Friday, June 22, 2018

Why Europe must halt support for Palestinian Authority's police

Each summer the European Union’s governments decide to help preserve an unjust situation.

The decision – which involves renewing the annual mandate for a policing operation in the occupied West Bank – is presented as largely procedural. No real scrutiny takes place on how the EU trains the Palestinian Authority to oppress fellow Palestinians.

Almost certainly, the same ritualistic rubber-stamping will occur again this year. That is despite how the argument for refusing to extend the mandate when it expires at the end of June has just become much stronger.

Last week, the PA’s forces used tear gas and sound grenades against West Bank residents determined to display solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Gaza. That violent suppression of a protest occurred in Ramallah, the city where the EU’s policing operation is headquartered.

Disgracefully, EU representatives are claiming that the thuggery has nothing to do with them.

I inquired if the EU policing team in Ramallah was investigating whether it had provided training to any of the forces who resorted to brutality last week. The EU team has “neither an executive mandate nor a monitoring role in relation to its Palestinian partner authorities,” a spokesperson for the team, replied.

That poor excuse for apathy raises questions about what agenda the EU is really pushing.

Established 13 years ago, the policing operation is one of the EU’s longest-running foreign policy initiatives. In its publications, the EU team in Ramallah expresses a delight in seeing its PA proteges graduate and take up their beats.

But when those forces assault peaceful demonstrators, the EU team does not even bother to check if the cops involved had previously been its students.

Playing Cupid

The latest newsletter from the EU’s operation in Ramallah offers a clue on its priorities. It says that the EU’s team had been “successful” in re-establishing dialogue between the PA’s forces and the Israeli police.

The “exceptionally fruitful” efforts by the EU team had resulted in joint workshops involving the PA and Israel’s national police on “practical topics of mutual interest,” according to the newsletter.

Pause for a moment and reflect on those words.

A European Union body is congratulating itself for acting as a kind of dating agency. The EU plays Cupid so that the Israeli police force – which is based in occupied East Jerusalem – can get cozy with officers from the Palestinian Authority.

What the EU is really fostering is collaboration between an occupying power and an occupied people. In their own countries, Europeans look back on collaboration with their occupiers, especially by police, with revulsion and shame.

Last week’s brutality was also reminiscent of how the PA’s forces tried to break up West Bank protests against Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli attack on Gaza, in early 2009. The EU’s then foreign policy chief Javier Solana praised the PA’s forces for their handling of demonstrations.

Profanity

Solana’s stance chimed with the strategic thinking which led to the EU policing mission being launched. That thinking can be traced back to documents drawn up when Britain held the Union’s rotating presidency in 1998.

Those papers inferred that the PA’s forces should be trained and equipped so that they would crush “terrorism.”

Israel has repeatedly applied that term to all forms of resistance by Palestinians. Following its recent massacres in Gaza, for example, Israel has sought to smear the unarmed demonstrators and even medics that it has killed and wounded as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers.

The protests held in Ramallah over the past couple of weeks challenge a situation that the EU has helped to entrench. Under that situation, the Palestinian Authority has added a new layer of repression to that which West Bank residents already had to face.

The economic warfare and movement restrictions to which the PA has subjected Gaza – a focus of the Ramallah protests – proves that its tactics and Israel’s are complementary.

As well as training police recruits, the EU has funded the construction of new prisons in Nablus and Jenin, both cities in the West Bank. The EU’s team in Ramallah has been providing advice to the PA on how these prisons should be run.

The ostensible reason for building these new facilities is to reduce overcrowding in the PA’s existing jails.

That claim should be treated with great skepticism.

The PA has often locked up its political opponents, including those wanted by Israel. Palestinians are routinely arrested and tortured by Israel after first being detained by the PA.

The new jails will more than likely be used for such incarceration.

Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president, has described “security coordination” with the Israeli state as “sacred.” Ordinary people who are genuinely concerned about human rights would regard as profane the very idea of making a government within an occupied territory serve the interests of the occupier.

The European Union helps perpetuate that profanity.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 June 2018.

Friday, June 1, 2018

France promotes rifles used in Gaza massacres

The maker of rifles used during Israel’s recent massacres in Gaza will soon exhibit its products at an arms fair sponsored by the French government.

Amnesty International’s investigations have identified the Tavor as likely to have been one of the main guns fired by Israeli snipers attacking Palestinian demonstrators over the past two months.

As the manufacturer of that rifle, Israel Weapon Industries ought to be blacklisted by every country which professes concern for human rights.

France is one such country. Emmanuel Macron, its president, officially condemned the killing of more than 100 Palestinian demonstrators since 30 March.

His condemnation was hollow. It came as preparations were underway for the Eurosatory weapons fair in Paris.

Israel Weapon Industries is among the firms scheduled to have a display at this fair, which will open in less than two weeks’ time.

It is just one of dozens of firms from Israel’s war industry – including the top drone supplier Elbit Systems– that will be present at Eurosatory. Israel’s defense ministry is listed as an exhibitor, too.

The fair is organized by the French government, working in tandem with the national weapons lobby.

Israel Weapon Industries has been availing of similar fairs to exhibit the latest Tavor model. The official program for Eurosatory indicates that these guns will be on display.

Tool for killing

The firm may not have publicized its role in enabling the Gaza massacres. Yet its marketing material stresses that the Tavor is the “primary assault rifle” for all infantry units and “special forces” in the Israeli military.

According to the firm’s website, the Tavor was developed “in close cooperation” with Israel’s army, which has “rigorously tested” the weapon. That is a coded way of saying that the Tavor is a vital tool for killing and maiming Palestinians.

Some of the company’s promotional activities are crass. On 13 May, the US division of Israel Weapon Industries tweeted a reminder that it was Mother’s Day, before beseeching its followers to “go shooting.”

The following day, Israeli snipers shot dead around 60 demonstrators in Gaza. Later that week, the firm bragged of how its fans were “excited” about the new Tavor model.

The Amnesty finding about the probable use of Tavors in Gaza was published towards the end of April. The conclusion did not seem to dampen the spirits of Israel Weapon Industries.

Buffoonery amid the bloodshed

Soon, its representatives were delighting in the fun they had at the annual get-together of the National Rifle Association in Dallas. They were even running competitions, offering entrants a chance to win a pistol dubbed Jericho, the name of a Palestinian city under Israeli occupation.

This clowning around with the NRA took place amid an unprecedented surge in protest against the US gun lobby, led by survivors of February’s school massacre in Parkland, Florida. That revulsion would be renewed in May after another massacre at a high school, this time in Santa Fe, Texas.

The arguments for an arms embargo on Israel – as human rights groups, including Amnesty demand – have been compelling for decades. When Israel Weapon Industries resorts to buffoonery after enabling bloodshed, that case becomes immensely stronger.

The European Union has not only refused to impose an arms embargo, it is helping Israel’s arms companies to boost their sales.

The EU will send a number of senior officials to the aforementioned Paris fair.

Mihnea Motoc is among those due to speak during the conferences that accompany the exhibition. Previously a minister in Romania, he now advises Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president, on stimulating the war industry.

I asked Motoc if he had any ethical concerns about endorsing an exhibition likely to feature weapons used against unarmed demonstrators. “We are not in a position to answer your questions,” his assistant replied.

Israel Weapon Industries is benefiting from the pain of Palestinians. Its “battle-tested” firearms have been bought by armies in India, Colombia, Portugal, Nigeria, Thailand and Mexico.

Over the past five years, it has invested considerable resources towards selling weapons designed for the Israeli military to North American police, as well as running training sessions on their use.

That eagerness to export the tools and tactics of the Israeli occupation is extremely disturbing. By including the maker of Israel’s sniper rifles in an arms fair, the French authorities are helping to turn massacres into marketing opportunities.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2018.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Israel lobby group spreads hoaxes about Gaza massacre

Burying the truth is accorded a high priority when states commit atrocities.

On 30 January 1972, the British Army shot dead 13 unarmed demonstrators during a civil rights march in Derry. Edward Heath, then prime minister, was determined that the ensuing inquiry into Bloody Sunday – as the massacre became known – would be a whitewash.

“It had to be remembered that in Northern Ireland, we were fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war,” Heath told a judge tasked with “investigating” what happened.

It was a bloody Monday in Gaza last week. Dozens of unarmed demonstrators were shot dead. And – like the British authorities more than 40 years ago – Israel’s supporters launched the latest salvo in their propaganda war.

Europe Israel Public Affairs – a Brussels-based lobby group – alleged that Hamas had manipulated the media coverage of the killings. Journalists had been lured into “the sinister world of Hamas,” the group suggested.

