Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Italy's new foreign minister Emma Bonino wants Israel in EU

Emma Bonino, Italy's new foreign minister, has been lobbying that Israel should be admitted into the European Union for more than a decade.

In 2001, Bonino and fellow members of the Radical Party launched a campaign in favor of Israel's immediate membership of the bloc, which then incorporated 15 countries.

As the call was made during the second intifada, it could only be interpreted as a gesture of support for the murderous tactics used by the Israeli military against Palestinians, with the full blessing of Ariel Sharon's government.

Radical Party activists that I have quizzed about the initiative argued that because Israel was a democracy it should be welcomed into the EU. This indicates that Bonino and her acolytes had fallen under the spell of Israeli spindoctors, who repeatedly insist that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. (The historian Ilan Pappe has demolished that propaganda by labelling Israel a herrenvolk democracy - a democracy for the masters only).

Bonino was a member of the European Parliament (MEP) at the time her campaign was undertaken. In that role, she had a duty to scrutinize if Israel was honoring the terms of an "association agreement" it had signed with the EU, which came into effect in 2000. That agreement stipulates that any trade preferences granted to Israel would be conditional on its respect for human rights. Bonino did not appear perturbed by how Israel was flouting that legally-binding accord.

"My friend Peres"

Bonino is known to have cordial relations with Shimon Peres, the current Israeli president. On the surface, the alliance is a puzzling one. The Radicals purport to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, whose image adorns the party's logo. Almost certainly, Gandhi would have despised the war crimes committed by Peres, particularly the 1996 massacre of 102 civilians that he authorized in Qana, Lebanon.

Speaking in 2004, Bonino recalled a 1995 visit to "my friend Shimon Peres" (then Israel's prime minister). Bonino said, "I -- who was then a bit disenchanted with Europe because of the events in the ex-Yugoslavia -- found a Peres, who said 'you have started from coal and steel, and we have to start from water resources, as an element of common management'."

This inference that Peres is committed to regional integration in the Middle East overlooks his pivotal role in nurturing Israel's arms industry (including its quest to develop nuclear weapons), thereby ratcheting up tensions with its neighbors.

Bonino has taken a progressive and brave stance on a number of issues: abortion rights; equality for homosexuals; the decriminalization of drugs.

Her bravery has, alas, deserted her on some key foreign policy issues. In 1999, for example, she supported NATO's attack on Serbia -- an operation which involved the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium.


In 2011, she signed an appeal urging the EU to set up an "arm's length equivalent to the National Endowment for Democracy" as part of its response to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The NED is an American-funded organization designed to make sure that governments in the wider world protect US interests.

Bonino's call was endorsed by Ana Palacio, the former Spanish foreign minister who backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It should be interpreted primarily as a plea to ensure that the elites in the Middle East remain receptive to Western demands, rather than as a cri de coeur for genuine democracy.

Italy has been one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in the EU over the past few years. Silvio Berlusconi, its prime minister at the time, even claimed that he did not notice Israel's massive wall in the West Bank when he visited Bethlehem in 2010. The main beneficiaries of this craven and buffoonish attitude towards Israel have been Italy's arms merchants. Last year the country's top weapons company, Finmeccanica, won a $1 billion contract to supply Israel with training jets.

Bonino is not a buffoon but she offers a continuation of this craven attitude towards Israel. Gandhi would be ashamed.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 April 2013.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The rich are getting richer: so tax them more

My brain is addled and my belly is full of blubber. I have just returned to Brussels after three weeks in Ireland, watching too many news bulletins and eating too much chocolate.

Here is why I am confused. The top story one day was that an International Monetary Fund official who elbowed Ireland into accepting a ruinous loan in 2010 had admitted that he got everything wrong. The "entire reliance" had been on austerity, according to Ashoka Mody, a former IMF head of mission for Ireland, and "clearly the experience, if experience was needed, has demonstrated that reliance on austerity is counterproductive".

The top story another day was that members of the country's trade unions had voted to reject a package of pay cuts for public sector workers. Such an act of rebellion to austerity was long-overdue. Yet the response from the Labour Party - a supposed ally of the unions - was to moan. Brendan Howlin, a veteran Labour politician who is now a minister for austerity, went on TV to alert the nation about the difficult phone call he would shortly receive from the "troika".


