Friday, September 27, 2013

Why are Israel's worst racists welcome in European Parliament?

Anyone who has examined Zionist propaganda critically will have noticed a trend of depicting Israel as a liberal paradise. Among the myths manufactured by this PR machine are Tel Aviv is the world's most gay-friendly city; that Israel is a global leader in protecting the environment; and that Palestinians have never had it so good.

The memo telling Israel's diplomats and allies to "accentuate the positive" has been mislaid in Brussels, judging by an event held earlier this month. During it, a few members of the European Parliament (MEPs) teamed up with some of Israel's most reactionary politicians.

David Rotem, a representative of the Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party, was guest of "honor" at a conference in the Parliament's headquarters. He was a curious choice for a discussion about those controversial EU guidelines on ending aid to firms and institutions active in the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank.

Far from being a slick spindoctor, Rotem is overtly racist in his pronouncements. While two MEPs have landed themselves in hot water this year for applying the term "bongo bongo" to Africans, Rotem is able to make vile statements about Palestinians without fear of censure. "Every Jewish community needs at least one Arab," he has said. "Otherwise, who will repair my fridge when it breaks down on the Sabbath?"

Making apartheid more extreme

Perhaps the only commendable thing about Rotem is that he is more honest than many of his peers about the fact that Israel practices a form of apartheid. "Israel is a Jewish and democratic state, not a state of all its citizens," he has said.

Since joining Israel's parliament, the Knesset in 2007, Rotem has sponsored a number of bills designed to make Israeli apartheid more extreme. Among them were a bill requiring that citizens of Israel to take an oath of allegiance to a "Jewish and democratic state." He has also tried to exclude parties comprised of Palestinians living in present-day Israel from the Knesset and to ban public funding of organizations deemed not to respect Israeli "values" (the latter move was originally known as the "Nakba law" as it targeted those who regarded the founding Israel's foundation as a catastrophe).

Rotem has been a staunch defender, too, of Israeli government efforts to uproot Palestinian Bedouins from their villages in the Negev (Naqab). And he has argued that communities in the Galilee and the Negev should have be allowed to bar residents on grounds of race and religion.

Not marginal

It's important to note that Rotem is not a marginal figure in Israeli politics. On the contrary, he chairs the Knesset's committee on constitution, law and justice. He has used that position to hurl insults at political opponents. Two years ago, he told a member of that committee: "Get out of here, you are not even an animal."

Himself living in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, Rotem has put forward a bill to copper-fasten the State's "obligation" to invest in expanding settlements.

He was not the only settler invited to the European Parliament this month. Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council for Israeli settlers in the West Bank, also addressed its conference. While all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, Mesika has also registered his contempt for Israeli government decisions limiting the settlements' growth. In 2009, he ripped up papers from Ehud Barak, then Israel's defense minister, ordering a freeze on construction in some settlements.

Sign of desperation?

The European Friends of Israel (EFI), a cross-party alliance of MEPs, was involved in the recent conference. Its embrace of hardcore racists like Rotem jars with the cuddlier image that it has been trying to project of Israel so far this year.

The EFI kicked off 2013 by celebrating Israel as a caring and open-minded place, with events dedicated to Israel's humanitarian aid program and the protests against Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policies.

Is rolling out a red carpet to Rotem a sign of desperation? I'm not sure if it is. The EU's new guidelines aren't simply opposed by Israeli settlers. John Kerry is also demanding that the guidelines be withdrawn. You don't need to be a doctorate in international relations to know that the EU is often servile towards America.

Kerry, of course, is more guarded and diplomatic in his choice of words than Rotem. But they are both striving to bolster a system that privileges one group of people and dehumanizes another.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

EU refuses probe into why it rewarded contractor for apartheid tramway

John Kerry is miffed. Benjamin Netanyahu is raging. And Zionist lobby groups are apoplectic.

You might have guessed that I am referring to an ongoing controversy over guidelines stating that the European Union will cease giving grants and loans firms and institutions active in Israel's settlements in the West Bank. But the more I examine the surrounding matters, the more I conclude that Israel and its supporters have no reason to kick up a stink.

