Friday, June 16, 2017

New British minister Michael Gove gets funding from Israel lobby

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


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


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


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


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


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


Misleading


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


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


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


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


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


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


Evangelical


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Britain aided Israel's 1967 war

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


The assistance was both practical and diplomatic.


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


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


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


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


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


“Handsome praise”


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


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


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


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


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


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


Natural and proper?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, June 5, 2017

Britain's concentration camp in Palestine

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


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


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


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


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


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


Mass incarceration


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Reputation of cruelty


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Ruthless


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


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


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


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


Repression


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


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


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


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


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


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

The scholar who shills for Israel

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


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


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


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


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


Cherishing freedom?


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


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


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


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


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


That is anathema to the whole concept of academic freedom.


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


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


Dishonest


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Flexible flunky


Greene is also an apologist for Tony Blair.


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


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


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


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


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


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


He is a scholar who shills for Israel.


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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Buying respect for Israel in Brussels

Rogues can buy respectability – or a semblance of it.


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


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


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


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


Headed by hawk


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


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


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


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


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


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


Appeasing gangsters


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Thursday, April 13, 2017

UKIP dominates new support group for Israeli settlers

The UK Independence Party specializes in distorting reality.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Diehard


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Put more simply, they are war crimes.


Balanced?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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