Howlin was almost demanding our sympathy as he prepared for a scolding from his masters in the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank. He didn't arouse any sympathy from me. Rather, I scorned his determination to continue with the very austerity measures that a senior IMF figure had so recently repudiated. It was impossible not to think of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Except, I'm not sure the champions of austerity want different results. Their prescriptions seem tailor-made to benefit the rich at the expense of people on low and middle incomes. From that perspective, the prescriptions are having the desired effect.

Social Justice Ireland, a group run by a principled priest Seán Healy, published a detailed analysis of the nation's economy while I was home. It states that the gap between the wealthiest 10% of the population and the poorest 10% has "dramatically widened" since 1987.

In 2009, the top 10% had an annual disposable income - the amount households can spend after they have paid all their income taxes - of nearly 120,000 euros. The poorest, on the other hand, had to make do with less than 11,000 euros.

The gap is getting bigger. The Gini coefficient is an indicator of inequality ranging from 0 to 100. Ireland's inequality levels were at 29.3 on this scale in 2009. By 2011, they had jumped to 31.1.

According to the latest "rich list" compiled by The Sunday Times, the number of Irish billionaires has almost doubled since the financial crash. And the future looks bright for the country's elite, judging by a new paper by Knight Frank, a consultancy on property. It predicts that the number of Ireland's "high net worth individuals" - those with $30 million or more in net assets - will grow from 554 in 2012 to 751 by 2022. That would be an increase of 36%.


All this data leads to a simple conclusion: Ireland could solve its economic problems by levying a special tax on the wealthy.

But on the rare occasions this idea is raised in the mainstream media, it is blithely dismissed. The argument generally trotted out is that the rich will flee the country if they face higher tax bills.

The argument is a cop-out. Firstly, it is fanciful to believe that a wealth tax would cause the rich to quit in droves. Ireland's history of emigration shows that it is primarily those with limited opportunities who have to leave, not the ultra-wealthy.

The alleged risk of the rich absconding makes the case for a wealth tax even stronger. To reduce that risk, it's necessary to campaign for the closure of tax havens, so that the greedy will not be able to squirrel away their cash.

And if some rich folk do split, the rest of the population should say "good riddance". As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate in their book The Spirit Level, inequality is a scourge that causes or exacerbates a myriad of social and health problems. UNICEF, for example, has found that relatively equal societies such as Finland and Sweden score far higher on child wellbeing than unequal societies like the US.


The super-rich can be a menace. Until a few years ago, Ireland's richest man was Seán Quinn, a multi-billionaire who was the single largest shareholder in Anglo Irish Bank. His lust for money was a major factor in the bank's eventual collapse. Bizarrely, some of my compatriots continue to defend him, arguing that he provided much-needed jobs.

We are too deferential to the rich in Ireland. It is obscene that Bono, the singer, is still taken seriously as a campaigner against poverty. He and his fellow members of U2 are worth 612 million euros, according to The Sunday Times.

A more obscure Dublin band, The Radiators, released an album called Ghost Town in 1979. That record came to mind after a visit to the Irish Financial Services Centre, which hosted a network of phantom banks. Between 2000 and 2006, the amount of money passing through them quadrupled to 1.6 trillion dollars.

The lax regulation of the financial sector proved catastrophic in Ireland, as it did elsewhere. But the elite is carrying on as if nothing has changed.

•First published by New Europe, 28 April-5 May 2013.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Israel invades privacy of campaigner Frank Barat

The Israeli government confirmed this week that passengers arriving in Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport may have their email accounts searched. By coincidence, the Palestine solidarity campaigner Frank Barat experienced that kind of intrusion when he flew there on Monday evening.

Shortly after Barat went to the immigration desk in the airport, he was met by an officer from Israel's internal security service, the Shabak. He was then handed a piece of paper and told to write down any email address that he had.

Barat was first asked a series of questions about the purpose of his trip and where he would be staying. He was then informed that under a new security procedure, the authorities can require a visitor to log on to their email account.

Prepared for such a measure, Barat had set up a special email account a few days earlier. Once he signed in to it, the officer "got upset" because Barat's inbox was empty.

Barat, a French national who coordinates the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, suspects that the Israeli authorities were already aware that he was politically active. "I really felt that they knew a lot," he told me. "Their point was to get more information and that was why they kept insisting on getting my email address because they know that way they can map networks. What they really wanted was to access and search my account."


In total, Barat's interrogation lasted about four hours. He was eventually brought to a prison cell within the airport complex. "It was not clean," he said. "The bed sheets were sticky and the toilets were disgusting. I asked to go outside and was under surveillance the whole time. I got two ten-minute breaks in 24 hours."

