Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Influence of French pro-Israel lobby examined in new book

How powerful is the pro-Israel lobby in Europe?

I’ve just finished reading a book on CRIF, the dominant Zionist organization in France, that provides some light on that little-discussed topic in a measured and scholarly way.

Written by Samuel Ghiles-Meilhac, Le CRIF: De la Résistance juive à la tentation du lobby (CRIF: From the Jewish Resistance to the lobby temptation) traces how a supposedly broad church has come to define itself narrowly as a defender of Israel’s worst excesses.

The representative council for Jewish institutions in France, or CRIF as it’s better know, bands together more than 60 groups ranging from scouts to lawyers. Its origins were in secret meetings during the Second World War, aimed at ensuring that Jews would never again have to endure the suffering inflicted on them by the Vichy regime, which helped deport over 75,000 Jewish refugees and French citizens to Nazi death camps.

Documents studied by Ghiles-Meilhac show that when its inaugural charter was being drawn up in 1943 and 1944, there was a lively debate about whether or not it should have a Zionist orientation. Communists taking part in the drafting discussions argued forcefully and with some degree of success that it shouldn’t declare support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

That changed in 1977, when a section titled “links with Israel” was inserted into the council’s revised charter. It described the state of Israel as “the privileged expression of being Jewish”.

Snubbed by Bibi

Nonetheless, the CRIF has not always blindly followed a line dictated to it by the Israeli government. In 1999, Benjamin Netanyahu (nearing the end of his first stint as prime minister) snubbed a delegation from the council in Israel because its president Henri Hajdenberg had recently exchanged pleasantries with Yasser Arafat during a meeting in Egypt.

There is no such friction with Netanyahu this time around. In June 2009, the council threw a party in his honor when he visited Paris, giving the prime minister a “triumphal reception” (Ghiles-Meilhac’s words).

Climate of censorship

Lurching more and more to the right, CRIF has tried to create a climate of censorship. In September 2000, the TV channel France 2 broadcast images of Israeli troops killing the Palestinian child Mohammed Al-Dura. Alarmed by how the footage increased awareness among the French public about the routine violence of the Israeli state, French politician Philippe Karsenty used a CRIF event to claim that “the child is not dead” and to accuse France 2 of anti-Semitism. Four candidates for the post of CRIF’s president were in attendance when Karsenty made those remarks; none of them took issue with him.

Another channel, ARTE, was told by CRIF in 2004 that it should interest itself in themes other than the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Careful not to exaggerate CRIF’s influence, Ghiles-Meilhac identifies instances where French policy has differed from that proposed by the council. Yet he demonstrates how CRIF has become the “second voice of Israel” in France, in effect serving as an adjunct to the official Israeli embassy. Its annual dinners have offered a platform, where leading political figures make what they consider as important policy announcements. François Fillon, the prime minister, stated his intention to seek new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme at the 2010 event.

Ghiles-Meilhac agrees that CRIF enjoys close links with Nicolas Sarkozy. These were cultivated when he was minister of the interior and flaunted publicly after Sarkozy’s election as president. In 2008, Sarkozy became the first French president to attend CRIF’s annual dinner.

But it was Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister from 2007 until last year, who proved to be especially malleable. When PNGO, the Palestinian network of non-governmental organizations, was named as a recipient of a French human rights award in 2009, CRIF went ballistic. After trying to smear the reputation of the network by insinuating it was a front for Hamas, the council succeeded in having the presentation ceremony for the award moved from the Quai d’Orsay, the foreign ministry’s headquarters, to another venue.

Kouchner still turned up at the ceremony but used his speech to castigate PNGO for exhorting a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions. According to Ghiles-Meilhac, it was probably “unprecedented” for the Zionist lobby to have such a direct say in the running of an official government event and the content of the message delivered at it.

If you understand French, I’d strongly recommend that you check out this fascinating book.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 30 August 2011.

Monday, August 29, 2011

France heedless to Fukushima wake-up call

Back in the 1990s, I was given a guided tour of Sellafield, an infamous nuclear complex on the edge of England’s spectacularly beautiful Lake District. One of the first things I noticed was a sign reading “Mr Bean free zone” in a plant containing spent radioactive fuel. For years afterwards, I thought about the damage that a clumsy character could do in a facility like that. Today, I reckon that Mr Bean would offer a safer pair of hands than the people who run the nuclear industry.

Francis Sorin from SFEN, the French nuclear energy association, ties himself up in knots while trying to make the case that there is life for his industry after Fukushima. In a recent article, he contradicts himself in the space of the same paragraph.

“In our country which, unlike Germany, has no coal, oil or gas, nuclear is synonymous with security of supply,” he writes. “Indeed, thanks to this energy source and to the contribution of hydraulic energy, France is now capable of producing all its own electricity, quite independently of any outside market. Areva, the world’s number one producer of uranium, owns and/or exploits significant uranium mines in America, Africa and Asia. This stock of energy reserves amounts to the equivalent of 35 years of national consumption.”

One moment, Sorin is lauding how nuclear energy guarantees France independence. The next he is acknowledging how that energy depends on imported resources. And he seriously wants us to believe that nuclear is preferable to wind and solar power? That it is better to use radioactive substances transported from Africa and Asia than sources of energy that are readily available at home?

