Monday, May 24, 2010

Dublin's double standards on Israel

Visiting Gaza recently, Ireland’s foreign minister Micheál Martin found “amidst all the rubble and devastation, a population traumatised and reduced to poverty by an unjust and completely counterproductive blockade”. Perhaps Martin can now enquire if any of the technology that caused this devastation was manufactured in his native Cork.

In 1991, the New York-based firm Data Device Corporation opened a plant in Cork’s publicly-subsidised Business and Technology Plant. From there it made ‘data bus’ devices for Apache helicopters that were then sold on to other American companies, known to do business with Israel. During Israel’s merciless attacks on Gaza in late 2008 and 2009, Apache helicopters transported the Hellfire missiles that killed numerous civilians. “The Apache is not just equipment,” Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq, has noted. “For Palestinians it’s a symbol of indiscriminate military violence. From a young age, every Palestinian child learns to distinguish the Apache’s sound and to associate it with assassinations, destruction and blood on the street.”

It is true that the Irish government undertook in 2008 to subject exports of goods with a potential military application to closer scrutiny. That pledge followed an exposé published by Amnesty International on how firms enmeshed in the arms trade had been lured to Ireland by the tax sweeteners and other incentives that characterised the nation’s Celtic Tiger-era investment policy.

Yet while official statistics have been released suggesting that the value of Irish military-related exports worldwide rose to more than €6 billion in 2009 – three times that of the previous year – the precise nature of Irish cooperation with Israel’s war machine has not been properly revealed.

Staff at Intel’s European headquarters in Kildare frequently have to work overtime to meet the onerous demands made to them by their colleagues in Israel. The company chose Israel as the first country where it set up operations outside the US in 1974 and today is the country’s biggest private sector employer (a distinction it shares with Intel Ireland).

A spokesman for the company said: “Intel Ireland works closely with Intel Israel. We make computer parts – chips and microprocessors. We have no way of checking where they go. They are used in computers used by the military but they have no specific military applications.”

Jeff Halper, a veteran human rights campaigner who leads the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, has a different perspective. Irish science graduates, he believes, “put together the electronic brains” of the helicopters and warplanes that are a pivotal part of Israel’s arsenal. Pilotless drones – known too as unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) – frequently contain Intel processors. Israel is among the top producers of these hi-tech killing machines, which it has tested out in attacks on Palestinian civilians.

When I met Halper in Jerusalem last year, he suggested that Ireland’s reliance on major investors like Intel explained why the Dublin government was not prepared to go beyond its denunciations of Israel’s abuse of Palestinian rights and press for economic sanctions against Israel. “There is no country more pro-Palestinian in terms of public opinion and even government opinion to a certain extent than Ireland,” he added. “Yet Ireland doesn’t do anything.”

The protests emanating from Iveagh House – Ireland’s foreign ministry - over Gaza are at odds with the enthusiasm shown by other ministries for closer commercial links with Israel. Back in 1999, Mary Harney, then minister for enterprise and employment, signed an agreement with her Israeli counterpart Ran Cohen committing the two sides to work together on industrial development, with a particular focus on science and technology. Israeli entrepreneurs who met Harney were keen to learn how Ireland had stimulated its economy to notch up a rate of growth that was envied internationally and to ascertain if comparable stimulants could be introduced in their own country.

Although the overall value of Irish exports to Israel fell from €231 million in 1998 to less than €200 million a decade later, the exchange of technology has been considerable. Computers accounted for more than one-fifth of Irish exports to Israel in 2008, according to the most recently available data, with electronic components comprising a further 12%. As Israel’s technology boom is largely driven by its military industry, it is virtually certain that some of the weapons used to terrorise Palestinians contain “made in Ireland” ingredients.

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explains how Israeli entrepreneurs that had been badly hit by the “dot com” collapse of 2000, exploited the opportunities afforded by the war on terror that George Bush declared a year later to build a technology sector with a strong emphasis on security (in the narrow sense that politicians usually employ that term). “The timing was perfect,” Klein wrote. “Governments around the world were suddenly desperate for terrorist hunting tools, as well as for human intelligence know-how in the Arab world. Under the leadership of the Likud Party, the Israeli state billed itself as a showroom for the cutting-edge homeland security state, drawing on its decades of experience and expertise fighting Arab and Muslim threats. Israel’s pitch to North America and Europe was straightforward: the War on Terror you are just embarking on is one we have been fighting since our birth. Let our high-tech firms and privatised spy companies show you how it’s done.”

As well as making specialised components for arms used by Israel, Ireland has been a valued customer of the Israeli arms industry. Between 2005 and early 2009, Ireland’s Department of Defence bought military equipment worth over €9 million from Israeli firms.

The appointment of Irish solider Pat Nash to command a European Union military operation in Chad – a mission generally dominated by troops from Chad’s former colonial overlord France – has been hailed by many politicians as an example of the determination of our army to bring peace to distant troublespots. The same politicians have for the most part kept mum about how Irish troops taking part in that mission have availed of mini-UAVs made by the Israeli company Aeronautics Defense Systems. In 2007, Ireland bought two Orbiters (as these drones are called), for €780,000.

