Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hasbara in Helsinki

Here we go again. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is portraying the Israel-Palestine conflict as one between equals.

In a speech today, Ashton congratulated herself for increasing Europe’s involvement in something called the Middle East peace process. “I have worked to achieve a greater EU role as I believe we are ideally placed as a friend of both parties,” she said.

What kind of friend is the EU leadership to the Palestinians? The kind that refuses to heed an appeal made by representatives of a wide cross-section of Palestinian society in 2005 for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

That is illustrated this week in Helsinki, where the European Union Contest for Young Scientists is taking place. Sponsored by the European Commission (a political body to which Ashton belongs), it features two finalists from Israel.

Greenwashing apartheid

Both of the qualifying projects chime with the propaganda of the Israeli state, or hasbara as it is known in Hebrew. The first one is in the social science category and seeks to demonstrate that fascism has roots in left-of-center politics. “Hopefully, this insight would be useful in fighting future fascism,” a blurb for the project says – without adding that Avigdor Lieberman and his ilk are nurturing a quasi-fascist intolerance in Israel.

The second project tries to reinforce the myth that Israel is ecologically responsible. Titled “Antileaks,” it designs a system for detecting leaks in water systems. I would be interested to find out if the system will be installed in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli settlers consume an average of 280 liters per day (in a desert environment), whereas Palestinians living in the West Bank have to make do with 73 (less than the 100 liters minimum recommended by the World Health Organization).

The Commission has some nerve supporting Israeli water conservation projects. For – as I have written repeatedly – it is a generous contributor of grants to makers of Israeli weapons like Elbit, Israeli Aerospace Industries and Rafael. Those firms helped destroy 30 kilometers of water networks, 6,000 home water tanks and 11 wells during Israel’s assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

“Avoid” Israel’s arms

On a more positive note, the European Parliament voted today that the EU should “avoid” involving countries that do not respect human rights, UN resolutions or international law in scientific research projects with potential military applications. This call was contained in a position paper approved by the Parliament on the future of EU research policy. Even though Israel was not named, the call was clearly directed at the Zionist state. Israel is the most active non-European participant in the Union’s multi-annual research programme.

Undoubtedly, the BDS activists who have urged members of Parliament (MEPs) to take up the cudgels against Israel deserve a drink to celebrate this vote. But the activists should restrict their imbibing to one glass and get straight back to work. Democracy is routinely ignored in the EU’s corridors of power, so there is little immediate likelihood that Israeli arms companies will be deemed ineligible for further science grants just because that is what a majority of elected representatives advocate. The future, though, is unwritten. With enough public support, the momentum created by the BDS campaign should prove unstoppable.

●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 27 September 2011.

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