A few weeks ago, I submitted a formal query to the EU's executive, the European Commission, over how it is rewarding an Israeli entrepreneur who has helped build an illegal tramway in occupied East Jerusalem.

Gilad Rafaeli is the Commission's main contact point in Israel for a project on transport security, which enjoys some €25 million ($34 million) in EU support. Rafaeli's own resumé states that he was contracted to work on the "Jerusalem light rail" system between 2006 and 2011.

The EU-supported scheme -- known as Secured Urban Transportation or SECUR-ED for short -- was launched in April 2011. The overlap in dates suggests that Rafaeli was assisting the construction of a tramway designed to service illegal settlers, while he and his firm, MTRS3, were discussing the goals and activities of an EU-funded project with the Brussels authorities.

Yesterday, I received a response to my query from Daniel Calleja, who heads the Commission's department for enterprise and industry. Calleja confirmed that the EU executive was "not aware" of Rafaeli's involvement in the Jerusalem tramway. He admitted, too, that this issue did not arise when the SECUR-ED project was evaluated.

Infrastructure of apartheid

Surely, then, it is necessary to examine why someone who helped build Israel's infrastructure of apartheid and occupation was benefiting from the EU's largesse. Yet Calleja wrote that there are "no legal grounds" on which his colleagues "could perhaps launch an investigation."

Calleja's rationale was based on how the Jerusalem tramway has not received any support from the EU's "framework programme" for scientific research.

That is beside the point. My query reminded the Commission that it regards Israel's occupation and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal under international law. By definition, then, a tramway designed to tighten Israel's occupation of Jerusalem is illegal. When the EU rewards people -- like Gilad Rafaeli -- who profit from that occupation, it is acquiescing in unlawful behavior.

Daniel Calleja also claimed that "at present, the Commission is not aware of any misuse by Israeli participants of the framework programme."

I am having difficulty remaining calm as I read Calleja's letter.

For more than two years, a number of Palestine solidarity activists have been undertaking a campaign against the EU's awarding of science grants to Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in the occupied West Bank. Brussels officials -- including those belonging to Calleja's department -- have been told both in writing and in face-to-face meetings about how the EU is giving money to this firm.

Maintaining a fiction

The officials are aware that the construction of Israeli settlements violates international law and that aiding firms active in them is, by definition, illegal. And yet Calleja tries to maintain the fiction that there is no problem here.

It would be nice to take heart from the EU's new guidelines and believe it will soon take a more robust stance towards Israel. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. Catherine Ashton, the Union's foreign policy chief, has insisted that the EU wants to "continue to have a strong relationship with Israel" and that the guidelines do no more than reiterate existing policy.

Is Ashton signaling a "business as usual" approach? Will the EU continue to pose as a staunch defender of Palestinian rights, while furtively supporting Israeli apartheid?

If so, it would be wrong for people of conscience to think that a full boycott of Israel can be swapped for a few ever-so-timid guidelines.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My jihad against arms industry

My latest rant against the arms industry appears to have upset a Very Important Person.

Think tank guru Giles Merritt has been described as one of the 50 most influential people in Brussels by his former employer The Financial Times. Admirably humble, Merritt is eager to downplay his clout.

In his response to my rant, Merritt takes me to task for drawing attention to links between his organization Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) and Lockheed Martin, the world's most profitable weapons producer. According to Merritt, Lockheed has "taken no part in SDA's activities nor funding since the middle of 2012."

His assertion is contradicted by the SDA's own publications. One of them states that in September last year, Luc van de Winckel, a "senior manager" with Lockheed, attended a conference that SDA hosted on the future of "missile defence".

SDA's entry to the register of "interest representatives" managed by the European Commission also names Lockheed as one of the organisation's members. This entry is dated 5 July this year and purports to relate to all of 2012. (Aside: SDA did not sign up to this database until last year. In May 2012, I asked Merritt why the SDA hadn't yet joined the register; he replied that this was merely an "oversight").