Shaky foundations

The shaky foundations of France’s nuclear industry are laid bare in a new book by Corinne Lepage, a former government minister who is now an MEP. In “La vérité sur la nucléaire” (“The Truth About Nuclear”), she excoriates how the industry has been nurtured by the state, without any proper democratic oversight. Among the sordid consequences are that malfunctions in nuclear installations have been kept secret. Details of a 1968 accident affecting the core of a reactor at Chooz, a nuclear plant near the Franco-Belgian border, were not disclosed until 1977.

Lepage makes a convincing case that the manner in which France has taken the nuclear option is illegal. Under the French constitution, the national assembly has powers to legislate on matters relating to defence and the environment. Yet even though the nuclear industry patently relates to both of those policy domains, the country’s 58 reactors were built as a result of a prime ministerial decree from 1963. The same goes for the nuclear reprocessing centre Le Hague, the French equivalent of Sellafield.

Her book also leaves the reader in no doubt that there is an unhealthily close relationship between the grandees of politics and energy. Jean-Claude Lenoir used to be in charge of buttering up parliamentary contacts for Electricité de France. He is now a parliamentarian for Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement. In 2004, he was put in charge of drafting legislation on electricity and gas.

The attempts by the nuclear industry to rebrand itself as green and as a solution to climate change look all the more cynical when you examine who that industry has hopped into bed with here in Brussels. Areva and Vattenfall say they are committed both to nuclear and renewable energy. Yet they have allied themselves with some of the world’s dirtiest men. The two firms are part of the European Energy Forum, which also includes Shell and BP, the wreckers of the Niger Delta and Gulf of Mexico respectively. The forum arranges for MEPs to go on corporate-sponsored junkets. Later this week, the forum will participate in a trip to Canada, where our elected representatives will be able to inspect work on extracting tar sands that will accelerate global warming.

Research reactor in earthquake zone

The Fukushima disaster should have shattered all illusions about the safety record of nuclear power. Yet big nukes are still being cosseted by the EU’s institutions. On 7 March – four days before the Japanese earthquake that triggered a series of meltdowns in Fukushima – the European Commission recommended that 2.5 billion euros should be allocated to nuclear research in 2012 and 2013. The EU’s governments endorsed that proposal in late June.

A particularly obscene aspect of this decision is that much of the money involved will be spent on a project called ITER, the international thermonuclear experimental reactor. It is being built in Cadarache in Provence. A 1994 paper drawn up by the French Institute for Nuclear Safety and Protection (IPSN) said that the area surrounding Cadarache is one of “destructive seismic disturbances”. Significant seismic events are likely to occur in that region about once a century, the paper noted, with the last major event of such a nature in 1913.

A few weeks before he died last year, the Nobel-winning physicist Georges Charpak urged that ITER be shelved and the money earmarked for it spent on “useful research”. Echoing his call, Lepage denounces the French government for insisting that ITER continues, against the interest of the country’s taxpayers. “The truth is that the megalomania of the nuclear lobby has put France, already in a bad financial position, in a financial vice it will be difficult to loosen,” she writes.

How much longer can policymakers be allowed remain heedless to the wake-up call from Fukushima?

·First published by New Europe (www.neurope.eu), 29 August 2011.

Friday, August 26, 2011

NATO mulls marriage with Israel

Israel wishes to participate in NATO’s future wars, judging by the content of a diplomatic cable released this week by WikiLeaks.

Dating from November 2009, the document from the American embassy in Tel Aviv summarizes a briefing given by Claudio Bisorgniero, NATO’s deputy-secretary general, during a visit to Israel.

Fresh from talks with Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, Bisorgniero noted that Israel wishes to sign a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the alliance. Such an accord lays down the rules covering a country’s troops when they are operating abroad.

The notion of a SOFA (a silly acronym) between Israel and the alliance has been advocated by the Zionist lobby for a few years now. Less than a fortnight before the cable was drawn up, the policy journal Europe’s World published an article by Matthew Mark Horn from the American Jewish Congress on Israel’s relations with NATO. He indicated that a status of forces accord would allow Israel join NATO operations more swiftly than it has to date.

Horn, a former official in the US defense department, hinted at his frustration over how it took two years of negotiations before an Israeli officer could be posted to the headquarters of Operation Active Endeavor in Naples. Originally, that Mediterranean-patrol mission was part of NATO’s response to the atrocities on 11 September 2001; its remit has subsequently been expanded to serve a reactionary agenda of stopping impoverished foreigners from sailing to Europe.


Bisorgniero described Israel’s idea of a SOFA as “sensitive”, according to the cable. It could be problematic, he suggested, for NATO to conclude such an agreement with Israel, unless similar arrangements could be found with some Arab countries. Since 1994 NATO has been involved in a process called the Mediterranean dialogue with states neighboring members of the alliance. Along with Israel, those states are Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Mauritania. Israel has used this forum for dialogue to forge greater ties with the alliance than all of the others, however.

It is telling that the cable does not allude even once to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009. NATO gave its tacit approval for that act of aggression earlier this year. When Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli military chief who oversaw Cast Lead, visited Brussels in January, he was treated to a farewell dinner to mark his imminent retirement as head of the world’s “most moral army.”