Barat was only permitted to alert his family to his detention via a text message. He was not able to contact a lawyer or the French embassy in Tel Aviv.

Following his day in Israeli custody, he was deported back to Brussels, where he is currently based. He had been scheduled to take part in a conference about Palestinian political prisoners in Ramallah.

Bogus assurance

Yesterday, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel received a response to a query it sent to the Israeli Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein almost a year ago. Weinstein's office admitted that the Shabak (also known as the Shin Bet) may search the email accounts of foreign visitors where "relevant suspicious signs" are observed. Claiming that the searches take place with the visitor's "consent," the office acknowledged that refusal to cooperate may be taken into consideration when deciding if a visitor is allowed into Israel.

The assurance about "consent" is patently bogus. Barat was not given any choice before the Shabak invaded his privacy.

I have lost count of the number of times that Israeli politicians claim they have a firm attachment to European "values" as part of an attempt to distinguish them from despots in the wider Middle East. If these "values" mean human rights and democracy, then trawling through activists' email accounts is an affront to those values. The right to privacy is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Barat has edited (or co-edited) the books Gaza in Crisis and Corporate Complicity in Israel's Occupation and has written numerous articles about Palestine. Because he is an articulate and well-informed critic of Israeli apartheid, he is a purveyor of the thing that Israel fears most: the truth.

So determined to conceal the truth, Israel deports and snoops on its opponents.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 April 2013.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Apologist for apartheid masquerades as human rights activist

Last night I witnessed an attempt to cover Israel's crimes against humanity with a veneer of respectability.

Joëlle Fiss is a pro-Israel lobbyist who masquerades as an anti-racist campaigner with Human Rights First, a group dedicated to "American ideals." Based in New York, she is visiting Brussels this week to promote her new book Tiptoeing on Minefields.

The first speaking engagement of her trip was organized by D&D Consulting Services, an outfit headed by Dimitri Dombret, former secretary-general of European Friends of Israel. It took place yesterday.

As Fiss's job title describes her as a "senior associate" with a "fighting discrimination" program, I felt it would be appropriate to solicit her views on Israel's systematic discrimination against Palestinians. So I asked her during yesterday's talk if she agreed that Israel was an apartheid state. Fiss replied that my question was "illegitimate."


"I don't have discussions with my Palestinian friends" about whether or not Israel is an apartheid state, Fiss said, claiming that they prefer to discuss "checkpoints, refugee issues, the specifics, not generalities." Her unnamed friends "don't throw around that word ['apartheid']; they are extremely pragmatic, not dogmatic."

Unwilling to tolerate this evasion, I then asked Fiss if -- as a campaigner against discrimination -- she was familiar with the UN's official definition of apartheid, which refers to the domination of one racial or ethnic group over another. It is beyond dispute, I contended, that Jews are accorded more rights by the State of Israel than Palestinians. Fiss said she had no opinion on this matter.

Ironically, her book alludes to the lynchpin in Israel's apartheid system: the Law of Return. Yet she merely mentions that this 1950 legislation declares that "every Jew has the right to return to his homeland." Despite all the chats she has apparently conducted with "my Palestinian friends" on "refugee issues," she does not explicitly acknowledge that Palestinians uprooted by Zionist forces two years earlier are denied the right to return to their homeland. This blatant injustice elicits no response from this purported expert on discrimination.

The 111-page book is influenced by Fiss' previous job as an official in the European Parliament and her stint chairing the European Union of Jewish Students. Brief and readable, it is nonetheless more a work of propaganda than of intellectual exploration. Fiss, who holds British and Swiss citizenship, is moist-eyed about her devotion to both Israel and the EU. "Just like the EU, Israel represents a utopia to yearn for, as well as a concrete reality to live in," she writes.

The main argument in her essay is that the Jewish diaspora should consider having a "citizen's initiative." It would be modelled on a provision in the EU's Lisbon treaty, which theoretically allows ordinary people to shape the Union's agenda if 1 million signatures are collected on a particular topic.


Fiss draws a clumsy parallel between how the Zionist movement "translated a covenant between the Jewish people that led to statehood" and a "constitutional process" in the EU that attempted to "create a tighter connection between its members and its peoples."

This hogwash overlooks how the EU's constitution has been rammed down the throats of the EU's citizens. When French and Dutch voters rejected this blueprint for a militarized and neo-liberal Europe in 2005, it was repackaged and renamed the Lisbon treaty. Ireland was the only country which held a referendum on the revamped treaty; the Irish rejected it in 2008 but were bullied into voting "yes" when a second poll was held the following year.

