Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Warren Buffett signs $2 billion check in support of Israeli apartheid

I gave up drinking the day after the Live8 concert in 2005. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Apart from the obvious health benefits, it helped me figure out things that I had avoided trying to understand.

My decision to shun the bottle was a sudden one. But it now seems apt that it was made following an extravaganza where Bill Gates took the stage to feign concern for the poor. Today, I become apoplectic when I see the ultra-wealthy posing as friends of the downtrodden.

The latest billionaires' list compiled by Forbes magazine names Gates and his pal Warren Buffett as the world's second and fourth richest men. Between them, the pair have a "net worth" of $120.5 billion.

Fawning news features tell us we should admire the duo because of their philanthropy. Yet a newly-concluded business deal demonstrates where the sympathies of the 1% really lie.

"Message of faith"

Buffett has just spent a cool $2 billion to take full control of the Israeli company Iscar Metalworking (he had already bought most of the firm in 2006). Eitan Wertheimer, Iscar's president, described the transaction as a "message of faith" in the Israeli economy and "a type of Balfour declaration."

At first glance, Wertheimer seems to be resorting to hyperbole. But Buffett's act is arguably more significant than the letter of support to the Zionist movement that Arthur James Balfour, then Britain's foreign secretary, sent in 1917. The Balfour declaration was aspirational; Buffett, on the other hand, has signed an enormous check in support of Israeli apartheid.

Buffett's investment is an insult to the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. I'm a supporter of the BDS movement, not a strategist for it. Yet I think there is a clear case now for Palestine solidarity activists to urge a boycott of products made by firms in which Buffett has a major stake. They include Coca-Cola and Heinz.

Class war

It is noteworthy that Wertheimer's remarks were reported in Israel Hayom, a newspaper owned by the gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. As well as holding racist views towards Palestinians in particular, Adelson generally holds the underprivileged with contempt. He has emphasized his staunch opposition to the redistribution of wealth.

Buffett may be less obnoxious than Adelson -- the former has, for example, urged Barack Obama to increase taxes on the wealthy. Yet they are both fighting a class war with the objective of widening inequality. Buffett has correctly observed that his class is winning that war.

The super-rich can never be trusted. Even when they lavish money on charities, there is invariably a flipside. Bill Gates' work against malaria is severely compromised by how his foundation has invested almost $1 billion in BP and ExxonMobil. Malarial mosquitoes thrive when temperatures soar -- something that is happening now in Africa and beyond thanks to the global warming that the oil industry has forced on the planet.

Warmongers hug trees

The effrontery of corporations knows few bounds. Lockheed Martin, the arms giant, recently published its annual "sustainability report." Two gems jumped out from its pages: Lockheed is striving to achieve a "zero-accident workplace" and to cut down pollution from transport by buying one-quarter of components from suppliers "within 30 miles of our significant sites of operation."

For a second, I was so in awe of Lockheed's commitment to tree-hugging and ergonomics that I forgot it is the single biggest beneficiary of US military aid to Israel. As Shir Hever, the left-wing Israeli economist, pointed out recently, this military aid is in the form of vouchers. Israel is required to exchange the vouchers for American weaponry, principally that manufactured by Lockheed.

Israel's attacks on Syria will surely be a boon for Lockheed if they continue -- or even if they don't. The attacks have been conducted with the aid of Lockheed's F-16 Fighting Falcon jets.

Of course, Lockheed's armaments are routinely used as tools of oppression against Palestinians. Are our Palestinian brothers and sisters supposed to be comforted by Lockheed's policies on local sourcing and safety at work?

The "public relations" industry is forever tying big green ribbons around corporations and the super-rich. These ribbons cannot conceal the toxic truth that the super-rich look out only for themselves. They will happily trample over Palestinians or any other people if doing so can make them even richer.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 6 May 2013.

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