No guilt over massacres

Under Ashkenazi’s leadership, that army wiped out 22 members of the al-Dayah family -- including 12 children and a pregnant woman -- when it bombed the family’s Gaza home in early 2009. NATO commanders may be feeling a sense of affinity with Ashkenazi this month as they have tried to excuse an even bloodier massacre in Libya. On the night of 8 August, NATO attacked residential areas in Zliten, a city in the district of Misrata. According to the Libyan authorities, 85 people were killed. Thirty-three of them were children; 32 them of them women, some reports say.

Don’t feel bad if you have not heard of that massacre; it received scant attention in the Western press. The BBC’s Matthew Price visited the scene of the attack and admitted that he saw the corpses of women and children in the morgue. But he also sought to lend credence to the NATO narrative that it had struck a “legitimate target” (the words of its propagandist Roland Lavoie), where Gaddafi loyalists were sheltering. “The front line is not far away,” Price reported. “From the site, plumes of white smoke can be seen rising from where the fighting is taking place. It would make sense that soldiers would need somewhere to rest in the area.”

NATO’s killing of children does not elicit even the faintest pang of conscience among its commanders and their lackeys in the media. It would be logical, then, for NATO to make sure its flirtations with Israel lead to a proper marriage.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2011.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Arms industry promoter latest recruit for UK Israel lobby

What is the next career move for a promoter of the arms industry? Join the Israel lobby, it seems.

Over the past few days, I have been writing about how the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM) has indicted war criminal Michael Herzog on its staff. Herzog’s newest colleague at the center is Luke Akehurst, until recently a “defense” specialist with the public relations giant Weber Shandwick.

Enticing Akehurst to work for her is quite a coup for Lorna Fitzsimons, BICOM’s chief executive. He was named “UK consultant of the year” at the 2008 Public Affairs News Awards. The prize was in recognition for his invaluable services for several companies that arm dictators.

Libya connection

Finmeccanica, one of his clients, cultivated strong links with Muammar Gaddafi lately. While it has predicted that its revenues for 2011 will exceed €18 billion, the civil war in Libya will inevitably have repercussions. The Italian firm has a backlog of orders worth €800 million from the Gaddafi regime.

Akehurst also represented GKN, which supplied water cannons to Indonesia in the 1990s, unperturbed about how its then military ruler Suharto was overseeing an occupation in East Timor, that involved one of the twentieth century’s worst cases of genocide. Serco, another client of his, manages Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium that bands it together with the world’s number one weapons maker Lockheed Martin.

It is fitting that Akehurst, a Labor Party elected representative for Hackney council in London, has joined BICOM. For the largest donor to that center Poju Zabludowicz inherited a vast fortune through his father’s involvement in the arms industry. Shlomo Zabludowicz set up a firm called Soltam, which is today owned by the top Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit.

In 2009, TheObserver reported that Poju Zabludowicz gave BICOM (which he chairs) nearly £1 million in 2007 alone. A subsequent TV documentary about Britain’s pro-Israel lobby showed how he has invested in a shopping centre in the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and other Israeli business activities in the occupied West Bank.

Blood money

According to The Sunday Times, Zabludowicz is placed at number 31 on the list of Britain’s richest residents.

Even though Fitzsimons and Akehurst hail from a Labor background, Zabludowicz is a generous contributor to the rival Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron. It is de rigueur for that party’s members of parliament to join the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFOI) and take part in its trips to the Middle East. One such junket – in February this year – included a visit to Elbit’s headquarters. A briefing note prepared by the CFOI underscored how Elbit “provides the British armed forces with the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that play such a crucial role in intelligence-collection.” The MPs weren’t reminded that such warplanes were used to kill and maim women and children in Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 and early 2009.

I would like to congratulate Luke Akehurst on his new appointment and suggest that he studies his payslips carefully. If he does, he will see they are stained with the blood of innocent Palestinians.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 23 August 2011.

Why did the BBC whitewash NATO massacre in Libya?

For me, the summer of 2011 started in March. On a beautiful day, I visited Portcullis House in London, a spacious building where members of parliament work. And who did I see staring at me only Tony Blair?

Not literally, I hasten to add. There were several portraits of the former prime minister hanging on the walls. In one of them, he looked tired and pensive; in another, ruthless and sinister.

Later on that long, hot day, I briefly met an inspiring young man called Jody McIntyre. Towards the end of last year, McIntyre was in the news when police pushed him out of his wheelchair at a demonstration against David Cameron’s efforts to reserve university education for the rich. When he was interviewed by the BBC, that gormless newscaster Ben Brown suggested McIntyre (who has cerebal palsy) had provoked the attack by “rolling your wheelchair towards the police”.

I have been thinking about McIntyre over the past few weeks. The BBC’s coverage of the riots that were the top story in Britain this August once again displayed how the corporation is a propaganda service for the ruling elite. In an apparent effort to put the riots in a historical context, the BBC invited the veteran broadcaster and civil rights activist Darcus Howe to comment. Yet the interviewer Fiona Armstrong had no interest in Howe’s cogent analysis of why the unrest occurred. Instead, she tried to malign him by inferring (without evidence) that he had started riots in the past.