(The title Tiptoeing on Minefields is, to put it mildly, unfortunate. Fiss concerns herself with metaphorical minefields -- the prospect of the tame political ideas she toys with "exploding in your face." Her beloved Israel, however, has created literal minefields -- by, for example, littering large parts of Lebanon with cluster bombs in 2006).

Tomorrow Fiss, will be back in her old workplace, when she will address a breakfast meeting hosted by Frédérique Riss, a Belgian member of the European Parliament (MEP). Ries is a vice-chairwoman of European Friends of Israel, a cross-party alliance of MEPs.

I asked Ries why she was teaming up with a purported champion of human rights like Fiss, when she (Ries) routinely defends a state that denies an entire people its elementary rights. Ries did not reply.

Aura of sophistication

It is not hard to work out what is going on here. The Zionist lobby is seeking to cultivate an aura of sophistication around its activities in order to divert attention from the evils of apartheid and occupation. As I wrote earlier this year, the lobby in Brussels has recently tried to depict Israel as compassionate by hosting an event trumpeting that state's humanitarian aid activities. Joëlle Fiss, incidentally, is one of a number of committed Zionists with experience of working inside the European Parliament (where she has been a press officer for its foreign affairs committee and a policy adviser to its Liberal grouping). MEPs for Germany's Free Democrats -- the junior party in Angela Merkel's coalition government -- have hired Adam Mouchtar as a speechwriter on Middle East issues. Mouchtar has combined this work with running the Brussels office of B'nai B'rith, an international Zionist group.

Considering the European Parliament has become more powerful in recent years, it is perhaps inevitable that Zionists are trying to wield more clout within its corridors. As they beaver away trying to make apartheid respectable, the rest of us should concentrate on making apartheid history.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 April 2013.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thatcher inspires trans-Atlantic trade agenda

One unintended consequence of the Boston bombing is that it showed the best side of America. Human kindness overflowed - to paraphrase the songwriter Randy Newman - as emergency services and health personnel responded with great speed and courage. Without them, the death toll would surely have been higher.

A few days earlier José Manuel Barroso appealed to America's worst side. Visiting New York, the European Commission president endorsed the "greed is good" ethos that pervades Wall Street.

Admittedly, Barroso was more subtle than Gordon Gekko, the speculative swashbuckler played by Michael Douglas. Yet the effect of Barroso's comments - delivered at a seminar hosted by Bloomberg - were the same.

Barroso signalled that clinching an agreement on removing "barriers" to trans-Atlantic trade could usher in a "new era of prosperity". The inference here is that a deal emerging from new EU-US trade talks - expected to commence before the summer - will benefit us all. Although the process isn't properly underway, there is enough evidence available to show that Barroso is conniving with the Obama administration to undermine democracy.

A leaked document providing guidance to EU negotiators makes clear that the aim will be to give private companies more rights than actual people. If I moved to the US tomorrow, I would have to wait at least five years before I could apply for citizenship. Yet EU negotiators wish to establish the principle of "national treatment" for corporations: this means that a French company active in California would automatically enjoy the same entitlements as a local one; a reciprocal system would be introduced for American firms in Europe.


Worse again, the document sets the objective of drawing up "state-of-the-art" provisions on "dispute settlement". In layperson's terms, this would give the US greater scope to initiate proceedings against Europe's environmental or labour laws. Individual firms would also be able to sue elected governments if, say, rules limiting the amount of pollutants in the air we breathe hampers them from selling a toxic substance. If the history of free trade agreements is anything to go by, the forum assessing such cases would probably meet in secret and have a pro-corporate bias.

Ron Kirk, the US trade representative, has sounded a bullish tone ahead of the talks. "For us, everything is on the table," he has said.

Everything - in Kirk's view - includes genetically modified (GM) crops. Long frustrated with aversion to artificially tweaked foods among the European public, the US is effectively seeking to force-feed us products that we don't want anywhere near our mouths. We cannot even be sure of being able to identify which items contain GM ingredients. Proposals to require labelling of GM foods are almost certain to be challenged by agri-food behemoths like Monsanto and Syngenta. Consumer information is a "barrier" to trade, after all. (When I say that we could be coerced into eating these foods, I'm not exaggerating. Rules on labelling of GM foods were approved by the EU in 2002; they were strenuously opposed by America).