The “sinister world” was, according to Europe Israel Public Affairs’ latest newsletter, one “where 62 innocents turn out to be overwhelmingly terrorists” and where photographs and videos are “doctored.”

The first segments of such videos – depicting an injured youth being carried on a stretcher – get sent to major broadcasters, the group claimed. Yet the full video, it added, shows “the teenager apparently having made a miraculous recovery and high-fiving his friends for the deception, all caught on camera.”

I contacted Europe Israel Public Affairs asking for an example of the photographs or videos to which it referred. It sent me two links, both videos.

One appeared to show a young man being carried on a stretcher through a fog of tear gas before standing up again. The video was uploaded to YouTube on 5 May – nine days before last week’s massacre.

It was titled “Gaza Pallywood” – a racist term implying that Palestinians are faking the pain inflicted on them by Israel.

The video had been uploaded by Legal Insurrection, a right-wing website. Legal Insurrection has helpfully named the source for the video: a tweet from the Israeli army.

That raises major questions about the video’s credibility..

An army which routinely violates human rights should not, to put it mildly, be regarded as an objective provider of information. Israel’s army has often told lies about Palestinians as part of its propaganda war.

Nor does the grainy 27-second video – which appears to have been edited – show precisely what is claimed. The man on the stretcher is never seen walking – as Legal Insurrection alleges.

What it appears to show is simply a person in a condition that made him unable to run being evacuated to an area deemed safer, and then standing up.

Since it appears the Israelis filmed it from a distance, it is unclear what incentive Palestinians would have to fake such an incident – especially since everyone involved would have been at very real risk of being shot. Israeli snipers have not spared anyone, including journalists and paramedics.

Distracting from the facts

An even more outrageous claim made by Europe Israel Public Affairs was that videos have emerged of “dead people under Hamas blankets coming back to life.”

The example which the group gave me of such a video was, it claimed, from 2014. In actual fact, the video was from a year earlier and had been filmed in Egypt, not Gaza.

It featured what activists call a “die-in” at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.

No one looking at the video in good faith could conclude that it is anything other than what it appears to be: a demonstration – and the title of the original 2013 video describes it as such.

An October 2013 report in El Badil, the publication that uploaded the video to YouTube on the same day, describes the event as a student protest against the military coup in Egypt earlier that year. The students seen in the video are wearing shrouds bearing the names of people who had been killed in incidents around the country, according to El Badil.

The same video has also been deployed in efforts to discredit reports of atrocities during the war in Syria.

Europe Israel Public Affairs is led by Alex Benjamin. He is a former member of staff with Britain’s Conservatives, the party once led by the aforementioned Edward Heath.

One day after last week’s massacre, Benjamin wrote on Facebook that Iran is “seemingly paying Hamas to fund these protests with tragic consequences.”

Benjamin was almost certainly referring to press reports based on briefings from Israel’s secret police, the Shin Bet. The Israeli media has acknowledged that Shin Bet has not provided any concrete evidence of Iranian involvement in the protests.

That story was published by some outlets last Monday – around the same time that news of the massacre in Gaza was breaking. The insinuation that Gaza’s protesters are effectively mercenaries for Iran looks like a desperate attempt to distract from incontrovertible facts – like how Israel has been deliberately killing and maiming Palestinians demanding basic rights.

Hypnotized by Hamas?

Contrary to what Europe Israel Public Affairs claimed, there is no reason to believe that Western media were hypnotized by Hamas last week. Much of the coverage repeated fallacious motifs about “clashes” on the “Gaza border.”

Israeli spokespeople were invited to take part in typically softball interviews. The BBC reported that the “only issue” at stake related to “proportionate force.” If Israel had chosen a more gentle form of “crowd control” – a euphemism for repression – then there would be nothing to worry about, the broadcaster implied.

Predictably, the pro-Israel lobby has pounced on a boast by one Hamas official that 50 of those killed last week were affiliated to the organization. The boast has not been verified and is ultimately irrelevant to the patent illegality of Israel’s conduct.

Long before last week, Israel had declared Gaza a “hostile entity.”

That designation is unknown in international law. It offered no more than a flimsy pretext for suffocating one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

The Great Return March represents a concerted effort to embrace an unarmed form of resistance. The tactics and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi are being practiced in Gaza.

Huge courage has been displayed in the face of snipers’ bullets. And the response of Israel’s supporters has been to blame and besmirch the victims.

Ali Abunimah contributed research.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 May 2018.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Perverse lobby parties after Gaza massacre

It was an obscene spectacle. A short while after around 60 people were killed in Gaza on Monday, Israel’s embassy to the European Union threw a party.


Doubtless, the invitations were issued in advance of the massacre. But that offers no excuse to those who attended.


They were celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s foundation and honoring a state formed through the dispossession of an indigenous people – a people whom Israel continues to butcher.


Although the guest list for the event has not been published, some pro-Israel advocates have tweeted about their participation.


Earlier this year, an EU lawmaker was scolded and smeared for speaking about a “perverse lobby” which seeks to muzzle criticism of Israel’s crimes.


Monday’s celebrations were a testament to such perversion. They illustrate why it is necessary to probe the activities of pro-Israel advocates and the agenda which they push.


One aspect of the perversion that requires further probing is how the pro-Israel lobby in Europe has grown with considerable help from US donors.


The European Leadership Network has played a significant, if discreet, role in efforts to counter the Palestine solidarity movement. Despite having offices in Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Brussels, the organization’s strategy may be dictated from across the Atlantic.


Wooing “important leaders”


A recent – unpublished – briefing on the group’s activities was authored by Steven Rosen and Larry Hochberg. Both men have previously been senior figures in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of Washington’s most influential pressure groups.


The briefing contends that the “campaign to boycott Israel is being defeated where it matters most.” The explanation offered is that “all of the most important leaders of Europe have declared their strong opposition” to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.


That rationale is specious. Far from providing evidence of defeat, the fact that “important leaders” are opposing Palestinian solidarity activists is a sign that governments are taking them seriously.


If it wasn’t for how major corporations – Veolia, CRH, Orange – had been pressured into withdrawing from the Israeli market, then it’s unlikely that “important leaders” would speak out against the BDS call.


And it is no more a sign of “defeat” than was the fact that – despite overwhelming popular pressure – the British, Dutch and German governments resisted calls to divest from and sanction apartheid South Africa until the late 1980s.


The emphasis of the briefing is nonetheless instructive. It implies that wooing “important leaders” can compensate for the huge sympathy towards the Palestinian plight among ordinary people.


Some of the “important” folk who have engaged with the European Leadership Network may not know that it has resorted to questionable behavior.


A 2013 article by the Los Angeles-based Jewish Journal suggested that the organization had contributed significantly to Fran├žois Hollande’s presidential election campaign in France the previous year.


According to that article, the European Leadership Network has “duplicated the secrets of AIPAC’s success” across the Atlantic. By cultivating a strong relationship with Hollande, the European Leadership Network convinced him to take a hawkish line on Iran’s nuclear program.


As well as working for AIPAC, Larry Hochberg has chaired Friends of the IDF, a group which finances recruits to the Israeli army – the same army which committed a massacre in Gaza this week.


Steven Rosen was charged in 2005 with conspiracy to violate the US law on espionage – for allegely passing on confidential information to a journalist and diplomat. The charges were later dropped but the whole episode caused acrimony between Rosen and AIPAC, which sacked him for inappropriate conduct.


Rosen’s reputation may have been damaged but he was able to find alternative employment – with the Middle East Forum run by Daniel Pipes, a leading purveyor of anti-Muslim hatred.


Massacre denial


The European Leadership Network has been embraced by neoconservatives. Elliott Abrams, who held foreign policy posts in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, sits on a board that oversees fundraising for the organization.


Given this week’s events, that may be grimly appropriate: The Nation magazine has described “massacre denial” as one of Abrams’ specialities. In the 1980s, Abrams praised the US record on El Salvador as a “fabulous achievement.” When challenged on reports that the Reagan-backed right-wing military in El Salvador had carried out mass killings, Abrams lied that no such events had taken place.


During the George W. Bush presidency, Abrams participated in the drawing up of plans to sow political divisions among Palestinians. His supposed misgivings about the plans do not absolve him of responsibility for fomenting violence between Fatah and Hamas – violence with lasting consequences, particularly in Gaza.


Last weekend, professional lobbyists feigned an interest in pop music. They rejoiced at how Israel’s Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest.