What, you may wonder, have those haunting images of Blair to do with this? The aforementioned Ben Brown played his part in trying to dress up as facts those lies with which Blair took his country to war. Brown’s reports as an “embedded” journalist in Iraq served little purpose other than as PR promos for the British Army.

As images of looting in English cities were shown repeatedly this month, it was easy for the casual viewer to forget that Britain is still bombing foreign lands. The mainstream media paid scant attention to atrocities committed by British and other NATO forces in Libya. On the night of 8 August, NATO attacked residential areas in Zliten, a city in the district of Misrata. According to the Libyan authorities, 85 people were killed. Thirty-three of them were children; 32 them of them women, some reports indicate.

Parroting Western propaganda

Like everyone else, I have no means of verifying whether or not those reports are accurate. But why should journalists regard NATO’s version of events as the only one that could possibly be credible? In his report from the scene a few days later, the BBC’s Matthew Price sought to lend credence to NATO’s insistence that it had hit farm buildings used by pro-Gaddafi forces and had therefore struck a “legitimate target” (the words used by Roland Lavoie, a colonel tasked with selling the Libya war to the press). “The front line is not far away,” Price wrote. “From the site, plumes of white smoke can be seen rising from where the fighting is taking place. It would make sense that soldiers would need somewhere to rest in the area.”

Price gave an account of what he saw in the local morgue. Most of the corpses he saw were of men of “fighting age” (his words) but there were also two women and two children. Price’s online biography says he graduated in geography from Cambridge in 1994; it does not indicate he has ever been trained to perform an autopsy. Yet he appears to regard himself as sufficiently qualified in medical matters to insinuate that the children could not have been killed by NATO. “One child, a two year old, bore no visible scars,” he wrote. “Its skin was clean.”

BBC reporters, it should be recalled, can do well for themselves by currying favour with NATO. Oana Lungescu and Mark Laity both used to cover NATO’s activities for the BBC. Both were then hired as spindoctors for the alliance. The case of Laity’s appointment represents a particular affront to journalistic ethics as it was patently a reward for his reporting (stenography would be more accurate) of the war against Serbia in 1999. When NATO killed numerous ethnic Albanian refugees in one attack, he helped spread the myth that it had bombed a military convoy.

An elite addicted to war

This summer’s riots could tell us many things about British society. They could tell us what happens when you have a lethal cocktail of police brutality and rising inequality. Tottenham, where they started, has the highest level of unemployment in London. Is it any wonder that its young people reacted angrily when the police shot dead a black man, especially when we know that blacks are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by English and Welsh police than whites?

There is an even bigger issue here. Britain has one of world’s most violent governments, regardless of which parties comprise it. Britain is home to one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, BAE. Since 1999, Britain has bombed Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Only the US has chalked up more acts of aggression.

Britain’s greatest thugs are not the looters on its streets, they are the immaculately groomed men (and some women) who have committed the UK to endless wars. Unlike the rioters, their crimes go unpunished.
And BBC journalists with flawless diction can be relied on to whitewash these crimes.

·First published by New Europe, (www.neurope.eu), 22 August 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Indicted war criminal on payroll of UK Israel lobby

On Friday, I wrote about how Michael Herzog, a retired Israeli brigadier general, is working for one of the most influential Zionist lobby outfits in London. After doing some more research, I realized that as well as being a “senior visiting fellow” with the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM), Herzog is the subject of war crime proceedings in Spain.

In January 2009, Spain’s national court decided to open an investigation into Herzog and six other Israeli political and military figures over their involvement in the 2002 bombing of a residential area in Gaza.

The attack was supposedly a “targeted assassination” of Salah Shehadeh, commander of Hamas’ military wing the Izzedeen al-Qassam Brigades. Along with Shehadeh, 14 other Palestinians died. They included a two month old infant, seven other children and two elderly men. Numerous others were injured in the blast from the 2,000 pound bomb used by Israeli forces; 11 houses in the al-Daraj district of Gaza City were irreparably damaged.

Herzog was an adviser to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, then Israeli defense minister, at the time of the attack. On 29 January 2009, both men (and their co-accused) were ordered to present themselves in Spain within 30 days.

The case has been taken by four Spanish lawyers and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. The lawyers have invoked a law on universal jurisdiction, which allows the Spanish judicial authorities to investigate crimes against humanity throughout the world.

Fugitive from justice

This morning I called BICOM to ask if it was aware of the proceedings against Herzog when it decided to put him on its payroll. “I have no idea”, BICOM’s spokesman Dermot Kehoe told me, explaining that he was not yet working for BICOM when Herzog was appointed.

Kehoe promised to examine my query further and get back to me. If he does (and has anything of substance to say), I’ll happily update this blog post.

In the meantime, it is fair to surmise that BICOM was perfectly aware of the proceedings against Herzog, just as it was aware that he counselled Ehud Barak, the current Israeli defense minister, on the conduct of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009.

It is true that Herzog probably will not be held accountable for his crimes by a Spanish court. Miguel Moratinos, then Spain’s foreign minister, gave an undertaking to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni in early 2009 that the Spanish universal jurisdiction law would be watered down. Directly as a result of Israeli pressure, the law (which has been in force since 1985) was amended last year.