The idea of having a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement has been around for some time. In the European Parliament, its main cheerleaders have been James Elles, a British Conservative, and Erika Mann, a German Social Democrat who is now a lobbyist for Facebook. Elles has been active in the Trans-Atlantic Policy Network, a coalition of politicians and major companies such as BP, Coca-Cola, Caterpillar, Deutsche Bank, BASF and the aforementioned Syngenta.

A 2011 "strategic vision" paper issued by this network contended that it was "economic folly" that there was no "formal commitment" for integrating the EU and US markets. The paper dropped strong hints that doing so was the only way for the West to withstand competition from China.

Invoking fear of China is a well-worn tactic. During the Cold War, we were supposed to be petrified of the commies ruling "red China". Nowadays, we are supposed to be anxious about the Chinese becoming masters of global capitalism.

The scaremongering conceals the real agenda of trying to make sure that the wealthy become wealthier. The Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC) is urging that the eventual agreement reduce the amount of tax which corporations pay. At a time when austerity is making life unbearable for the less well-off, the super-rich are clamouring for tax cuts.

Unholy alliance

The TABC is an unholy alliance of cigarette-makers (British American Tobacco, Philip Morris), the oil industry (BP, Total, Statoil) and financial institutions (Deutsche Bank, Spain's BBVA, Deloitte). Its position papers indicate that it wants an EU-US agreement to avoid "overly burdensome regulatory costs" for peddlers of derivatives. These "products" are fancy versions of casino chips; the absence of tough rules on the gambling they facilitate helped cause the financial crisis.

Meanwhile, a "high level working group" established by both EU and US policy-makers has recommended that the agreement incorporate rules dealing with "state-owned enterprises". This can only be interpreted as an attempt to ensure more privatisation of public services. The paper does not name any services that are too important to be run by firms whose only interest is maximising profits.

Margaret Thatcher set in train a process where British services were sold to the highest bidder. Her compatriots widely recognise that the wave of privatisation she launched has been disastrous, particularly for public transport.

Sadly, this wisdom isn't shared by elites, who remain wedded to Thatcherite doctrine, even though Thatcher is no longer around.

•First published by New Europe, 21-27 April 2013.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Revealed: World customs body hires Israeli arms firm

An Israeli arms company is benefiting from an international customs operation aimed at detecting illicit chemicals.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has admitted buying equipment from Karil International, a firm which numbers the Israeli military among its top clients.

Jeffrey Wickett, manager of the WCO's Programme Global Shield, told me: "To assist customs and other front-line law enforcement officials quickly identify suspicious chemicals, without unduly impeding legitimate trade, the WCO is working with several detection companies testing a variety of products. I can confirm Karil International is one of these companies and that the WCO has purchased a modest number of ‘test kits’ to support selected WCO members conduct product testing in the field."

Wickett claimed that his program is focused on trafficking in "precursor chemicals used by criminal organizations, terrorist groups and insurgents for the manufacture of improvised explosives devices (IEDs) that endanger the lives of innocent civilians across the globe."

The WCO's professed concern for "innocent civilians" -- and the inference that Karil International shares that concern -- should not be taken at face value.

"All types of weapons"

A blurb for Karil International available on the website for the Israeli industry ministry says that the firm manufactures components for "all types of weapons systems." It adds: "Our systems are deployed in operational forces worldwide, including US Army, IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and additional law enforcement and defense agencies."

The Israeli military inflicts human rights abuses against innocent civilians in the West Bank and Gaza on a daily -- indeed, hourly -- basis.

I asked the WCO for more precise details about its transactions with Karil. I also asked if the organization had drawn up any guidelines that could allow it decide whether or not it was ethical to do business with Israeli arms companies.

Wickett did not answer these questions.

Upsurge in violence

He did, however, send me a brochure, citing estimates by the US National Counterterrorism Center that 11,600 "terrorist" attacks occurred around the world in 2010, "representing a 2,600 percent increase in attacks over 10 years."

Assuming that the estimate is accurate, it prompts an inescapable conclusion. Far from deterring violence, the "war on terror" declared by the US in 2001 has led to a dramatic upsurge in violence.

Monday this week was a typically bloody day. As well as the appalling attack on the Boston marathon (the perpetrator of which remains unknown), there was a series of car bombs in Iraq, killing more than 50 people. Such attacks have proliferated since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began a decade ago.

Within that decade, the US has also been the main financial supporter of the Israeli occupation, enabling a manifest injustice to fester.


Headquartered in Brussels, the WCO doesn't tend to grab many newspaper headlines. It is a powerful body nonetheless. Bringing together 176 countries, it helps set standards to regulate global trade.