A few days after Barzilai performed her chicken dance to a TV audience of millions, the Israeli military carried out a turkey shoot on Gaza’s unarmed protesters. Some lobbyists kept on partying, underscoring just how perverse they have become.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 17 May 2018.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How Britain enabled the ethnic cleansing of Palestine

Supporters of Israel among Britain’s ruling elite tend to recite mantras about the two nations sharing the same values.

If theft and plunder were regarded as values, the mantras would have a ring of truth to them.

Expecting full honesty and transparency from Theresa May’s government would, however, not be realistic. So it comes as little surprise that one of her cabinet colleagues has wished Israel a happy 70th birthday, while trumpeting its commitment to “justice, compassion, tolerance.”

The greeting – from Gavin Williamson, Britain’s defense secretary – was delivered at a time when unarmed protesters were being massacred in Gaza.

Omitted from the discourse on shared values is that Israel and Britain have a shared culpability. While Zionist troops were directly responsible for the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – their crimes were enabled and, in some cases, abetted by the British authorities.

The first important point is that the Haganah – the main Zionist militia at the time – was, to a large extent, trained by Britain while it ruled Palestine between the two world wars.

Although the Haganah was illegal, the British relied on it when conducting ambush operations against a Palestinian revolt during the 1930s. The Haganah provided thousands of men who joined the “supernumerary” police force that the British assembled while trying to crush that revolt.

Haganah commanders were also brought into the “special night squads,” led by Orde Wingate, a notoriously violent British officer.

Wingate worked closely with Yitzhak Sadeh, later a key military figure during the Nakba and a founder of the Israeli army. The 1930s cooperation has been credited by Yigal Allon, a general who became a high-level politician, with pulling “the Haganah out of its trenches and barbed wire into the open field, making it adopt a more active kind of defense.”

This means Wingate – a maverick who nonetheless enjoyed support from his superiors at a crucial period – helped shape the tactics and thinking of the men who forcibly dispossessed the Palestinians the following decade.

Powerless?

The relationship between Britain and the Zionist movement is admittedly complicated.

Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain assumed the role of imperial sponsor to the Zionist project.

A series of measures were subsequently implemented to boost colonization efforts in Palestine. Yet the pace of events was not sufficiently fast for the more hardcore elements in Zionism.

Unhappy that their coveted Jewish state had not yet been established, two armed groups – the Irgun and the Lehi – began to wage a guerrilla war against Britain in the 1940s. The ensuing turmoil and a more general weakening of its empire led Britain to decide it would relinquish the League of Nations mandate under which it had governed Palestine.

The Nakba was underway well before the date set by Britain for ending its rule: 14 May 1948. So long as they remained in Palestine, the British, therefore, had an obligation to protect Palestinians from harm.

The British reneged on their obligations.

On 9 April that year, Zionist troops went on a killing spree in Deir Yassin, a village near Jerusalem. Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner in Palestine, acknowledged that a “deliberate mass murder of innocent civilians” occurred, yet argued that the British forces were “not in a position to take action in the matter owing to their failing strength and increasing commitments.”

Of the approximately 800,000 Palestinians who would be expelled or flee their homes in the 1948 Zionist onslaught, more than 400,000 had already been displaced by the time the British left.

Was Britain really powerless?

In 1948, there were around 100,000 British soldiers in Palestine, along with a British-headed police force. The Haganah had about 50,000 members, although only around half that number may have been active fighters.

The inescapable conclusion is that Britain could have spared Palestinian suffering – and chose not to.

“Fight it out”

It was not simply a case of inaction.

On 20 April 1948, Cyril Marriott, the British consul-general in Haifa, sent a telegram to London officials apprising them of the security situation where he was based. Zionist forces were expected to attack Haifa – a strategically vital port city – within the next day or two, Marriott noted.

The priority of the military, he added, would be to safeguard “the route and installations” regarded as essential for the evacuation of British troops. Once that objective was achieved, Britain would “let Jews and Arabs fight it out in other parts of the town.”

The instruction to allow the warring parties to “fight it out” overlooked how the Haganah was numerically stronger and equipped with more modern weapons than the Arab forces.

When the offensive took place, Zionist forces swiftly captured a large part of Haifa. Hugh Stockwell, a British general, refused to allow Arab reinforcements to advance towards the town. He also ordered British forces to withdraw.

Stockwell then instructed Arab forces to disarm. He told “all foreign Arab males” to assemble at a place designated by the Haganah, so that these men could be expelled “under military control.”

Palestinian leaders in Haifa complained that Stockwell’s conditions were unfair. Without any viable alternative, they requested that Palestinians leave the area.

As the Palestinians fled – reportedly with just the clothes they were wearing – the Haganah fired on an ambulance, ransacked a hospital and looted homes. Once more, the British held back.

By leaving Palestinians with no option than to quit Haifa, Stockwell was arguably an accomplice in mass expulsion. The Zionist capture of Haifa that he facilitated helped turn it into what David Ben-Gurion called a “corpse city.”

Ben-Gurion, it should be stressed, favored transforming Palestinian communities into corpse cities. He predicted that the Zionist success in Haifa could be replicated throughout Palestine.

Within a few weeks, Ben-Gurion had formally declared the establishment of Israel. He became its first prime minister.

Britain’s involvement in Palestine did not end when it gave up the League of Nations mandate. For most of Israel’s seven decades, Britain has given it practical and rhetorical assistance.

Britain’s ruling elites have never atoned for their role in enabling the 1948 dispossession of Palestinians. Rather, they have prolonged and exacerbated the suffering of Palestinians, while pretending to believe in justice.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 May 2018.

No longer "obsolete," NATO acts as Trump's lapdog

Donald Trump has proven that it only takes 100 missiles to win over an elite.

The latest US-led attack on Syria was swiftly applauded by NATO. The readiness to endorse that show of force could be interpreted as an improvement in relations. During his election campaign, Trump had dismissed the alliance as “obsolete”.

That insult caused a degree of consternation among the trans-Atlantic establishment. After taking up residence in the White House, Trump decided to recant. He is now eager to strengthen this “obsolete” body.

No doubt, that is largely because America dominates NATO. On his inauguration day, Trump effectively became commander-in-chief of all its 29 - mostly European - nations. NATO’s shiny “eco-friendly” headquarters near Brussels main airport are a monument to US hegemony.

Trump is in many respects unconventional. No previous president saw Twitter as the ideal tool for taunting adversaries. Yet his insistence that NATO bolster its capabilities follows a long-written script. Robert Gates, who served as defence secretary under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was similarly adamant that Europe increase its military spending.

The argument has been packaged as one of making “freeloaders” cough up some cash. Reporters regurgitating that line have not paused to question America’s motives. Is this a genuine case of encouraging European autonomy? Or is it a ploy to drum up business for the weapons industry?

Raytheon supplied the Tomahawk missiles recently fired on Syria. The Massachusetts-based firm meddles a great deal in European affairs. Whenever corporate-funded think tanks host discussions on “defence”, there is a strong likelihood that Raytheon’s representatives will feature prominently.

Violating the ethics of journalism, Politico - a news outlet courting the powerful in both Washington and Brussels - has posted Raytheon’s talking points on its website, without making clear they are advertisements. One of these points is that every NATO country “must share the burden”. It is a contemptible argument. While America leads the West in terms of military expenditure, it has been slashing education budgets.

In this context, “burden-sharing” is a fancy way of saying that Europe should ape America - a nation which perverts its priorities.

NATO planners have stated that they wish the alliance to be capable of undertaking two major and six smaller operations simultaneously. Such thinking could have profound implications for the Middle East, where many of NATO’s activities have been conducted.

The recent strikes on Syria were not formally carried out by NATO but by its three most powerful members: the US, Britain and France. The haste with which the alliance cheered at this belligerent act may nonetheless signal a willingness for NATO to bomb Syria at a later date. The alliance has, after all, previously assumed responsibility for the war that the US began waging against Afghanistan in 2001.

The invasion of Iraq less than two years later was opposed by several NATO countries, notably France and Germany. The opposition was not sustained long enough to prevent NATO from participating in the occupation.

In 2004, NATO deployed a training mission ostensibly aimed at helping the interim Iraqi government build up a new security force. In practice, it was difficult - and arguably impossible - to distinguish this mission from the US army that destroyed Iraq. American personnel also took charge of the NATO operation.

Perhaps NATO’s most criminal endeavour to date was its offensive against Libya, starting in 2011. The conduct of that war undermines the efforts by NATO’s in-house propagandists to depict it as altruistic.