Spain’s capitulation to Israel does not provide BICOM with any excuse for recruiting an indicted war criminal. It should be noted, in particular, that the Spanish national court reprimanded the state of Israel for refusing to cooperate with its handling of the case against Herzog and his co-accused.

It can, therefore, be concluded that BICOM has hired a fugitive from justice.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada, (www.electronicintifada.net), 22 August 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fake flexibility from London's Israel lobby

Predictably, the European Union responded quickly to yesterday’s violence in Southern Israel. "I condemn unreservedly all such acts of terror," the bloc’s foreign policy chief Catherine Asthon said.

Will Ashton be issuing another statement today to denounce the Israeli military in similarly strong terms for murdering an infant in Gaza a few hours later? Or for ending a teenager’s life in the early hours of this morning? I’m sure that she won’t. The most we can expect is that she will call for "restraint" (that weasel word which diplomats have rendered meaningless through overuse).

And did she post something on her website expressing revulsion at how Israeli troops shot dead Sa'd al-Majdalwai, a 17 year old with a mental disability, also in Gaza earlier this week? Of course, she didn’t. Why? Because he was too low down in the hierarchy of victims to get noticed. And because the European Union applies different standards to the Israeli forces of occupation and the Palestinians who resist them. Violence by Israel is "regrettable" (or, in most cases, elicits no comment); violence by Palestinians is always categorized as "terrorism".

A phony plea for understanding

Ashton may try to appear balanced -- she has repeatedly criticized the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- but, in reality, there is little to distinguish her from former colleagues in the British parliament such as Lorna Fitzsimons. Who, you might ask? Fitzsimons was an elected representative of the Tony Blair-led Labor Party in Westminster between 1997 and 2005. After losing her seat, she took up a job running a propaganda outfit called the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).

Fitzsimons had an opinion piece published by The Guardian in London this week, in which she sought to come across all reasonable. Purporting to be a big fan of mutual understanding, she patted her own back for organizing a "roundtable discussion" recently, where representatives of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the Palestinian party Fatah chatted amiably. She proceeded to illustrate how she has no interest in understanding the concerns of Palestinians by insisting "there cannot be a mass return of Palestinian refugees to [present-day] Israel."

War criminal in London

BICOM’s team includes a "senior visiting fellow" named Michael Herzog. He is a retired brigadier-general from the Israeli army. During Operation Cast Lead, that relentless three-week assault on Gaza’s civilians in late 2008 and early 2009, Herzog was chief of staff to Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister. As he was involved in planning that operation and advising on strategy, Herzog must be held accountable for the war crimes committed in its execution. Next time he pops into BICOM’s London offices for a cup of tea and some blue-sky thinking, the police should be alerted and be ready to arrest him.

Herzog has at least done one good thing: he has proven that BICOM’s declared belief that Israel should display "considerable flexibility" (as Fitzsimons wrote in her Guardian article) amounts to waffle. In a new briefing paper for the center, Herzog contends that any future Palestinian state would have to be non-militarized but that Israel would maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.

So while the Palestinians could have nothing more destructive in their arsenal than pea-shooters, the West Bank would remain surrounded by one of the world’s most powerful armies. That, it appears, is what the Israel lobby means by flexibility.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 19 August 2011.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

French journal of record peddles Zionist propaganda

Is it impossible to escape from Israel-related propaganda?

Yesterday, I was in a Brussels coffee shop, where I picked up a copy of Le Monde. In a section marked “The laboratories of the future”, the French daily had a full-page feature about the Israeli Institute for Technology in Haifa, which is better known as the Technion.

Described by Le Monde’s headline writer as a “high-tech Eden”, the university was lavished with praise for its innovative work on treating Parkinson’s disease and sending microsatellites into Space. Peretz Lavie, the university’s president, was quoted as arguing that the Technion was a model for coexistence between Israeli and Palestinian students and that there would be peace in the Middle East if everyone else could follow the Technion’s example. Indeed, the only hint that the region’s problems may encroach on the campus was in a paragraph about how students sometimes have to drop their books to fight Israel’s wars (such as the attack on Lebanon in 2006).

It seems clear that Laurent Zecchini, the author of this piece, either relied entirely on the university’s authorities for information or had no interest in exploring its military links further. For if he did a little googling, he should have easily found a comprehensive study on the Technion by Tadamon!, a Palestine solidarity organization based in Canada.

Harmony in Haifa?

That study confronts the Technion’s official drivel. Far from being a place of harmony, Palestinian students in Haifa have been treated in an overtly racist manner. Last year, 10 such students were arrested when they staged a protest against Israel’s murder of nine activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Yet there were no arrests of Zionist students who organized a larger counter-demonstration, which unlike the Palestinian one, was not authorized by the police.

Furthermore, the Technion has a history of close cooperation with the Israeli arms companies Rafael and Elbit, both of which supplied weapons used in the offensive against Gaza in 2008 and 2009. Technion has even joined forces with Rafael to run a business administration course specifically geared for that company’s managers.

