministry, Williams added, was “not trying to lecture Israel.”


His comments were revealing. Even though there is widespread public affinity with the Palestinians in Ireland, elite figures are willing to accommodate Israeli apartheid.


Barry Williams is trying to convince the elite that it should hug Israel even tighter.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 March 2017.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Israel lobby's squirming over settlements won't fool anyone

The task of Israel’s advocates has become a lot more complicated.


At least, that is the argument which one such lobbyist has been making. Alex Benjamin, head of the organization Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA), recently lamented that his friends and acquaintances in Brussels weren’t enamored by moves towards annexing most of the West Bank.


Even the “occasional barman” has been voicing his displeasure at how Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, authorized the large-scale theft of Palestinian land, Benjamin has suggested. In a blog post, he asked if there was nobody available to rein in the Israeli government and say that the Knesset bill was “nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong.”


Does his mini-rant herald a split in the Israel lobby? Is Benjamin’s EIPA about to rupture its connections to Israel’s settler movement in protest at these “nakedly hostile” activities?


I very much doubt it.


EIPA – which styles itself as a leading pro-Israel group working inside the Brussels bureaucracy – has made no attempt before now to distance itself from politicians who favor annexing Area C, a zone comprising more than 60 percent of the West Bank.


Menachem Margolin, EIPA’s founder, has stated that he wishes to “do great things together” with Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister. Bennett was already a vocal advocate of annexation when Margolin expressed that desire.


Bennett has also personally boasted of killing “lots of Arabs,” while his Jewish Home party colleague justice minister Ayelet Shaked, has become notorious for disseminating a call for genocide of the Palestinians.


EIPA cannot have been caught by surprise that Bennett was jubilant when the Knesset bill was approved earlier this month.


Playing by the rules?


Although Benjamin described the recent bill as “wrong,” his post exemplifies how he is more troubled with image and perception than morality and legality.


For the EU, he writes, the settlement issue has become the “principal impediment to peace” and “whether we like it or not these are the rules of the game here.”


The rules to which he refers are tacit.


Every Israeli government since 1967 has been involved in colonizing the West Bank. Some have been a little more subtle than others.


The EU’s favorite Israeli politicians tend to be “liberals,” who succeed in camouflaging their approval for land theft with rhetoric about a “two-state solution.”


By taking that approach, Tzipi Livni and the late Shimon Peres could strike up a warmer rapport with EU representatives than more brazen hawks like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.


Ironically, EIPA does not actually play by the rules of the game.


EIPA spends much of its time engaging with members of the European Parliament. Its strongest supporters belong to that fringe within the parliament that is prepared to either defend all of Israel’s settlement activities or seek to downplay their significance.


Bas Belder, a veteran lawmaker from the Netherlands, sits on EIPA’s advisory committee. Belder is an unapologetic Christian Zionist.


On a TV program earlier this year, he argued that it was unfair that Israel gets criticized when there are “settlements for so-called Bedouins” in Area C that are “quite clearly against international law.”


That reasoning was absurd. Bedouins are not building settlements; they are struggling to survive.


In a fresh act of belligerence, the Israeli military issued 40 demolition orders to Bedouins living in Khan al-Ahmar village on Sunday. Unlike the neighboring Maaleh Adumim – Israel’s largest settlement in Area C – that Bedouin village lacks any infrastructure.


Gung ho


Another politician on EIPA’s advisory board is Fulvio Martusciello, a stalwart of Forza Italia – the party synonymous with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.


Martusciello is also chair of the European Parliament’s committee for relations with the Knesset. That committee – delegation in official parlance – has displayed a considerable degree of sympathy towards the settler movement, as well as to firms that operate in the settlements.


Earlier this month, it hosted a visit to Brussels by Sydney Knafou, CEO of Casimex, a French company that imports wines from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.


Casimex labels produce from those settlements as “wine of Israel.” That is a flagrant violation of EU law, which prohibits firms from misleading consumers by suggesting that food or drink are from present-day Israel if they originate from the West Bank or Golan.


Furthermore, EIPA has appeared happy to cooperate with other lobby outfits that are gung ho in the manner with which they endorse Israel’s settlement activities.


In January, EIPA played a lead role in organizing a conference aimed at smearing the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic – an aspersion that Israel casts against its critics by default. That event was also sponsored by Israel’s EU embassy and European Coalition for Israel.


European Coalition for Israel is a Christian Zionist group. Its legal counsel, Andrew Tucker, has made one of the most outlandish comments yet recorded about Palestine. He has called Israel’s occupation of the West Bank “the key to peace and prosperity in the Middle East.”


This week EIPA disclosed details of its annual budget for the first time. A statement it provided to the EU’s “transparency register” suggests that it had $370,000 at its disposal in 2015, the year it was established.


Menachem Margolin is now listed as the organization’s treasurer. He also heads the European Jewish Association, which has a stated yearly budget of around $1.7 million.


EIPA’s money – all from unnamed donors – enables it to have an office opposite the Justus Lipsius building, where European Union summits are held.