Thriving on war

If Lockheed has recently decided to leave the SDA, this does not alter my central point that the think tank serves the arms industry. Raytheon, another top arms manufacturer, is listed as one of SDA's current members on its website. Raytheon, too, supplies cruise missiles to the US military and would, more than likely, benefit directly from the type of Western attack on Syria that Merritt's colleague, Shada Islam, has urged.

I was intrigued to see that Merritt acknowledged that the entire purpose of the SDA was to "help move defence up the European agenda". This admission undermines the organisation's boast of providing a "neutral forum" for debating military matters.

Tough questions about how the SDA's "partners" thrive on war and human rights abuses are not allowed at its events, as I discovered myself. When I attended an SDA conference last year and asked the speaker from Lockheed, Chad Fulgham, if he was proud of his company's role in arming Israeli forces that illegally occupy Palestinian land, Merritt dismissed my query as irrelevant.


According to Merritt, I declared a fatwah against SDA several years ago. In my view, the term jihad might be more apposite.

Jihad is a much misunderstood term that is usually translated as "holy war". The translation is wildly inaccurate; the word originates from the verb jahada, which means to "exert effort". In the views of many Islamic scholars, a jihad involves tackling injustice and poverty, both of which can be fought without the use of violence.

Although I'm a Christian, rather than a Muslim, I feel a sense of duty to exert effort against the entire arms industry (not just the SDA). My determination to wage this jihad was reinforced in 2009, when I was saw the after-effects of Israel's merciless three-week bombing campaign against Gaza.

At one point during my visit, I was given a tour by a local man, who repeatedly pointed to the ruins of buildings. "There, F-16," he said, explaining that an American warplane had fired a missile against that particular structure.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon have all been involved in F-16 programmes. All three have funded and taken part in the SDA's work over the past few years.

Giles Merritt might have convinced himself that he is doing nothing more sinister than putting "defence" on the agenda. I, on the other hand, remain horrified by what I have seen in Palestine. The companies that inflict suffering on civilians ought to be prosecuted. Instead, their executives pat each other on the back in royal palaces hired by SDA.

The only proper response to these obscene spectacles is outrage.

•First published by EUobserver, 24 September 2013.

Monday, September 23, 2013

EU more extreme than US on trade

If proof was needed that the European Union's bureaucracy was headed by ideological extremists, it can be found in the approach being taken to trade negotiations with the US.

Barack Obama has rightly encountered much criticism for allowing those Wall Street insiders - whose reckless behaviour led to the financial crisis - continue to dictate American economic policy. Yet in some respects he may have resisted the hypnotic power of top bankers more than policy-makers this side of the Atlantic.

Whereas the US wishes to remove financial services from the scope of talks aimed at reaching a trade agreement with the EU, Brussels officials are pushing for their inclusion. This means that the EU representatives are more in tune with the Republican James Baker than with those urbane Democrats they claim to identify with (in private conversations, at least). Baker, who was secretary of state when the US first attacked Iraq in the early 1990s, recently told the American Chamber of Commerce that nothing should be taboo in the negotiations.

Why is the EU being so gung-ho? The short answer is that banks have asked it to be.

Not long ago, the British press carried stories about how the City of London was furious with the Brussels institutions over attempts to cap bankers' bonuses. No such fury can be detected in the City's approach to trans-Atlantic trade. City lobbyist John Cooke has argued that "the gains of a truly comprehensive agreement could be lost if either side draws too many red lines too soon, cutting out subjects of potential sensitivity."

It is remarkable that film is the only sector that EU governments appear to regard as "sensitive". France - to the chagrin of European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso - has rightly argued that it must be able to protect its movie industry from Hollywood's predators. No similar passions have been aroused among EU governments when it comes to restraining banks.


Traditionally, trade agreements have been concentrated on reducing or withdrawing taxes levied on manufactured goods. The push to have them broadened to cover services intensified in the first decade of this century. In 2006, the European Services Forum - which represents Deutsche Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and Zurich Financial Services - urged EU officials to seek the removal of capital requirements for banks throughout the world.

The financial crisis which erupted five years ago highlighted the folly of taking such a lax approach to regulation. And yet the EU's trade department is still following a script that was drawn up before that catastrophe.