Had Zecchini felt inclined to do a little more homework, he might also have got in touch with the Alternative Information Center, a campaign group working in Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has drawn attention to how Technion’s inventions include a remote-controlled bulldozer, designed to help the Israeli military demolish Palestinian homes.

The Technion, incidentally, is taking part in numerous EU-financed scientific research activities. And these activities have been enjoying some uncritical media attention of their own lately.

Mesmerized by murder

Home in Dublin last month, I saw an article in The Irish Times celebrating how the EU will be devoting a mammoth €7 billion to research in 2012. As the author of the article, Conor O’Carroll from the Irish Universities Association, didn’t acknowledge that Israel (including its arms industry) will be among the beneficiaries of this largesse, I contacted the paper’s editors asking if I could write an opinion piece rectifying this omission. Not a chance, I was told; the news agenda is way too crowded at the moment.

Somehow, though, The Irish Times has been able to find space in the not-too-distant past to promote Israel’s scientific triumphs. In May, it ran a puff piece about how Israel has “the highest density of start-ups in the world” and how it has been able to turn its “intermittent wars” to its advantage. “Military units often act as incubators for tech start-ups,” journalist Ian Campbell wrote. Mesmerized by this success story, Campbell forgot to trace how the products of this enterprising culture end up as tools of oppression.

Both Le Monde and The Irish Times are considered journals of record in their respective countries. It is a measure of how amenable they are to Israeli spin, that they are happy to present Zionist canards as undisputed facts.

Reading them often reminds me of my favorite comment from George Orwell: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 14 August 2011.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sweden, Israel and the banalization of evil

Sweden is perceived as being one of the European countries most willing to defend Palestinians. Two years ago, some Israelis became so incensed with this alleged bias that they initiated a campaign to boycott Ikea furniture and Absolut vodka.

The reality, as I realized on a trip to Scandinavia earlier this summer, is that the Swedish government has sponsored projects that seek to confer respectability on entrepreneurs who facilitate and profit from Israel’s crimes.

Headquartered in Stockholm, the Palestine International Business Forum (PIBF) is ostensibly focused on stimulating the private sector in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a wider strategy of bringing peace to the Middle East. That “vision” sits uncomfortably with the actual track record of many of the companies taking part in the forum’s activities.

The PIBF’s founders include Yacov Gebhard, chief executive with Partner Communications, a firm that provides telecommunications services to illegal Israeli settlers and the Israeli military. The list of the forum’s corporate members, meanwhile, features such individuals as Rami Guzman, a director of Africa Israel, a company involved in the construction of Israeli settlements, and Shalom Goldstein, a coordinator for the Jerusalem section of Israel’s wall in the West Bank. (Lest we forget, that wall was found to be unlawful by the International Court of Justice in 2004).

Among the other distinguished participants in the PIBF are Moshe Goan, a part-owner of Ahava, the company that produces “Dead Sea mud” cosmetics from an Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot, the bank that has provided financial support for the Har Homa settlement in East Jerusalem.

Jacob Perry, chairman of Mizrahi Tefahot, was previously the chief of Israel’s secret police, the
Caring image

The ghastly deeds of these men are at odds with the caring image that the PIBF projects. Its latest newsletter has a touching story about how it organized the first ever exhibition of Gazan flowers in Israel during April.

Eager to find out how the forum can justify this incongruity, I emailed and phoned Margit Vaarala, its secretary-general. Vaarala told me she was too busy to talk this week and couldn’t tell me when she would be available to comment. “I have just returned from vacation and have a lot of things to do,” she said.

So I called the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), an official government body that gave 19.5 million krona ($3 million) to the PIBF between January 2008 and December 2010. A SIDA spokeswoman explained to me that it has requested a new “conflict analysis and strategy” from the International Council of Swedish Industry, which oversees the PIBF’s activities.

Although the spokeswoman said that the agency wishes to see that analysis before deciding if it will release further funds, she contended that the PIBF had shown “good results” in helping to strengthen the private sector in Palestine.

This explanation chimes with the free market propaganda of the United States, the European Union and institutions they control such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. According to the narrative of these aid donors and their “technical experts”, everything will be fine if enough Israelis can be encouraged to do business with Palestinians.

Their collective worldview is so warped that they have no difficulty embracing arms dealers, torturers and other captains of industry hell-bent on dispossessing Palestinians. The truth is that these donors are not helping Palestine to prosper; they are enabling the banalization of evil.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 12 August 2011.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

AIPAC's European cousin evades scrutiny

I don’t envy the 81 members of the US Congress who are on an expenses-paid trip to Israel this week. Having to listen to Zionist claptrap throughout the junket’s packed schedule is not my idea of a fun vacation.

But I was struck by how the jaunt, organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has received some attention from the mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic. London’s right-wing Daily Mail noted that AIPAC’s critics believe it operates on behalf of the Israeli government and has “secured too much influence on Congress”.

While it’s positive that AIPAC’s activities are coming under greater scrutiny, it is noteworthy that little attention has been paid to how a similar lobbying outfit is being developed in Europe. In February, around 400 members of parliaments from across this continent were brought to Israel in a trip hosted by the European Friends of Israel (EFI). They included 120 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) -- one-sixth of that assembly’s total membership.