Evidence gathered by human rights groups indicate NATO was not in the least bothered by how its troops repeatedly killed civilians. Nor was it overly exercised by the wanton cruelty of the “rebels” that it aided in order to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s government. NATO’s assault on Libya was - by the standards set by the post-Holocaust Nuremberg trials - a war of aggression and, therefore, fundamentally unlawful.

The chaos unleashed in Libya and the wider region looks like the kind of recipe favoured by John Bolton, a man whose default position is to threaten any country he views as insufficiently obsequious.

Yet NATO is not supposed to be a neocon plaything. Its key strategic document was drawn up through a process overseen by Madeleine Albright, America’s foreign secretary under that suave liberal Bill Clinton. Albright has lately been warning about the dangers of fascism. Fawning interviewers have not reminded her of how she once remarked that the deaths caused by denying medicine to Iraqi children was a price worth paying.

The findings of Albright’s aforementioned reflection were issued in 2010 - a year before the assault on Libya. They included a recommendation that any disruption to the West’s energy imports may require an “appropriate response”. By raising fees and taxes, Gaddafi was a “problematic partner” for the oil industry, in the words of The New York Times. That offers a far more plausible explanation for why NATO decided he should go than the alliance’s professed desire to spread freedom.

NATO’s declared commitment to liberty sits uncomfortably with how it has repeatedly assured the increasingly autocratic Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Turkey is a valued member of the alliance. NATO’s wish to promote the rule of law is similarly at odds with its deepening cooperation with Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, has insisted over the past few weeks that every man, woman and child in Gaza is a legitimate target for snipers and drones. NATO’s silence about with that attempt to justify the gunning down of Palestinian protesters betokens a business as usual approach. Israel will be able to continue taking part in NATO’s exercises.

The bureaucracy of NATO is headed by Jens Stoltenberg, a Norwegian social democrat widely praised for his cool-headed response - in his then capacity as prime minister - to the massacre committed by Anders Behring Breivik. Stoltenberg has learned that he is expected to express views that probably would not have been popular at the left-wing summer camp, where that massacre occurred.

Stoltenberg argued recently it was “absolutely necessary” for America to keep its nuclear weapons.

The codes for those weapons are now available to a president who can’t control his temper on Twitter. That is truly frightening. But Stoltenberg would not dare to say so. His job requires him to work under Trump’s thumb.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 29 April 2018.

Barbara Opall-Rome: defense specialist or war industry stooge?

Spending three decades as a stenographer for the weapons industry would give anyone a warped sense of morality. So when Barbara Opall-Rome – the doyen of Israel’s “defense correspondents” – refers to “journalistic integrity,” she may understand that term differently than most people.

Opall-Rome recently tweeted that she had stayed “at a gorgeous property owned by the emir of Qatar” while on vacation. Because the details she gave were sparse, I contacted her to enquire if the Qatari authorities had provided her with free accommodation.

In response, Opall-Rome assured me that she and her husband “paid top dollar” to holiday at a Seychelles resort and were unaware that it was Qatari-owned until after their arrival.

“Sorry to confuse you with the facts,” she added. “And I trust if you have any journalistic integrity, you will rephrase your questions so they more closely resemble actual questions rather than accusations.”

I have zero intention of rephrasing the questions put to Opall-Rome. It is not unreasonable to ask public figures for clarification about something they have written or posted on the Internet.

In this particular case, it was legitimate to enquire if Opall-Rome had accepted any gifts from Qatar, given how its government has been wooing Israel’s supporters lately.

Opall-Rome’s apparent advocacy of journalistic integrity sits awkwardly with how she has built up a career promoting an industry based on death and destruction.

As recognition of her long service to the arms industry, Opall-Rome now hosts her own show on the Tel Aviv-based television channel i24News.

She uses “Strictly Security” – the show’s name – to celebrate Israel as a “land of milk and cyber startups.”

A recent broadcast marking the anniversary of the state’s establishment applauded how Israel had become a leading player in the global arms trade.

“In 70 years of independence, this small immigrants’ country is in a constant state of war,” Opall-Rome said. “But Israelis – as they often do – take these lemons and make lemonade.”

Amoral

Only someone amoral could resort to such a euphemism. Opall-Rome was likening the weapons with which Israel inflicts terror on Palestinians to fizzy drinks.

“Strictly Security” portrays the occupation of the West Bank as sophisticated. Earlier this year, it reported on how Israel had installed “smart checkpoints” in Hebron.

The advanced surveillance technology in these checkpoints “minimizes the physical contact between Israeli soldiers and the residents,” Opall-Rome gushed. A clip showing one of those Palestinian residents saying the word “apartheid” did not alter how the entire feature was an effort to sanitize Israel’s brutality.

For the past 30 years, Opall-Rome has been a reporter with DefenseNews. That magazine is – if its marketing brochures are accurate – read by a global elite that oversees military expenditure worth more than $1.75 trillion per annum.

Opall-Rome, who previously worked from Washington, has headed the magazine’s Israel office since 1999.

Some of her “reporting” has been thinly-veiled lobbying for the arms industry. In a 2017 article about how the boss of Israel Aerospace Industries had been denied a visa to the US, she noted how contesting the refusal had cost the publicly-owned weapons maker at least $100,000 in attorney fees.

The $100,000 sum was “Israeli taxpayer money that could have gone into research and development,” she lamented.

Although Opall-Rome responded promptly to my email about her vacation, a follow-up query on why she shills for weapons makers went unanswered. In that query, I asked if she had ever exposed the harm caused by the arms industry.

Tough questions?

The closest Opall-Rome gets to posing tough questions is to ask why Israel relied on F-16s rather than the “precious” new F-35s in its arsenal while bombing Syria a few months ago.

The legal and ethical questions about attacking another nation were ducked in her “analysis.” Echoing state propaganda, Opall-Rome has depicted Israel’s previous actions in Syria – such as the 2007 assault on a nuclear facility – as benevolent.

Similarly, she has taken at face value Israel’s assertions that Iran is the “aggressor.” And she has described people in Gaza who try and enter present-day Israel as “infiltrators.” That racist slur omits how Palestinian refugees have a UN-recognized right of return to historic Palestine, as well as the right to resist occupation and apartheid.

During its annual conference last weekend, the National Union of Journalists for Britain and Ireland discussed how Israel and its supporters are seeking to influence press coverage with their propaganda activities. The union made a commitment to support journalists who disobey instructions from editors or management that they cover Israel’s most blatant propaganda exercise this year: starting the Giro d’Italia bike race in Jerusalem.

The union’s discussion was sorely-needed. Too many reporters – from Britain, Ireland, the US and beyond – have treated Israel’s talking points as if they are solid facts.

By doing so, they have ignored the plight of Palestinian media workers who risk – and sometimes lose – their lives while chronicling Israel’s crimes.

Opall-Rome is the kind of reporter who should be disowned by her profession. Her stories recycle – without any hint of skepticism – lies pumped out by the Israeli authorities and the pro-Israel lobby.

She is a “journalist” with a complete lack of integrity.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 26 April 2018.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Builder of apartheid wall gets EU funding

I have been following Europe’s policy on Palestine for almost 20 years. Throughout that time, I cannot recall an official EU statement more obscene than the one issued after Israel killed nine people in Gaza last Friday.

Rather than condemn the killings, the EU merely claimed that they raise “serious questions about the proportionate use of force.”

Zoom in on those words: proportionate use of force.

The underlying message is that Israel may resort to violence against Palestinians living under siege and occupation. EU representatives would just prefer it if Israel doesn’t go too far.

The same kind of thinking can be discerned within Israel’s elite.

During the first month of the second intifada – which began in late September 2000 – Israeli troops fired an estimated one million bullets in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Amos Malka, then head of intelligence in the Israeli military, is among those who have expressed misgivings about that massive display of force.

Malka’s misgivings related to tactics, rather than ethics. In a paper he subsequently wrote on his experiences with the military, Malka argued that Israel should be willing to use extreme violence on occasions. The paper reflects the standard Israeli view that acts of Palestinian resistance may be labeled collectively as “terrorism.”

“The terrorist or guerrilla organization must take into consideration that Israel can ‘go crazy’ and lash out far beyond its standard responses,” he wrote.

Since retiring from the army in 2002, Malka has taken a number of posts with Israel’s war industry.

For example, he chairs the board of TAT Technologies, a firm making air conditioning systems and other equipment for military aircraft and tanks. As the firm’s clients include the Israeli air force and leading weapons manufacturers from Israel and the US, there is a near certainty that its products have enabled attacks on Palestinians.

Always eager to help Israel’s arms industry, the EU is subsidizing TAT Technologies. The firm is taking part in an EU-funded research project on aircraft engines worth $3.5 million.