Another Israeli firm Rabintex Industries won a €2.5 million contract in 2006 to supply Irish soldiers with 12,000 helmets. Israel’s war against Lebanon that year and the subsequent carnage caused by Israel in Gaza evidently did not prick the consciences of defence officials in Dublin. Early last year, the department of defence awarded Elbit Systems a €2.4 million contract to install surveillance pods and masts into a new fleet of tanks being developed for the Irish army.

Elbit is one of two main suppliers of surveillance equipment to the 450km “apartheid wall” that Israel has built in the West Bank. Norway’s government announced in September last that its state pension fund was prohibited from investing in Elbit. “We do not want to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of humanitarian law,” the Norwegian finance minister Kristin Halvorsen said at the time. Unlike Norway, Ireland does not appear to have any qualms about handing over its citizens’ money to firms undertaking a project declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Despite the widespread belief in political and intelligence circles that Mossad used fake Irish passports to hunt down and assassinate a leading member of Hamas in Dubai during January, Israeli arms companies remain eligible for lucrative contracts from the department of defence. According to The Sunday Independent, Israel Military Industries is in a prime position to win a deal to supply 10 million bullets to the Irish army. The department of defence did not respond, when I asked if Israeli firms had expressed an interest in the contract.

Ireland’s economic ties to Israel are by no means confined to purely military arrangements. In 2001 Dublin’s CRH acquired a 25% stake in Mashav, the holding company for Nesher, the principal Israeli cement manufacturer. Quizzed by Amnesty International in 2004, CRH acknowledged that Nesher cement had in “all probability” been used in building the “apartheid wall”.

“Most of this involvement in the wall is complete,” said Merav Amir, who runs, a website naming companies that benefit from the occupation of Palestine. “But we do know that they use Nesher cement for many other things that are still being done in the West Bank: to construct Israeli settlements and roads and bridges.”

Through Mashav, CRH has also been linked to Hanson, the second largest building company in Israel. Hanson’s German parent company HeidelbergCement decided to sell it to Mashav last year but the deal has subsequently been cancelled after it was opposed by Israel’s competition authorities. Hanson has two concrete plants in the Israeli settlements of Atarot and Modin Illit, as well as controlling an asphalt plant and a quarry in the West Bank. Because international law forbids an occupying power from exploiting the natural resources of the land it occupies, the Hanson-run quarry at Nahal Raba has been subject to a legal challenge by Israeli environmentalists. Last year the Israeli high court ordered that there should be no expansion of quarries run by Israeli firms in the West Bank for a six month period.

Eircom, meanwhile, has been in discussions with a consortium that includes the Israeli firm Amdocs on establishing a multi-million euro computer billing system. A spokesman for Eircom was unable to confirm if the contract for the system has been signed yet but claimed that Amdocs would only be a subcontractor in the project, which is led by IBM. This “subcontractor” was formerly headed by Avi Naor, a founder of Mahal 2000, which carries out recruitment drives for the Israeli army abroad. Amdocs also bought the Irish software company Changing Worlds in 2008 for a princely €46 million.

Ireland’s cosy commercial relationship with Israel cannot be viewed in isolation from the EU’s ever-tightening embrace of Israel. All of the EU’s foreign ministers – Micheál Martin included – agreed in late 2008 that their links with Israel should be upgraded to the point that Israel would be a member of the Union in all but name. Although much of the formal follow-up work to that decision has stalled because of the subsequent war in Gaza, Israel is taking part in a wide variety of strategically and economically important EU programmes dealing with science, satellite navigation and enterprise development. Shortly before he stepped down as the EU’s foreign policy chief last year, Javier Solana said that no country outside Europe has a stronger bond with the EU than Israel.

In November 2007, the European Commission launched the “EU-Israel business dialogue”, a forum where chief executives can brainstorm about how to strip away any “barriers” they encounter to trade and investment (“barriers” in this context is code for social and environmental standards that corporations deem pesky). Even though Israel only has a population of 7 million, it was elevated to the same status as far larger economies like the US, India and Japan, with whom the Union had previously established such “dialogues”. Not surprisingly, the press pack that civil servants prepared for journalists covering the launch omitted any reference to how several of the firms taking part are active in the occupied territories. Alongside the aforementioned Elbit, were Bank Leumi and the book-sellers Steimatsky. Both have branches and shops in several Israeli settlements.

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy is among the senior European leaders who have been championing deeper European investment in Israel. Veolia, the Paris-based multinational, has been something of a pioneer in this regard. It is the lead contractor in a light rail project aimed at connecting Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem with the city centre.

Because Veolia has been adept at winning public works contracts in many countries, it has become the target of an international campaign to pressurise it into abandoning the racist-inspired railway. Councillors in Sligo and Galway have passed motions urging that contracts with Veolia should be cancelled, along with many other local authorities in several continents.

One of the key reasons why the occupation persists is that Israel has displayed significant ingenuity in building an economy around it. All of us committed to human rights have a duty to shed light on the Irish and European firms who profit from that economy and the pain it inflicts on Palestine.

•An edited version of this article was published in The Phoenix, May 21 issue (

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