My friends in the organisation Corporate Europe Observatory have obtained a list of 130 meetings that EU officials held with "stakeholders" as they prepared for the trade talks with America. A full 119 of these discussions - or 93 percent - involved lobbyists from big business.

The document confirms that financial services was one of the topics addressed. Kreab Gavin Anderson, a "public relations" firm that boasts Goldman Sachs, MasterCard and Bank of America Merill Lynch as clients, took part in these secret encounters. So did the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (banks on its board: Citi and JP Morgan Chase). That coalition has been set up especially to push for a far-reaching trade and investment pact; it plans to send a delegation of American high-flyers to Brussels ahead of the round of EU-US talks scheduled for October.

The European Banking Federation, meanwhile, has advocated that any trans-Atlantic deal should be at least as ambitious as the one the EU clinched with South Korea in 2009. That agreement contained the principle that any new "products" dreamed up by Europe's financial whizz-kids should automatically be allowed in Korea, unless they had previously been restricted.

There are good reasons to be wary of "innovation" in the financial sector: the proliferation of exotic products called derivatives not only helped trigger the financial crisis, they continue to encourage speculation on food prices, thereby pushing up the grocery bills of the poor.

Earlier this month, I was reminded that the EU has already entered a trans-Atlantic trade pact.

A free trade agreement between the Union and Mexico entered into force in 2000. According to the spin, the accord has been an enormous success, leading to a doubling in commerce between the two sides.

A very different perspective was offered by Norma Castaneda from ALOP, an alliance of Latin American anti-poverty groups. She told me that the benefits of the deal have accrued to just a handful of major corporations. "Mexico hasn't profited," she said. "There has been no increase in investment from Mexico into the EU."


When Karel de Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, visited Mexico City last year, he argued that the "legal relationship" between the EU and Mexico "now risks falling behind," he said. That was because the EU was eyeing more "comprehensive" trade deals with Canada and the US. It would be logical, he suggested, to "upgrade" the agreement with Mexico so that it provided more openings for investments.

What he really meant is that he wished to have clauses from the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) copied and pasted into the EU's deal with Mexico. Known as "chapter 11", these clauses allow corporations to sue governments every time they encounter obstacles to making profits.

Elsewhere in Latin America, de Gucht is encountering stiff resistance to his agenda. Small farmers in Colombia have risen up against the ruinous effects of trade deals the Bogota government has signed with America and the EU; they have inspired solidarity strikes from numerous other workers.

These protests should inspire everyone concerned about the unending quest by big business to control almost every aspect of our lives. We need to act fast if we are to rekindle the dying embers of democracy.

•First published by EUobserver, 23 September 2013.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

London "terrorism experts" have strong links with Israeli establishment

Duping the media isn't difficult. All you have to do is give yourself an impressive title and claim to be working for a prestigious institution.

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) in King's College London excels at such deception. Its staff are treated as authoritative sources on "terrorism," without there being any explanation of their connections to the Israeli establishment.

Though headquartered in England, the ICSR was established as a partnership between the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and a few other universities. Each year the Herzliya center hosts a major conference on "security," at which powerful business and political figures discuss how to reinforce Israeli apartheid.

At the 2003 conference, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel's finance minister, tried to defend the wall being built in the West Bank by contending it would help prevent a "demographic spill-over" of Palestinians into present-day Israel.

Shiraz Maher, a "senior research fellow", at the ICSR has been in demand recently as a pundit on Syria. During an appearance on Al Jazeera, he denounced the Iranian government-financed Press TV and Russia Today as "propaganda channels."

Echoing Israel

His description wasn't inaccurate (numerous media outlets warrant the same label). But it is telling that he implied those hostile to a Western assault on Damascus were resorting to propaganda, when he regularly parrots Israeli propaganda himself.

In a blog he writes for the right-wing British magazine The Spectator, Maher has praised Netanyahu for bombing Syria earlier this year. In other posts, he has stated it was a "palpable falsity" to call Israel an apartheid state (he didn't bother elaborating). And he has urged the European Union to blacklist Hizballah as a "terrorist organization," echoing an appeal made repeatedly by Israel.

