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.