The lobby group’s efforts to combine proximity to power with deception should not go unchallenged.


Alex Benjamin is posing as someone moderate and reasonable. In truth, he is entangled with extremists.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 February 2017.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Was Blair's "sweatshops for Palestine" agenda shaped by a Labour donor?

It is eerily apt that the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum coincides with Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president.


The business leaders and their political lackeys who huddle together in Davos, Switzerland each January write and then dispense prescriptions that have caused inequality levels to soar. Eight men possess as much wealth as the poorer half of the globe’s population, according to a new analysis by Oxfam.


Trump’s ascent can be directly attributed to the disillusionment that ensues when the wealth gap widens – notwithstanding the irony that Trump epitomises the super-rich and all its vulgarity.


The establishment figures against which Trump pitted himself were very much identified with what the writer and activist Susan George has dubbed the “Davos class.” Trump’s campaign team even zoomed in on comments made by Hillary Clinton at the forum when ranting against trade policies that her husband implemented and that she had favored. (Bill Clinton became the first sitting US president to attend the Davos jamboree in 2000 and has been a frequent participant since then.)


Palestine has not been spared from the World Economic Forum’s activities.


Conflict of interests?


In 2012, the forum established an initiative called Breaking the Impasse. Its ostensible goal was to hook up Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs with major corporations so that they could discuss how to prime-pump the economy of the occupied West Bank and Gaza.


Responsibility for a follow-on initiative was given to Tony Blair the next year. Blair was supposed to represent the Middle East Quartet – the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia – at that time.


Yet he was given this responsibility by the most powerful of those four players – the US; Blair’s assignment was announced by John Kerry, then secretary of state.


Blair, in turn, appears to have recommended to Kerry that Kito de Boer, a director of the consulting firm McKinsey, should steward the whole scheme. The recommendation raises ethical questions, which have not previously scrutinized.


Before being recommended by Blair, de Boer had worked on a project about private sector investment in Palestine run by the Portland Trust, a London-based organization. Portland is headed by Ronald Cohen, a venture capitalist who had been a major donor to Britain’s Labour Party when Blair was its leader.


In an interview published by the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) – a corporate club – de Boer said that Blair “knew of the work” he had undertaken for Portland. De Boer was “approached” when Kerry asked Blair “for an economic strategy for rebuilding the Palestinian economy,” according to that interview.


Those comments indicate that Blair’s work for the quartet was influenced by Ronald Cohen.


Cohen had been a Labour donor when Blair was the party’s boss (and prime minister). So Blair has, to put it mildly, some explaining to do here.


Was de Boer headhunted by Blair based on Cohen’s advice? If so, is this a case of jobs for the boys? Is there a conflict of interests?


I contacted de Boer, enquiring if Cohen had introduced him to Blair. I also enquired if he was aware that Cohen had helped bankroll Labour when Blair was in Downing Street.


De Boer sent me a convoluted reply, which did not answer those questions directly. He did, however, confirm that Blair had been aware of his work for Cohen.


He confirmed, too, that Blair had “steered” Kerry to McKinsey when the secretary of state wished to have a blueprint for the Palestinian economy drawn up. “I also led that work,” he stated.


Neither Blair nor Cohen replied to requests for comment.


Exploitation


The blueprint which de Boer was tasked with drawing up was titled the “Initiative for the Palestinian Economy” and published in 2014. De Boer has confirmed that he was appointed by Kerry to oversee the blueprint’s implementation that same year.


One proposal made by de Boer’s team was that industrial estates in the areas nominally under Palestinian Authority control should be designated as “special economic zones.”


The “special” ingredients of this recipe have not been spelled out in detail. But there is enough evidence from how “special economic zones” have functioned elsewhere to regard the proposal as highly problematic.


“Special economic zone” is a euphemism for a sweatshop. Generally, such a designation allows companies within the zones to pay lower wages and less taxes than those applying in the wider economy.


A de facto ban on trade union activism, for example, has been introduced in Cambodia’s “special economic zones,” according to a 2016 investigation by the magazine In These Times.


Put simply, de Boer’s blueprint would, if put into practice, potentially enable corporations to reap vast profits, while paying no more than a pittance to Palestinian workers. It should really be called the “sweatshops for Palestine” initiative.


Blair stepped down as the Quartet’s representative in 2015. But the operation he led in Jerusalem is still in place.


When Blair resigned, de Boer took over as head of the office. Because Blair has not been replaced, that means de Boer is now running the show, although he told me: “I am not the [Quartet] representative because I am not a politician.”


De Boer is still intent on putting his plan into practice and has assembled an outfit named Shurook for that purpose.


“Our mandate is economic not political,” de Boer stated.


Who does he think he is kidding? A plan to increase exploitation of workers in an area subject to a brutal military occupation is inherently political – and extremely dangerous.


It is the kind of plan likely to win approval within the Davos bubble and inflict great harm in the real world.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 18 January 2017.