When I checked The Daily Mail’s online archive, I could find no reference to the February trip. That was despite how British MEPs are among some of the EFI’s most zealous supporters. The Conservative Party’s Charles Tannock was one of the group’s founders in 2006, declaring at the time that the EFI was required to counter the “black propaganda” of Palestine solidarity activists.

Mimicking AIPAC

Although the EFI has claimed to be independent of AIPAC, it is mimicking that committee’s modus operandi. AIPAC has not made details of the itinerary for this week’s visit by Congress members public. It’s a safe bet, though, that the itinerary is broadly similar to that followed by the EFI earlier this year. As well as being given a chance to marvel at the production sites for Israeli weapons, participants in that jaunt were greeted by Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and other leading political figures.

One crucial difference between the US and Europe is that there is some degree of transparency about how AIPAC behaves in Washington. By searching “lobbying disclosure” sites, I learnt that AIPAC $2.75 million on schmoozing Congress in 2010. I could also peruse lists of laws the group has sought to tweak in its favor.

By contrast, the EFI has not signed up to a register of “interest representatives” set up by the European Commission, so we don’t know how much it spends in Brussels and other European capitals. Unlike the US, the European Union does not have a mandatory financial disclosure system for lobbyists who prowl the corridors of its institutions.

On a few occasions over the past three years, I have asked the EFI’s office and parliamentarians belonging to it for details of how its work is funded. All of my requests have either been refused or have elicited no reply.

Donors a mystery

The only “information” that the EFI has given me is that its donors are from Europe. Yet The Jerusalem Post has reported that one of the group’s key contributors is Alexander Machkevitch. When I did some research on Machkevitch, I realized he is a mining magnate with dual Kazakh and Israeli nationality. Given that neither Kazakhstan nor Israel belong to the European continent, it would appear that EFI’s staff either flunked geography at school or have deliberately tried to mislead me.

While I consider AIPAC to be dangerous and racist, American citizens are at least able to track what it is up to. There is far greater secrecy about the Israel lobby in Europe and no appetite by most journalists to expose how it is a growing force. Surely, this culture of silence should be challenged.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 11 August 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Occupation profiteer Ahava soaks up EU science grants

Not for the first time, the European Union is in denial about how it is subsidizing Israel’s crimes.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU’s commissioner for scientific research, recently acknowledged that the cosmetics-maker Ahava was allocated more than €1 million worth of innovation grants from the Union over a period stretching from 1998 to 2013. Giving even one cent to Ahava involves facilitating breaches of international law because of the firm’s unlawful activities in the West Bank.

As Geoghegan-Quinn doesn’t appear to recognize this problem, she would be well-advised to read a report, issued in May, by the human rights organization B’Tselem. It highlights how Ahava is partly owned by two Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land: Mitzpe Shalem and Qalya. Both of those settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population to the territory it occupies.

Responding to a parliamentary question, Geoghegan-Quinn effectively conceded that some of Ahava’s EU-funded research may have been undertaken in the West Bank. While Ahava is “formally established within the borders of the internationally recognized state of Israel”, she said, beneficiaries of EU grants are not required to carry out the related research in the place of establishment.

I would alert Geoghegan-Quinn to two salient facts:
1. The rules covering EU science grants stipulate that projects which violate “fundamental ethical principles” are ineligible for funding. Carrying out research in one or more illegal settlements must surely violate such principles.
2. Ahava may be able to give its offices in Holon or Airport City, industrial zones near Tel Aviv, as an address for its headquarters when applying for Euro-lolly. Yet its core manufacturing activities are conducted in Mitzpe Shalem. If Geoghegan-Quinn doesn’t believe me on this, I urge her to take a trip to the settlement, where she will no doubt be given a warm welcome to Ahava’s official visitors’ centre.

There are other questions about why any of my tax euros should be going to a private cosmetics firm. A glance at Cordis, the EU’s database on its science grants, shows that in one of the projects concerned, Ahava has teamed up with the US Department of the Interior. The objective of this scheme is to assess what impact tiny toxins (nanoparticles, as boffins call them) can have on the environment.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I never had the impression that the Department of the Interior spent too much time worrying about trees and dolphins. So what is the real agenda here?

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 5 August 2011.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Israel lobby dictates who may run for Ireland's president

Until recently, I was convinced that the tiny pro-Israel lobby in my native Ireland was of little significance. When the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla was attacked last year, the best that lobby could do was wheel out two guys named Tom. Both Tom Carew and Tom Cooney competed with each other on the TV3 channel to see who could make the most absurd argument in support of Israel’s murder of nine peace activists onboard the Mavi Marmara.

On a quick visit to Dublin last week, I was surprised to hear that one of this wacky duo is now working for the national government. In April, Cooney was named an advisor to Alan Shatter, the Irish minister for justice and defense. A statement announcing the appointment indicated that Cooney, a law lecturer in University College Dublin, was something of an iconoclast, alluding to his track record of championing civil liberties at home and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

There was no mention of his views on Israel, a curious omission given that his new boss Shatter is a committed Zionist. Whereas the Irish government was generally more balanced in commenting about the Freedom Flotilla II than many of its EU counterparts over the past few months, Shatter was openly hostile to the effort, declaring it was “something of a mystery” to him why anyone could feel the need for a “political protest” against the Gaza blockade. Worryingly, Shatter has been put in charge of the department of defense by Ireland’s relatively new prime minister Enda Kenny; that department has awarded contracts to Israeli weapons firms in the not-so-distant past.