I contacted Maher to ask how he defined terrorism and if he accepted that Israel resorted to state terrorism. "I don't see where the question is coming from," he replied. "It's a fairly technical legal question."

When I asked him why he never drew attention to his Herzliya links in his articles or TV appearances, Maher said that the ICSR has "no financial relationship" with the Israeli center. Yet he would not give any details on how the ICSR is funded, telling me that I would have to put any such questions on matters to John Bew, the center's director.

Bew did not respond to my requests for a copy of the ICSR's accounts. Yet Bew is known to answer requests from pro-establishment journalists. In July, he was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 program "Thinking Allowed," where he stated that "anyone who grew up in Northern Ireland, like I did, will know terrorism is not a concept" but an "objective fact."

The slot featuring Bew lasted for a full 26 minutes. That would be considered a long time by many broadcast journalists, yet neither Bew nor the presenter availed of the opportunity to explain that he is linked to an Israeli university supportive of state violence. (Bew, incidentally, will soon leave London for Washington, where he will take up the "Henry Kissinger chair in foreign policy" at the Library of Congress.)

Full picture?

The ICSR is registered as a charity and donations to it are tax deductible. Yet it is hard to believe that the information it has supplied to Britain's Charity Commission gives a full picture of its resources. This indicates that it had an income of £20,000 ($32,000) in the financial year which ended in August 2012 and that it spent only £5,000 during that year.

It appears that two of the main donors to the ICSR are businessmen Edward Atkin and Henry Sweetbaum.

Atkin, a businessman who amassed a fortune from manufacturing teats for baby bottles, sponsors a scholarship scheme that brings bright young students from Israel and Arab countries to London.


According to the ICSR's website, the students are able to discuss how to "further peace and understanding" in a "politically neutral environment." This is pure spin: projects of this nature are regarded as "normalization" by many Palestinians because they promote cooperation in a situation of inequality and injustice, without acknowledging that Israel practices a form of apartheid.

It is doubtful whether or not Atkin is "politically neutral" himself (can any wealthy entrepreneur really be apolitical?). He is also a donor to the Community Security Trust (CST), a group that has engaged in a witch-hunt against Jewish activists who speak out against Israeli apartheid.

As my colleague Asa Winstanley revealed in 2011, the CST has strayed from its official remit of monitoring anti-Semitic incidents to snoop on left-wing Jews, whom it has branded "extremist," a term it normally reserves for the far-right.

The ICSR was founded in 2007 by Henry Sweetbaum, a former head of the building supplies firm Wickes Companies. Sweetbaum is named as a donor to King's College London in that university's latest annual report. He also remains the ICSR's chairman.

Attempts by the ICSR's staff to distance themselves from Israel lack credibility. Boaz Ganor from the Herzliya center was another founding member of the ICSR and is still one of its official "partners." Ganor has encouraged Israel to commit even more war crimes than it already has: in a 2006 opinion piece, he advocated both "pre-emptive and reactive strikes" against "Palestinian terror." Civilians have been the main victims when Israel has undertaken those kinds of "strikes."

Given they are in a "partnership" with a man who openly calls for the murder of people based on the racial group to which they belong, perhaps the media should be a little more probing the next time it gives a platform to the ICSR and its "experts."

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 19 September 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Serving America's war machine

For many years, I regarded "think tanks" as a godsend. As a news reporter chasing deadlines, I'd regularly call their "experts" for quotes. Usually, they could give me a few succinct lines that appeared to lend a story some intellectual heft.

Then I started asking: who do these "experts" really represent? Can outfits financed by major corporations be independent?

Security and Defence Agenda (SDA) presents itself as a "neutral platform" for discussing military matters. Analysts with the Brussels-based think tank appear happy nonetheless to sound a bellicose note that chimes with the interest of those weapons manufacturers funding their activities.

Shada Islam, SDA's "strategic advisor", appeared on Euronews recently, where she argued that "several surgical strikes" should be undertaken against Syria (the interview was conducted before the US-Russia deal on removing Syria's chemical weapons). Referring to Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, Islam said: "We have an international treaty which bans the use of chemical weapons. If this man has really used them, we have a moral treaty obligation to act. If the West, if the international community, does not act, turns a blind eye to the use of poison gas, what message are we sending to other despots and dictators?"