Like some other groupings with "world" in their titles, it is heavily influenced by the US. Programme Global Shield was initially launched by America's Department of Homeland Security in 2010. Janet Napolitano, the US secretary for homeland security, has sung its praises on occasion.

Israel, of course, is keen to promote itself as a leading exporter of "homeland security" technology -- a euphemism for arms and surveillance equipment.

According to its industry ministry, Israel's unique selling point is that no other country has been able to draw on such a large pool of experienced military and police personnel and "no other country has been able to field test its systems and solutions in real-time situations." The "real-time situations" have involved countless acts of terror and repression against innocent civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

The WCO's Wickett told me that one objective of the work he is overseeing is to "eventually develop a list of potential products administrations may choose to purchase that can assist them to quickly identify rogue shipments."

So there is a high probability that Karil International and other Israeli firms will win more contracts from customs and law-enforcement authorities. It is deeply offensive that authorities which brag about keeping us safe are rewarding firms that thrive on occupation and apartheid.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 April 2013.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thatcher and Merkel: enemies of the Irish

On the last day of Margaret Thatcher's life, I walked in the footsteps of an Irish rebel.

Saint Enda's School is tucked away in a tranquil park near the Dublin mountains. It was here that Pádraig Pearse taught from 1910 until he was executed by British forces for his leading role in the 1916 Easter rising. Pearse wanted his pupils to marvel at nature, believing it was the only thing in Ireland to be truly free. His final poem The Wayfarer attests to his joy at seeing "little rabbits in a field at evening, lit by a slanting sun".

The 1916 revolution took place at a time when Britain was at war with Germany. Pearse and his comrades stated that they bore allegiance to "neither King nor Kaiser". As the centenary of the rising approaches, it is troubling that the independence for which Pearse fought and died remains elusive.

Thatcher only exercised power over six counties in the north of Ireland. Her ideological acolyte Angela Merkel exercises power over the other 26 counties on this island. Though the circumstances differ, there are many parallels between these two leaders. (The fact they share the same gender is of little consequence; to paraphrase the comedian Russell Brand, they are icons of individualism, not feminism).

Cruel inflexibility

Thatcher displayed a cruel inflexibility towards the north. When Republicans went on hunger strike to demand they be treated as political prisoners (which they clearly were), Thatcher let ten of them die. Her stance helped to foment sectarian strife and exacerbate the causes of conflict. Numerous lives - not just those of the hunger strikers - were lost as a result.

Merkel is now displaying a cruel inflexibility towards the rest of Ireland. In order to protect German banks which lent recklessly to Ireland during a property boom, she has insisted that ordinary Irish people pay the gambling debts of their country's bankers. Public services are being eviscerated and industries privatised in Ireland to placate the German political establishment.

Perversely, those who did not benefit from the boom are the ones who are being required to make the highest sacrifices. The austerity measures being undertaken have resulted in people with disabilities having less home help and fewer special needs assistants being available to children with learning difficulties. Both the spirit and letter of the 1916 Proclamation of the Republic - which contained a pledge to cherish all of Ireland's children equally - have been violated.

The first news story that I read during my current stay in Dublin informed me about how the "troika" - the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - has "imposed a new requirement" on the Dublin government. Soon, Ireland will have to issue monthly reports on cutbacks to its health service. This "requirement", apparently, follows the troika's observation that not enough people on low incomes have been deprived of medical cards entitling them to free prescriptions. The troika's recommendations on Irish health expenditure will soon be discussed in the Bundestag, readers of The Irish Times were told.

Because that journal of record reported these things as if they were the normal or sensible, it took a while before the enormity of what is happening sunk in. German law-makers have a greater say in whether or not my compatriots get medical care than those elected to Ireland's parliament, the Oireachtas.


It is embarrassing, to say the least, that the destruction of Irish sovereignty has encountered little resistance. The massive street protests in Spain and Greece have not been replicated here, even though we Irish are also victims of the EU and IMF's diktats.

This year marks the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out, an industrial dispute in which employers tried to starve their workers into submission by locking them out of their jobs. The leading employer in the dispute, William Martin Murphy, was a major investor in The Irish Independent. Today, that newspaper - particularly its Sunday edition - continues to side with the captains of industry.

The same can be said of the entire establishment. The Irish Labour Party - supposedly the heirs of the trade unionists who defended workers so valiantly in 1913 - has been reduced to rubber-stamping measures demanded by the EU and IMF.

