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A recent – unpublished – briefing on the group’s activities was authored by Steven Rosen and Larry Hochberg.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.