Tacky

Brochures published by TAT Technologies say that it offers “cool solutions for hot problems.” That slogan is similarly tacky to the name of the aforementioned research project: DEVILS.

The clumsy marketing does not conceal how the EU is happy to take taxpayers’ money and hand it to corporate scoundrels.

Another beneficiary of EU grants is Nesher, Israel’s leading cement maker.

Nesher is deeply involved in building the infrastructure of Israel’s occupation. Its materials have been used for Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, including the light rail network in East Jerusalem.

About 15 years ago, Amnesty International stated that Nesher had probably supplied material, too, for Israel’s apartheid wall. The wall, which snakes through the West Bank, was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.

The Amnesty finding was based on an admission by Nesher’s then parent company, the Dublin-based CRH, that cement supplied by Nesher was “in all probability” being used to build the wall. Following a lengthy campaign by Palestine solidarity activists, CRH announced in 2016 that it had pulled out of the Israeli market.

Nesher’s role in the occupation has been well-documented. That makes it all the more inexcusable for the EU to approve the firm’s participation in a research project worth $8.5 million on the reuse of carbon dioxide.

The project in question is being presented as a contribution to the fight against climate change. Yet the idea that Nesher could be regarded as environmentally benign is simply farcical.

The construction of Israel’s apartheid wall has destroyed vast areas of land and thousands of trees. Located beside a vitally important groundwater basin, its construction advances Israeli efforts to steal natural resources from Palestinians.

Environmental damage can’t be magicked away. Wrapping a fake green ribbon around its activities doesn’t alter how the EU is embracing Israel’s war profiteers.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 11 April 2018.

Friday, March 30, 2018

EU funds Israel's war industry

Propaganda does not always go according to plan.

The Israeli military opted to remove a video depicting it as a feminist organization from Facebook earlier this month.

Some less than liberal Zionists were upset by the video’s implicit message that women soldiers are just as capable of killing Palestinians as their male counterparts.

Israel is fortunate that its key partners are impervious to such embarrassing squabbles.

Emanuele Giaufret, the European Union’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, is among those partners. He keeps himself busy by backslapping Israeli recipients of EU science grants.

During a recent reception, Giaufret praised Israeli firms and institutions for their “amazing ideas.” He promoted, too, a short film on “collaborative projects” between the EU and Israel.

The film features a representative of Israel Aerospace Industries.

Viewers are not told that Israel Aerospace Industries is a weapons maker. Rather, they are informed that the firm is developing the aircraft of the future.

Israel Aerospace Industries – a state-owned enterprise – has manufactured the Heron drone, which has been used in attacks on Gaza.

The company appears to regard that as a selling point. Brochures for the Heron describe it as “combat proven.”

Creepy

Bureaucrats in Brussels have not been perturbed by that creepy euphemism. They have approved the participation of Israel Aerospace Industries in Horizon 2020, the EU’s latest research program.

At least one of the grants which the firm has received through that program is for work focused on drone technology.

Other grants are for research on engines and on making planes and helicopters lighter.

The EU’s scientific activities are supposed to be civilian. Yet EU representatives have previously conceded there is nothing to stop the fruits of the research they oversee from being used for other purposes.

That indicates the EU is helping Israel to manufacture more lethal arms than it now possesses.

Israel Aerospace Industries is not a small mom-and-pop firm that needs a dig out from the EU taxpayer. At the end of last year, it had an orders backlog worth more than $11 billion.

One of Israel Aerospace Industries’ most profitable divisions is called Elta Systems.

That firm was recently picked by the Trump administration to build a prototype for the planned wall along the US border with Mexico.

Radar systems developed by Elta got what arms traders call their operational debut during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza. The radars apparently allow multiple targets to be identified simultaneously.

As the 2014 attack caused massive death and destruction to civilians and civilian infrastructure, that means Elta made a significant contribution to Israel’s crimes against humanity.

That has not prevented the European Union from awarding Elta a number of science grants.

Conniving with cruelty

Israel is adept at accessing EU funds. It has already drawn down more than $530 million from Horizon 2020.

As that seven-year program runs until the end of the decade, the final figure for how much Israel receives will inevitably be far higher.

The EU’s diplomats have dodged some vital issues: The “amazing ideas” that excite Emanuele Giaufret are often shaped or influenced by the Israeli military.

Mellanox, for example, is a lucrative business dedicated to accelerating the transfer of data via the Internet.

Its CEO Eyal Waldman has bragged about his term serving in the “elite” Golani Brigade – a unit of the Israeli military. His training with that brigade enables his firm “to kill with one bullet instead of five or 100 like our competitors,” he has said.

That he was speaking figuratively does not alter how Israel has turned its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – an occupation in which the Golani Brigade has played a prominent role – to its competitive advantage.

A thriving technology sector has been built up largely because the occupation affords many opportunities for testing innovations.

By handing out subsidies to firms like Mellanox, the EU is encouraging Israeli militarism.

Through its research programs, the EU also gives millions to Elbit Systems, another of Israel’s major weapons firms that manufacturers internationally banned cluster bombs.

Other participants in Horizon 2020 have the Israeli military on their client lists. They include IsraTeam, a consultancy involved in an EU-financed project for research on “terrorism” and organized crime.

Israel uses “terrorism” as an all-encompassing term for resistance to its oppressive behavior. By doing so, it can get away with grotesque human rights abuses, including the routine use of torture.

The suppliers of weapons and services to Israel’s military are conducting cruel experiments against Palestinians.

Inviting those suppliers into its science programs is a major way that the EU connives with cruelty.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 March 2018.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Like Trump, EU aids theft of Jerusalem

The West’s policies on Palestine can be divided into two broad categories: the mindless and the misleading.

By deciding to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Donald Trump has behaved in a mindless manner. The most plausible explanation for why the US president did so is that acting like a pyromaniac endears him to his pro-Israel campaign bankroller Sheldon Adelson and to an extremist – mainly Christian – constituency.

Despite his propensity for telling lies, Trump has been more honest on this particular dossier than the European Union and its robotic representatives. They claim to be pursuing peace and a two-state solution, while aiding Israeli authorities that have no interest in either objective.

Scientific research has been accorded a high priority in cooperation between Israel and the EU. Israel is an active participant in Horizon 2020, an EU scheme aimed at encouraging innovation, which has been earmarked almost $100 billion over a seven-year period.

I have trawled through around 700 projects financed under the scheme and involving Israel. They exemplify how signals given by the EU have been hugely misleading.

Seismic?

Back in 2013, Israel accused the Union of causing an “earthquake,” according to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz. The Israeli political elite was peeved by guidelines prepared for Horizon 2020, indicating that Israeli firms or institutions based in the occupied West Bank – including East Jerusalem – would not be eligible for its grants.

The publication of those guidelines was not the seismic event that Haaretz hyped it up to be.

They had been drafted after Brussels officials had been informed that some recipients of EU grants were less than transparent – to put it mildly.

The Israel Antiquities Authority took part in the Union’s previous science program, even though its headquarters were located in occupied East Jerusalem. It had supplied a post office box inside Israel as its address, when applying for an EU grant.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has not been punished for that trickery. It is now taking part in a $5 million heritage preservation project under Horizon 2020.

The address given for the authority on the website for that project is the Rockefeller Museum. That building is in East Jerusalem.

A little-noticed loophole in the EU’s 2013 guidelines allow Israeli public bodies to benefit from Horizon 2020 regardless of where they are located.

An announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority that it is moving offices to West Jerusalem does not atone for its role in dispossessing Palestinians.

The authority has been overseeing excavations as part of plans to develop an archeological park in Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood. While doing so, it has formed a partnership with Elad, an Israeli settler organization that drives Palestinians out of their homes.

The European Commission – which administers Horizon 2020 – tried to justify the way it is bending over backwards to please Israel.

A spokesperson for the Commission stated that it was “constantly making sure every rule is respected,” when I requested a comment. That is a flimsy and formulaic excuse for its complicity in the colonization of Jerusalem.

A number of other Israeli bodies active in East Jerusalem have been awarded grants under Horizon 2020.

Israel’s science ministry – based in East Jerusalem – has signed up to EU projects on diet and gender equality.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, meanwhile, is likely to preserve its status as Israel’s top participant in EU research activities.

Spurious

Of the 700 projects I examined, Hebrew University was involved in more than 80. Some of the subsidies bestowed on the college amount to almost $2.5 million each.

Hebrew University is run from Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem. The EU regards that as acceptable because Mount Scopus was commandeered by Zionist forces in 1948, rather than during the June 1967 war (when Israel nabbed the remainder of East Jerusalem).