There is a tacit understanding among Irish people living in Brussels that we should "wear the green jersey" abroad and not talk down our political representatives. This is especially so when Ireland holds the EU's presidency, as it does now.

Yet I abhor the behaviour of the two Irish people who have held the highest-ranking posts for EU officials. Catherine Day, the European Commission's secretary-general, was instrumental in watering down the EU's new anti-smoking law. Letters that she has written to colleagues indicate that she was more concerned with protecting the profits of cigarette makers than in reducing deaths from cancer.

Her predecessor in that position, David O'Sullivan has gone on to head the Commission's trade department and play a senior role in its "external action" service. In both those jobs, the Dubliner has served British politicians - Peter Mandelson and Catherine Ashton. After trying to bulldoze African and Asian countries into becoming vassals of Western corporations, O'Sullivan is now paid handsomely to advance a militarisation agenda, shaped by weapons manufacturers.

There are many reasons to be proud of being Irish. The conduct of our representatives in Brussels is not among them.

•First published by New Europe, 14-20 April 2013.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Zionist lobby lies about Palestine solidarity groups "joining forces" with far right

A new study on anti-Semitism by Tel Aviv University contains a brazen lie.

In an attempt to slander the international Palestine solidarity movement, the report alleges that "extreme right-wing and extreme-left wing activists joined forces" in a protest against a concert the Israeli military band Tzahal in Antwerp, Belgium, last year. As well as teaming up, the activists were "shouting 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas'," the study alleges.

I attended the protest in question and can say with certainty that the accusation is baseless.

For a start, the protest was called by a number of human rights and Palestine solidarity groups. Organizers of the protest have confirmed to me that they do not cooperate in any way with the far-right.

While it appears that a small far-right demonstration may have taken place at the same time as the one I attended, this was not visible to the protest held by Palestine solidarity groups, who are firmly opposed to all forms of racial and religious intolerance.

No evidence

There is no evidence whatsoever, then, that the far-left and far-right "joined forces."

The claim that the protesters chanted "Jews to the gas" cannot be taken seriously either. The organizers are adamant that they did not hear anyone shouting such a slogan.

It's always possible, of course, that one or two individuals in a crowd will say something problematic. But there is nothing to back up the study's assertion that an alliance of extremists from both ends of the political spectrum "joined forces" in a display of anti-Semitism.

The study's claim appears to be based on a news story published by the Flemish Zionist website Joods Actueel. That story included a short audio file, which mainly features one female voice chanting slogans. It cannot seriously be considered as proof that the far-left and far-right had "joined forces."


Furthermore, the study betrays a fickle knowledge of Belgian politics. The main far-right party in Belgium, Vlaams Belang, has a history of anti-Semitism. But one of its most prominent politicians, Frank Vanhecke, stated in 2008 that he was one of Israel's "staunchest defenders."

This kind of opportunistic U-turn will be familiar to observers of Europe's far-right. Like a number of similar parties, Vlaams Belang routinely panders to Islamophobes; I sometimes receive vile literature from local Vlaams Belang representatives who portray Muslims living in the neighborhood as a threat.

So the idea that the far-right would team up with Palestine solidarity campaigners is laughable.


Published this week, the study was conducted by Tel Aviv University in conjunction with the European Jewish Congress (EJC), a Zionist lobby group.

Although it purports to give an overview of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world during 2012, it conflates criticism of the State of Israel with enmity towards Jews in general. The Antwerp protest took place at a time when Israel was undertaking Operation Pillar of Defense, its eight-day bombing offensive against the civilian population of Gaza.

Insinuating that protesters horrified by Israel's criminal conduct are Nazis in disguise is a favorite tactic of the Israel lobby. It smacks of desperation.

The Antwerp protest notched up a political success. Yves Leterme, Belgium's former prime minister, had been scheduled to attend the Tzahal performance but stayed away, after receiving an appeal from Palestine solidarity activists. It's not surprising that the Zionist lobby would wish to distract from that triumph with fake accusations of anti-Semitism.

Both the EJC and the American Jewish Committee have pounced on the new report in order to warn that anti-Semitic incidents are on the increase. Certainly, some of the incidents described in the study -- attacks on synagogues and bullying of Jewish children -- are despicable.

Yet the study does a grave disservice to the fight against anti-Semitism by smearing activists who have nothing against Jews and abhor genuine anti-Semitism. Once again, the Zionist lobby is so eager to propagandize for Israel that it tells lies about its opponents.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 April 2013.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The mercenaries of austerity

This is a heartfelt plea to journalists everywhere: let us expunge the term "bail-out" from our collective vocabulary.