My trip also coincided with a protracted debate about who should be Ireland’s next president. Even though the role of the president in Ireland is largely ceremonial and the holder of that office has no executive power, elections for the position can be vicious affairs.

According to opinion polls, the front-runner in the race (the election is still several months away) was David Norris, a scholar of James Joyce who undertook an eventually successful legal challenge against Ireland’s ban on homosexual relations in the 1980s. This week, however, Norris from the contest after it emerged he had written a letter to an Israeli court in 1997 urging that it be lenient in sentencing his former partner Ezra Nawi, who was convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old Palestinian.

Don’t get me wrong. I am horrified by the very idea of an adult having sex with a child. Unquestionably, Norris showed poor judgment in making his appeal, particularly by writing it on official headed paper supplied by the Irish Senate, of which he is a long-standing member.

Nonetheless, there is no evidence than Norris did anything more sinister than seek mercy for somebody he loved.

It is telling that it was not child protection advocates that drew attention to Norris’ relationship with Nawi. Rather, it was Zionist blogger John Connolly, an Irish law graduate living in London.

Connolly stated that his “main problem with Norris in recent times has been his outspoken criticism of Israel”. Among the alleged misdemeanors he cited were that Norris had invited Ilan Pappé, the dissident Israeli historian, to address his colleagues in the Oireachtas, Ireland’s parliament.

Connolly’s blog post inspired journalists with the reactionary Irish Independent to delight in Norris’ difficulties. Kevin Myers, one of Ireland’s best-paid columnists, inferred that Norris wouldn’t dream of writing to Arab governments demanding that they treat gay men or lesbians fairly. This was a patently ludicrous claim as Norris has been a consistent champion of human rights throughout the world.

Despite being few in number, Irish Zionists appear to be growing in clout to such a degree they can determine who may and may not stand in elections. The conclusion that they have no qualms about undermining democracy seems inescapable.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada (www.electronicintifada.net), 3 August 2011.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer reading on Palestine

What books should a Palestine solidarity activist bring on vacation?

Well, I’ve nothing against any campaigner who tries to switch off completely from his or her cause during a badly-needed break by only packing novels or glossy magazines. But I find that summer can be a good time to tackle tomes that I wouldn’t otherwise get around to reading. So in between long walks, cycling, bowling, guzzling chocolate and gazing at West of Ireland sunsets, I checked out these five titles recently:

Extreme Rambling by Mark Thomas (Ebury Press, 2011): An English comic, Thomas has proven on three occasions that it’s possible to write page-turners about international politics. Having previously explored the trade in torture instruments (As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela) and human rights abuses linked to Coca Cola (Belching Out the Devil), his new book has him walking all 415 kilometers of the wall Israel has built in the West Bank, as well as part of the unfinished route. Incensed by how families in East Jerusalem have been forced out of their homes to make way for illegal settlers, how mothers have died in childbirth because they have been blocked from reaching maternity wards and how unemployment has shot up because Palestinians are stopped from going to work, Thomas explodes the myth that the wall enhances Israel’s security.

Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights: Diaspora Jewish Opposition to Israel by David Landy (Zed Books, 2011): A friend and one-time flatmate of mine, Landy is an Irish sociologist who has studied how a network of Jewish groups critical of Israel has developed since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. Although I struggled with the theoretical analysis that dominates its early chapters, the core findings of Landy’s research are fascinating. I was particularly struck by how he explains that rejecting Zionism can be just as agonizing for many Jews as “coming out” is for homosexuals. It’s also striking that while Landy appears broadly sympathetic to groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians, he doesn’t balk at berating them for being overly influenced by the Israeli left.

The Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation by Shir Hever (Pluto Press, 2010): True, the aforementioned Israeli left is generally wishy-washy and patronizing towards Palestinians. Yet Israeli economist Shir Hever provides a refreshing exception to this exceptionalism. In this mostly accessible 226-page work, he underscores how Israel has rigged the economy of the occupation so that it benefits a corporate clique.

Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement by Beverly Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell (Polity, 2010): I have serious reservations about this book. The authors often act as stenographers to the powerful by, among other things, describing Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority “prime minister” (by diktat, not election) as “internationally respected”, without addressing how he is a puppet of the International Monetary Fund, an institution controlled by the US and Europe. That said, they offer an informative account of how Hamas unexpectedly became the most trusted political party in the West Bank and Gaza in 2006.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel, edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar (Pluto Press, 2011): This is a suburb collection of essays on how Israel has sought to criminalize an entire people. The statistic that 700,000 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since it occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 may leave the reader unmoved but the detailing of individual prisoners’ experiences surely won’t. One of the most troubling facts I learned is that the Israeli authorities have decided to replicate methods with which they suppress street protests by Palestinians in the more confined space of prisons. It is hard to single out the most cruel thing Ariel Sharon did in his political and military career. Approving the use of tear gas behind bars was certainly one of them.

·First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 August 2011.