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A recent – unpublished – briefing on the group’s activities was authored by Steven Rosen and Larry Hochberg.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

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