A "bail-out" implies that something in a perilous state is being rescued. Too often over the past three or four years, the term has been used to convey the impression that economies or entire nations have been saved, when in reality it is only the rich that have been kept afloat. Democracy and decency are being crushed on the orders of an unelected "troika".

It is no accident that private security firms are playing an increasingly prominent role in Europe's austerity saga. G4S was hired to keep a close eye over Cypriot banks in the past few weeks. And in Greece, Blackwater - or Academi as it is now known - has been contracted to provide military-like protection to the national parliament.

To describe these mercenaries as controversial would be an understatement. If you are a sports fan, you probably associate G4S with a cock-up at last year's Olympics. But why was G4S entrusted with policing the games in the first place, when it had done such a terrible job in partly running Britain's migration services? Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, died while G4S guards were carrying out his deportation in October 2010. Witnesses on the flight said that he was forcibly restrained by the guards and had trouble breathing.

G4S has installed a perimeter defence system for the walls of Ofer, an Israeli prison in the occupied West Bank, where protesters against the apartheid wall that snakes illegally through that territory have been held. It has also supplied equipment to several prisons inside present-day Israel, including Megiddo, where the young Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat died - after being tortured - on 18 February.

Privatisation of war

Blackwater, meanwhile, is known to have been involved in numerous shooting incidents in Iraq. The most troubling of these incidents was the massacre of 17 civilians by Blackwater employees in Baghdad's Nisoor Square on 16 September 2007.

A direct link can be made between the invasion of Iraq and Europe's austerity agenda. Donald Rumsfeld oversaw an attempt to privatise modern warfare: tasks previously reserved for armies were assigned to for-profit corporations. Some of the same companies are now being called on to do work traditionally performed by national police forces.

Potent reminder

I am writing this column in Ireland. Pundits on radio talk-shows here have been kept busy discussing the palpable tensions between the government and the police over threatened pay cuts. Some delegates even walked out when Alan Shatter, the justice minister, recently addressed a conference for inspectors and sergeants.

This serves as a potent reminder that police officers are public servants. The brutal transformation of the European economy now being undertaken is encountering stiff resistance in some countries, so it can only be introduced by coercive means. Once the livelihood of the police starts being affected, their willingness to cooperate in pushing through this transformation is called into question. Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, a former Greek diplomat, believes that the Athens authorities are turning to Academi because they can no longer count on support from police officers whose salaries have been reduced.

We don't need to look too far outside Europe to realise that security forces can baulk at punishing the innocent. The game was up for Hosni Mubarak, when it emerged that there was no great appetite among Egyptian soldiers to shoot at the unarmed demonstrators, filling Tahrir Square two years ago.

Since the downfall of that reviled dictator, Western politicians have applauded this magnificent display of people power. Behind the scenes, they have done everything possible to keep power in the hands of an elite.

Faced with protests against Mohammad Morsi, the new Egyptian president, in January this year, the country's interior ministry ordered 140,000 tear gas canisters from the US. Rather than acting to put an end to police brutality, the Cairo authorities have signalled more recently that they are interested in handing over some policing tasks to private firms.

Is the free world alarmed about the incomplete nature of Egypt's transition to democracy? Are American and European diplomats advising Morsi that the privatisation of policing would be a retrograde step, that for-profit corporations are generally less accountable than service providers under public control?

New consensus?

No, the West is focused on keeping Egypt within its sphere of influence. There has been much talk lately about the likelihood of the International Monetary Fund releasing a new loan to Egypt. You can be sure any "arrangement" - the word used by John Kerry - will come with many strings attached.

The current issue of Finance and Development, the IMF's policy journal, features a call for a "new Washington Consensus" in the "Arab world". Vali Nasr, the academic who authored this call, intimates that the "new Washington Consensus" would be no more than a repackaged version of the old one. Without the old one, "most democratisation efforts would have failed," Nasr wrote.

What utter nonsense. The Washington Consensus - as inspired by Milton Friedman and other right-wing economists - is an anti-democratic project. Its aim is to annihilate public services; to hand over almost every facet of life to fat cats. It is about ensuring that governments are subservient to corporations.

The economic "reforms" now being implemented in Europe and beyond are in keeping with the Washington Consensus. These "reforms" have made the "market" omnipotent - just like a dictator.

•First published by New Europe, 7-13 April 2013.