Monday, April 30, 2012

Why MEPs must rip up trade deal with Israel

Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.

Those words were uttered in the early 1960s by Henrik Verwoerd, the South African prime minister. As an incorrigible racist himself, he had no difficulty recognising the foundation of the state of Israel as a racist project.

Twice over the past few weeks, I’ve seen Roadmap to Apartheid, a powerful new documentary directed by Eron Davidson and Ana Nogueira, which compares Israel with South Africa under white rule. What struck me is that the practises and terminology used in both situations are almost identical. In South Africa, black people were declared as “foreign natives”; Israel considers Palestinians as “present absentees”. In both cases, this obscene language is used to strip human beings of essential rights on the spurious pretext that they don’t belong on the land to which they are indigenous.

The United Nations defines apartheid as the domination of one racial or ethnic group over another. When the definition is applied to Israel, it can be concluded that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is more extreme than South Africa’s oppression of the black majority during its apartheid era. As Roadmap to Apartheid demonstrates, black South Africans were never subjected to a three-week bombing campaign of the type Israel inflicted on Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants in December 2008 and January 2009.

Boycott grows

White rule was eventually brought down in South Africa through a combination of internal resistance and international pressure. It is striking that Israel now faces a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign that is growing faster than a similar international mobilisation against apartheid South Africa. The first call for a global boycott of South Africa was made in the 1950s but did not have a serious impact until the 1980s. The Palestinian call for BDS is a mere seven years old but has already notched up significant victories. Even the European Parliament recently cancelled a contract with the security firm G4S because it provides services to Israeli prisons.

Sadly, the Parliament is not fully signed up to the BDS pledge.

Within the next two months, MEPs are expected to vote on a new EU-Israel trade accord. Known as the Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) agreement, it would grant quality checks that the Israeli authorities carry out on manufactured goods the same status as checks carried out by authorities within the Union. This would make it easier for Israel to export manufactured goods here. Initially, the accord will be limited to pharmaceutical products but could soon be extended to other categories.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regards winning the Parliament’s approval for ACAA as a top priority. It has hired the “public relations” firm Kreab Gavin Anderson to assist with its efforts. Karl Isaksson, head of Kreab’s Brussels office, has told me that his outfit is providing Israel with advice on “political messaging”.

The three stooges

Isaksson previously worked as chief adviser to Sweden’s Conservative MEPs. It cannot be a coincidence that one of the most active supporters of ACAA is the current Swedish Conservative MEP, Christoffer Fjellner.

In February, Fjellner and two other MEPs (Poland’s Marek Siwiec and Britain’s Sarah Ludford) put their names to an article that reeked of hasbara (the Hebrew term for propaganda). It inferred that Israel will enable us live longer and help lift us out of recession.

ACAA is necessary, according to the three stooges, to increase the supply of “high-quality and affordable medicines” in Europe. Israel is “a leader in innovation in health care products and services”, their article contends. Boosting trade with “our main partners” is “arguably of increased importance today given the deterioration of public finances and the need to cut government spending across the continent,” it adds.

Karel de Gucht, the Union’s trade commissioner, has been trying to persuade MEPs to rubber-stamp ACAA by presenting it as “no more than a technical agreement”.

De Gucht’s case is disingenuous. In a 2009 “progress report” on Israel, the European Commission stated that ACAA’s entry into force would mark the first step in Israel’s integration into the EU’s single market for goods and services. De Gucht cannot seriously maintain that the single market is simply a technical matter; it is deeply political.

The EU’s governments do not see ACAA as “no more than a technical agreement” either. Replying to an MEP’s query last year, the Council of Ministers said that ACAA is “likely to have a positive impact on EU-Israel bilateral relations.”

Before stepping down as the EU’s foreign policy chief in 2009, Javier Solana described Israel as a member of the Union, without being a member of its institutions. ACAA will make a strong relationship even stronger.

It is insulting for Zionist sympathisers to present Israel as a medical leader. Halla Shoaibi from the University of Michigan in the US has documented how 69 Palestinian women had to give birth at Israeli roadblocks because they were prevented from reaching hospitals between 2000 and 2007. Five of the mothers and 35 babies died as a result.

The state of Israel decides who can go to hospital and, in many cases, who can live or die based on people’s religion and ethnicity. A South African regime once made comparable decisions based on the colour of one’s skin.

Make no mistake, Israel is an apartheid state.

●First published by New Europe, 29 April – 5 May 2012.

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