The EU’s spurious stance ignores how Hebrew University has been encroaching into territory seized in 1967 and how it enthusiastically supports Israel’s forces of occupation.

Several Israeli bodies implicated in human rights violations benefit from the EU’s largesse.

The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality has placed something of a chokehold around Palestinian neighborhoods. The procedures it has introduced make Palestinian construction virtually impossible, while favoring colonization by Israelis.

The list of ways in which the municipality contributes to Israeli apartheid has just got longer. It is seeking to block residents of two Palestinian villages – al-Walaja and Battir – from reaching a spring that has provided their communities with water for 3,000 years.

With sordid irony, the EU has approved the municipality’s participation in a sustainable cities initiative, also worth $5 million.

Israel’s public security ministry oversees a prison service which regularly subjects Palestinians to torture.

Gilad Erdan, the current Israeli minister for public security, has given the nod – at least tacitly – to a provocative shift in policing. The result is that police are openly siding with activists wishing to take over and destroy Islamic holy sites at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound so that they can build a Jewish temple.

Erdan’s attempts to tighten Israel’s grip on East Jerusalem have not deterred the EU from embracing him. The public security ministry is involved in EU research projects on border surveillance, interrogation techniques and searching the internet for “terrorist” content.

Hooligan

Israel’s national water company Mekorot is an environmental hooligan. UN investigators have documented how it imperils Palestinians’ right to water by drying up wells and springs in the West Bank.

Shamefully, the EU is enabling Mekorot to cultivate a more responsible image by taking part in Horizon 2020 activities on the protection of water infrastructure and reducing pollution.

Firms that help to impose a siege on Gaza are equally welcome in Horizon 2020.

The state-owned Israel Electric Corporation cut power supplies to Gaza’s hospitals drastically last year, thereby placing the lives of patients in danger. The same corporation is involved in EU projects on information technology.

Israel’s weapons industry also benefits from Horizon 2020.

Elbit, the supplier of drones, white phosphorus and other munitions used during major Israeli assaults on Gaza, has been allocated an EU subsidy worth $860,000 to help it develop new cockpit components for future aircraft. The stated aim of this work is to advance a cuddly-sounding initiative called Clean Sky.

A profiteer from war crimes is thereby helped to masquerade as a savior of the planet. And the EU can keep on kidding itself that everything is fine and dandy.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 17 March 2018.

Perverse arguments from Israel's perverse lobby

Pro-Israel advocates took umbrage lately when an EU lawmaker suggested they belonged to a “perverse lobby.”

Daniel Schwammenthal is a protagonist in that lobby, whose arguments tend to be perverse.

He heads the AJC Transatlantic Institute, the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee. According to his narrative, Israel is always being picked on by nasty neighbors.

While the turmoil in the Middle East can be difficult to fully comprehend, Schwammenthal and his colleagues see things with an absolute clarity. In their view, Israel is the “fireman,” while the governments in Damascus and Tehran are a joint “arsonist.” Or – as Schwammenthal has put it – Israel is the “victim” and its rivals the “aggressor.”

Schwammenthal’s comment was directed at Carl Bildt, formerly Sweden’s foreign minister.

Bildt had tried to strike a specious balance in a tweet by stating that Iran “obviously” sent a drone into Israeli airspace during February – something the Tehran authorities have denied – though also acknowledging that “Israel regularly violates the airspace of Syria and Lebanon” – something which is irrefutable.

Altruistic?

It was by no means the first time that Schwammenthal tried to cast Israel as innocent or altruistic. Writing for The Wall Street Journal in December last year, he claimed that Israel’s intervention in Syria’s war had been limited to “providing medical help” and depriving Hizballah of what he called “strategic weapons.”

Schwammenthal failed to remind his readers that Israel’s “medical help” has been somewhat selective. It has treated wounded fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, a group affiliated to al-Qaida, so that they can return to the war. Israel, therefore, has been helping terrorists, not running a charity.

Israel has recently ramped up its support for armed groups in Syria. The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reported last month that at least seven “Sunni rebel organizations in the Syrian Golan are now getting arms and ammunition from Israel, along with money to buy additional armaments.”

In the same Wall Street Journal article, Schwammenthal predicted that if a violent situation erupts in Lebanon, “Israeli efforts to avoid civilian deaths” will be ignored by journalists and the United Nations. Such efforts “surpass even NATO standards,” he added.

His reference point is not reassuring – NATO forces have bombed hospitals and weddings in Afghanistan. NATO is not a bunch of peaceniks, as Schwammenthal implied, but a military alliance dominated by that infamous arsonist, the United States.

Nor does Israel have a good record of sparing noncombatants. Most of the 900 civilians killed during the 2006 assault on Lebanon died from “Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes,” Human Rights Watch has stated.

That assault spawned the Dahiya doctrine, named after a Beirut neighborhood that was destroyed by Israel on the pretext that Hizballah militants lived there. Under the doctrine – subsequently employed in Gaza – Israel treats civilian villages as military bases, thereby giving its troops carte blanche to commit the most heinous war crimes.

Was that what Schwammenthal meant by “Israeli efforts to avoid civilian deaths”?

Not surprisingly, his article drew no attention to how Israel has occupied part of Syria – the Golan Heights – since 1967.

Tweaking injustice

Schwammenthal can be brazenly misleading. In another recent tweet, he suggested that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is not illegal, “only settlements are, according to some.”

Contrary to what Schwammenthal hinted, the settlements and a long list of illegal Israeli policies and practices designed to enforce the occupation – frequent killings, arbitrary detentions, home demolitions and collective punishments – are inseparable from the overall occupation.

Located in a zone that comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank, the settlements have not been deemed illegal by a few maverick lawyers. Their illegality has been confirmed by multiple UN Security Council resolutions and by the International Court of Justice.

Schwammenthal has suggested that it is extremist to reject a two-state solution for Palestine. An event which he hosted last month gave a glimpse of how that type of “solution” may look in practice. The main guest was Yair Lapid, a party leader with ambitions to be Israel’s prime minister.

Lapid contended that “the best thing” for Israel would be “for us to separate from the Palestinians.” It clearly would not be a separation based on equality, he indicated, as Israel would be stronger militarily than the Palestinians.

Appearing like a recipe for a continuation of Israeli apartheid in some form, that “vision” contradicts Schwammenthal’s attempts to paint Israel as a perpetual victim. Yet if he was offended by his invitee’s remarks, Schwammenthal did not say so.

His reticence on this important point is logical. Schwammenthal smears Palestine solidarity activists yet is silent when Israel’s apologists give the impression that manifest injustices can be tweaked to look moderate or reasonable.

People of conscience would have grave difficulty sleeping at night if they had to swallow such flagrant hypocrisy. The swallowing is probably easier for those who belong to a perverse lobby.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 March 2018.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Failed British politician hired by leading Israel lobbyist

In between working for the weapons industry, Britain’s top pro-Israel advocate Stuart Polak is known to give charities a helping hand. Rivals can even benefit from his benevolent deeds, judging by one barely noticed addition to his entourage.

Although Polak has supported the Conservative Party for decades, he recently came to the “rescue” of a Labour Party politician who had been abandoned by voters.

Natascha Engel, the politician in question, lost her parliamentary seat in last year’s general election. Since then, she has been appointed to the advisory board of Polak’s consultancy firm TWC Associates.

The firm’s clients include Israel’s Elbit Systems, a manufacturer of drones and white phosphorus and other munitions which Israel has used while attacking Gaza.

Elbit stated last year that it wished to regard Britain as an “actual home market,” because its activities have grown significantly in that country.

Elbit now owns at least five subsidiaries in Britain. And it would appear that Stuart Polak has used his influence to enable Elbit gain to a stronger foothold in the British market.

Dick Applegate, an Elbit strategist, has told undercover journalists that Polak could arrange access to useful contacts “from the prime minister down.”

Engel did not reply to a query asking if she was concerned that Elbit’s weapons are used to kill Palestinians.

U-turn

Her willingness to embrace – at least implicitly – Israel’s arms industry is something of a U-turn. In December 2008, Engel was among a group of Labour politicians to sign a letter describing Operation Cast Lead, a major Israeli offensive against Gaza, as “an outrage.”

Despite signing that letter, Engel’s track record indicates that she was generally uncritical of Britain’s pernicious policies on the Middle East.

She sought to shield Tony Blair from accountability by opposing calls for investigations into the invasion of Iraq while he was still prime minister.

In 2011, she backed the West’s military assault on Libya.

In her view, the US and its allies were starting a war “for the right reasons,” albeit without being “clear enough” about the likely consequences.

We know now that the result of the assault was massive destruction in Libya – with many side-effects for the wider region. Engel’s caveat does not mitigate her responsibility for supporting a calamitous decision.

The activities of TWC Associates cannot be detached from Polak’s lengthy career as a pro-Israel lobbyist. He spent 25 years heading Conservative Friends of Israel.

He has been rewarded for his services to the Israel lobby with a seat in the House of Lords, the British parliament’s unelected upper chamber.

A number of Polak’s colleagues in TWC Associates have either worked for the pro-Israel lobby or developed strong business connections with Israel.

Scott Hamilton, a key member of the TWC management, was previously a consultant to European Friends of Israel, a Brussels-based pressure group that Polak founded.

Justine Zwerling, who also sits on the TWC advisory board, has worked in Israel for both the British government and the London Stock Exchange. She is involved in a project called Vibe Israel, which seeks to promote Israel as stylish and innovative, thereby distracting from its crimes against the Palestinians.

Engel is evidently enterprising. She set up her own firm – Palace Yard Communications – in July last year, just a few weeks after losing her parliamentary seat.

If she plays her cards rights, Engel could command a far higher salary than she did as an elected representative. By teaming up with Stuart Polak and Israel’s arms industry, she could gain a slice of the profits made through killing Palestinian children.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 February 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Are weapons at the heart of Britain's romance with Israel?

What are British politicians really saying when they wax lyrical about Israel? Do they genuinely believe the myths about it being a thriving democracy? Or are they in awe of how Israel can – quite literally – get away with murder?

Gavin Williamson, Britain’s defense secretary, has hinted that there is something rotten behind the romance. After celebrating Israel as a “beacon of light and hope” during a recent speech, he described its military investments as “impressive.”

If Williamson has done a modicum of homework, he must know that the Israeli weapons industry brags – albeit in a coded way – about testing its products on Palestinians living under siege and occupation. His fawning betrayed an admiration for how a profitable industry has been built through subjugating an entire people.

The fawning occurred when Williamson addressed a reception organized by Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group within Britain’s ruling party. He was among kindred spirits: it is unlikely to a be a coincidence that some of the group’s most ardent supporters are also lobbyists for the arms industry.

Take James Arbuthnot. In 2015, Arbuthnot was hired by Thales UK, a branch of the French weapons-maker Thales. He had previously chaired Conservative Friends of Israel. He also sat in the British parliament for 28 years.

Announcing the recruitment, Thales UK stated that Arbuthnot would join its advisory board. As its advisers are not “formal officers” of the company, they are “expressly prohibited” from lobbying on its behalf, Thales added.

Submarine supporter

While Arbuthnot may not have directly solicited business for Thales since then, he has taken part in discussions of relevance to the firm.

After his appointment by Thales, Arbuthnot later in 2015 joined the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber in the British parliament. He has used that platform to advocate that Britain should develop four nuclear submarines.

Thales works on Britain’s nuclear submarine program. By opposing disarmament, Arbuthnot was pushing a political agenda conducive to his employer and the wider arms industry.

Does Arbuthnot erase all thought of the fees he receives from Thales every time he chats with contacts amassed during his political career?

Arbuthnot remains active in Conservative Friends of Israel. Earlier this month, he attended a discussion between the group and Ofir Akunis, Israel’s science minister and a hardline apologist for the theft of Palestinian land.

Devoted to drones

Going by Arbuthnot’s track record, it is highly unlikely that he availed of that occasion to scold Akunis. Arbuthnot has backed Israel’s acts of aggression and their enablers. At the time of the 2011 Arab uprisings, he effectively praised Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator, for his role in enforcing Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

The ghastly consequences of Mubarak’s orders were that Gaza’s inhabitants had no way of escaping Israel’s bombs during Operation Cast Lead, a major offensive two years earlier. Writing for the website Conservative Home, Arbuthnot ignored those consequences, while noting with apparent favor that Mubarak “kept the border [between Egypt and Gaza] secure.”

Arbuthnot’s support for Israel cannot be disentangled from his work on strengthening the weapons industry. He spent a total of nine years heading a key parliamentary committee on military issues. In that capacity, he tried to justify drones by contending that their operators had been unfairly maligned as “video gaming ‘warrior geeks.’”

That vote of confidence in remote-controlled killing machines probably did not go unnoticed by his current employer. Thales is developing a drone program known as Watchkeeper for the British Army. Another partner in that program is Elbit, the Israeli weapons giant.

Conservative Friends of Israel is also linked to Elbit. The lobby group’s erstwhile director, Stuart Polak, is a leading figure in a “political strategy” firm that numbers Elbit among its clients.

Like Arbuthnot, Polak joined the House of Lords in 2015. Last year, he was found to have arranged meetings between Priti Patel, then a British government minister, and a number of Israeli politicians without respecting official protocol.

Patel resigned her ministerial post amid the ensuing controversy, yet there were no repercussions for Polak – beyond some possible damage to his reputation.

Trip to Turkey

Polak and Arbuthnot both participated in a recent trip to Turkey, where they met Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s president.

Hilal Kaplan, who wrote a puff piece on the visit for Istanbul newspaper the Daily Salah, observed that it took place following two lucrative weapons deals between Turkey and Britain. Kaplan did not spell out the British lords’ own connections to the arms industry or the pro-Israel lobby.

The lords appear to have been on their best behavior in Turkey, implicitly expressing their approval for its actions against Kurdish fighters in Syria. Their friendly gestures towards Erdogan are significant, considering that the Turkish president has posed as a defender of Palestinian rights.

As Polak is arguably Britain’s top pro-Israel lobbyist, it is hard to believe that he hasn’t briefed that state’s politicians or diplomats about his Turkish sojourn. It was financed by the Bosphorus Center for Global Affairs, an organization that monitors press coverage unfavorable to Erdogan.

The pro-Israel lobby in Britain is secretive about its precise activities, including its relationship to the arms industry. For all their talk about beacons of light, Israel’s supporters keep many things in the dark.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 February 2018.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Palestinian children need no lectures from Emily Thornberry

The detention of Palestinian children is a clear-cut issue. Israeli forces have no right to apprehend youngsters living under military occupation. Those youngsters, by contrast, have every right to resist the theft of their homeland.


Why should British politicians try and lecture an oppressed people? That is a question for Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, to consider. She has suggested that Britain’s should tell kids not to throw stones at an enemy equipped with far more lethal weapons.


Last week Thornberry argued that Britain “must, of course, continue to urge Palestinians of all ages to act peacefully when protesting against the illegal occupation of their lands.” She added: “We must equally urge the Israeli authorities to act in a restrained and proportionate way when facing such protests, especially in relation to young people.”


Thornberry’s comments were contained in a letter to Boris Johnson, the man she wishes to replace as foreign secretary. Though she expressed concern about the plight of Palestinian detainees such as the teenager Ahed Tamimi, Thornberry did not advocate any sanctions against Israel.


Her letter was another indication that a Labour government would not differ in substance from one led by the Conservatives with regard to Middle East policy. She gave an even stronger signal a few months ago, when she assured the Israeli media that the current British approach towards Israel was “entirely in line” with that of Labour.


In tone, Thornberry’s comments on child prisoners were similar to those made by Jennifer Gerber, who directs the pressure group Labour Friends of Israel. Gerber faithfully copies and pastes Israeli propaganda by pointing out that of more than 300 Palestinian children in Israeli jails, most are held for security offences. Israel has been unfairly singled out, according to Gerber. She neglects to mention that Israel is the only state in the world which puts on trial more than 500 children per year in kangaroo courts administered by the military.


The similarities in tone may not be accidental. Thornberry has cultivated strong links with Labour Friends of Israel. Addressing the group’s 2017 annual lunch, she smeared campaigners for a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions by alleging that they are motivated by bigotry against Jews (despite how the Palestine solidarity movement emphatically opposes racial and religious discrimination). Her stance is hypocritical. She has argued that Palestinians should not used violence. Yet when Palestinians adopt peaceful tactics – such as boycotts – Thornberry makes baseless accusations against them.


Thornberry’s smears are redolent of the tactics that the pro-Israel lobby employed against Labour’s overall leader Jeremy Corbyn. By winning a much higher share of the votes in last year’s general election than almost every pundit could imagine, Corbyn has earned respect from many erstwhile critics. Labour Friends of Israel, however, seems unwilling to forgive Corbyn for his history of defending Palestinian rights. The aforementioned Jennifer Gerber has kept on peddling the fiction that Corbyn tolerates anti-Semitism.


Gerber’s case rests on how Labour has not expelled Ken Livingstone, the former London mayor, for pointing out - in a less than polished TV appearance – that the Nazis had struck an accord with the Zionist movement over the transfer of German Jews to Palestine. Recalling historical facts makes you guilty of anti-Semitism, according to Labour Friends of Israel.


Emily Thornberry has enabled the witch-hunt against Palestine solidarity campaigners. She has stated that there is no place in Labour for people who deny Israel’s “right to exist”. Predictably, that has endeared her to Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to Britain whose previous job as spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu saw him try to justify the bombing of Gaza’s schools.


Instructing political activists not to question Israel’s legitimacy is a form of McCarthyism. States do not have an intrinsic right to exist – especially when they are established through the expulsion of an indigenous people. States – like Israel – that are constituted in such a way that they privilege one ethnic group over another must have their “right to exist” examined.


Labour appears to have plenty of room for truly dangerous and destructive people. The last time I checked Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the men who oversaw and found money for the invasion of Iraq – a crime against humanity - were still members. Labour’s most recent manifesto commits Britain to retaining and upgrading Trident. That would mean violating a 1996 verdict from the International Court of Justice confirming that countries with nuclear missiles have an obligation to disarm.


It is perfectly acceptable, then, for Labour activists to support weapons of mass destruction. Yet, under Thornberry’s logic, probing Israel’s origins is taboo.


The stalwarts of Labour’s left have refused to be cowed in the not-so-distant past. John McDonnell complained during a 2012 attack on Gaza that Israel was attempting genocide against the Palestinians. The complaint was accurate: genocide, as defined by the United Nations, involves inflicting physical or mental harm on a people.
McDonnell has not, as far as I know, repeated the charge of genocide since he was appointed shadow chancellor. Doing so would undoubtedly draw an apoplectic response from Labour Friends of Israel.


But why should the principled left be intimidated by the bellicose right, the wing to which Labour Friends of Israel belongs? Before last summer’s election, Corbyn highlighted the connections between Britain’s aggressive foreign policy and what he called “terrorism here at home”. He thereby became the first Labour leader to prove it is possible to win votes by telling the truth about Britain’s often pernicious activities.


Britain’s electorate would mainly welcome a government that holds Israel accountable. And that idea must horrify Labour Friends of Israel. Speakers at the group’s events tend to recite a list of Labour grandees who have been devoted time and energy to the Zionist project. The speakers are too polite to underscore that Labour governments have been complicit in the dispossession of the Palestinians. The ignominious track record of Labour includes how Ramsay MacDonald – prime minister when Britain ruled Palestine between the two world wars – affirmed in 1931 that Zionist colonisers were free to bar Palestinians from jobs. It includes, too, how Harold Wilson’s administration rubber-stamped the exports of battle tanks used by Israel when seizing its neighbour’s territories in June 1967 and how Blair enthusiastically backed the 2006 assault on Lebanon.


For the past few years, Labour Friends of Israel has been chaired by Joan Ryan, an MP who denies that Gaza is under Israeli occupation. That view is contradicted by the voluminous evidence that Israel retains control of Gaza by land, air and sea. Ryan would not dare to visit protesters fired on by Israeli troops on Gaza’s periphery and tell them they are free of the despised occupation.


Thornberry is more nuanced than Ryan but comparably dangerous. Although she professes to shun goods from illegal colonies in the West Bank, Thornberry has said she would buy other Israeli goods “positively”. The distinction is a false one: it depicts the gobbling up of Palestine as an aberration, when it has always been central to the Zionist project.


In a speech last year, Thornberry dismissed people who advocate a one-state solution for Palestine as extremists. She did not explain what is unreasonable about wanting to swap an apartheid system for a democracy that guarantees justice and equality.


First elected in 2005, Thornberry is not responsible for the worst crimes of Blair and Brown. She has every opportunity to ensure that a future Labour government will learn from previous crimes so that they are never repeated. Sadly, she appears to be squandering those opportunities.


●First published by Middle East Eye, 15 February 2018.

Monday, January 29, 2018

EU spreads more lies about Palestine solidarity movement

One of the few good things about having a belligerent boor as US president is that it has prompted the media to be less obsequious.

When Donald Trump describes much of Africa, Haiti and Central America as “shithole countries,” CNN describes him as racist.

When Trump says something that is patently false, journalists write that he has lied.

It would be wrong, though, if adversarial reporting or commentary is confined to him. Every politician or institution who seeks to mislead should be exposed.

Vera Jourova, the European Union’s justice commissioner, is one such politician.

On a number of occasions in the recent past, she and her entourage have told lies about campaigners who demand justice for Palestine.

Using the EU’s freedom of information rules, I obtained a briefing paper drawn up for Jourova that reeked of dishonesty.

The paper was written by Brussels officials ahead of a visit that Jourova undertook to Jerusalem in June last year. It alleges that anti-Semitism “functions as [an] essential link for right-wing, left-wing and religious (Christian and Muslim) extremist ideologies blaming the Jews or ‘Israel’ as [a] Jewish collective for every evil in the world.”

Not surprisingly, the officials failed to provide any evidence of that “essential link.”

Palestine is an important issue for many campaigners who also believe in wealth redistribution and public ownership of key services and industries – left-wing ideas that Jourova’s advisers seem to dismiss as “extremist.”

Yet insisting that the oppression inflicted on Palestinians must end is entirely different to claiming that Israel lurks behind “every evil in the world” – a claim that no principled and well-informed activist would make.

Dubious

Jourova’s briefing paper is largely based on a dubious definition of anti-Semitism, rubber-stamped by a little-known body called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

That definition conflates robust criticism of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, with bigotry against Jews.

The definition has been invoked to stifle free expression: last year some British universities cited it when imposing bans or restrictions on awareness-raising events known as Israeli Apartheid Week.

Nonetheless, Jourova’s briefing paper argues that the definition is not an “infringement on free speech.” The paper adds that the “definition clearly says that when someone denies Israel’s right to exist, he must live with the fact that someone else may call him an anti-Semite. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.”

The definition is far more ambiguous than Jourova’s advisers imply. And it certainly does not state that people who question Israel’s “right to exist” must live with being called anti-Semites.

The word “must” is not included in the definition or its accompanying memorandum. But the memo suggests that examples of anti-Semitism “could” include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” by “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Moreover, the briefing paper’s claim that the “non-legally binding” adoption of the definition by the EU and some of its governments does not infringe on free speech is highly disingenuous: Jourova calls for the definition to be “used widely” for training police, teachers and other officials.

It’s one thing to be falsely called an “anti-Semite” in, say, an online argument with a random person, but quite another to smeared as one by a government official or a law enforcement agency that might use the definition to charge you with hate speech for opposing Zionism. Why must any citizen in a free society have to live with that?

Smears

Jourova’s briefing paper contains at least one fact amid the fiction: “Israel strongly advocated for the definition.” That is the crux of the matter. Rather than being a tool for protecting Jews around the world, the real objective of the definition is to shield Israel from questions about its legitimacy.

As I have previously documented, the definition was written by a consortium of pro-Israel lobby groups (originally as part of an EU-sponsored initiative).

It is significant that Jourova and her entourage have interpreted – or perhaps misinterpreted – the definition in the way they have.

Israel came into existence after the mass expulsion of Palestinians. A state that was formed as a result of ethnic cleansing does not have an inherent right to exist. Pointing that out does not make someone guilty of anti-Semitism – no matter what Jourova and her entourage may think.

This is not the first time that Jourova’s advisers have smeared Palestine solidarity activists.

Separate briefing notes prepared for Jourova earlier in 2017 painted a false picture of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement by insinuating that it favored discrimination against Jews.

A similar insinuation can be found in the paper prepared for her aforementioned trip to Jerusalem. “BDS activities leading to incitement, discrimination and hatred against Jews in Europe are unacceptable,” the paper states. No evidence is provided to show how BDS campaigning causes such hostility.

Jourova works closely with Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator.

Von Schnurbein has gone even further by alleging it is anti-Semitic to describe Israel as an apartheid state or to view Zionism as a racist ideology.

Perhaps von Schnurbein is unaware that when South Africa was under white minority rule, its leaders identified enormously with Israel. Hendrik Verwoerd put it bluntly when he was South Africa’s prime minister in 1961. “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state,” he said.

More recently, a UN report from 2017 concluded it is “beyond reasonable doubt” that Israel commits the crime of apartheid.

Israel and the US couldn’t handle that truth, so they attacked the report and its authors.

The EU’s representatives are little better. They, too, seem intent on replacing the truth with lies.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 January 2018.