Islam failed to spell out that some members of SDA would benefit directly from the attack that she advocated. Lockheed Martin, for example, produces cruise missiles that would almost certainly be used if America decided to bomb Damascus. When an attack looked imminent, the value of Lockheed's shares began to climb steadily.

Last week I contacted Islam asking her to explain why she did not alert viewers to her Lockheed connections. I also asked her Euronews interviewer, Rudolf Herbert, if he was aware that Islam is to all intents and purposes a lobbyist for the arms industry. Neither replied.

Selective abhorrence

SDA's abhorrence of non-conventional weapons may be of a selective nature. A report that it has published on "cyber-security" relied considerably on the "wisdom" dispensed by Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a former head of research with the Israeli military. The report did not mention that Ben-Israel has himself indicated that he provided advice on how that military could use a hideous weapon called DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive).

DIME was originally tested by a US Air Force Base in Florida, where the possibility of adding tungsten or other metal particles to an explosive chemical mixture was studied. Desmond Travers, an Irish colonel, has stated that there was much anecdotal evidence that Israel used DIME during its three-week assault on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

He has expressed particular concern about DIME containing powdered metal, which cannot be removed from any human body that it enters. Travers was part of the UN team headed by Richard Goldstone, a retired South African judge, which investigated the conduct of that offensive.

Why is SDA so perturbed by Syria possessing ghastly weapons, but not Israel? This may have something to do with how Lockheed Martin is the biggest beneficiary of US military aid to Israel. The $3 billion that America gives to Israel each year is conditional on it buying weapons from Lockheed and a few other US firms.

No democratic mandate

The SDA hasn't only been thinking about Syria lately. In June, it hosted a "debate" where Claude-France Arnould, chief executive of the European Defence Agency, was the keynote speaker. The weapons-makers in attendance used the occasion to argue that the EU's new scientific research programme, Horizon 2020, subsidise innovation of a military nature.

Although the Union is already financing a number of drone projects, its officials insist that these are purely civilian. The assurances they have given are less than credible, given that the arms industry is taking part in many of these schemes. But it is significant that the industry wants the EU to go further than it already has and actually bankroll the development of weapons.

The drive towards militarisation lacks any democratic mandate. The deep public opposition to a Western attack on Syria illustrated that taxpayers can think of better things to do with their money than supporting American, French or British imperialism.

Shada Islam and her colleagues are hardly concerned with public opinion, however. Their "neutral platform" caters for a tiny elite whose primary objective is to drum up new business for the merchants of death.

•First published by EUobserver, 17 September 2013.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The muscle and money of Big Tobacco

Few issues are more black-and-white than smoking. Speak to any conscientious doctor and he or she will advise you either to quit the fags or never take them up.

Despite that clarity, the tobacco industry tries to seduce us with a variety of shades. In his magnificent book Golden Holocaust, Robert Proctor refers to a marketing paper drawn up by cigarette-makers Brown & Williamson in 1978. "Light colours connect with light tasting," it read. "Combinations of yellow, orange and red now equate to smoking enjoyment. Certain blues are contradictory to smoking enjoyment and can denote strength and coldness. Other blues are prestigious, though in a passive sense."

As the idea of selling cigarettes in plain packaging would undermine decades of strategising, it's little wonder that Big Tobacco has been striving to scupper any moves in that direction. Australia's government was commendably stubborn enough last year to insist that all cigarette boxes be a sickly green and covered with lurid health warnings. The EU's main institutions, by contrast, have proven more malleable.

Data entered into a register of "interest representatives" run by the European Commission indicates that tobacco firms spared no expense in seeking to torpedo a plain packaging proposal during 2012.

British American Tobacco (BAT) says it shelled out up to €1 million on lobbying in Brussels last year -- more than twice what it declared for 2011. Philip Morris spent up to €1.25 million for the same purpose in 2012 and Japan Tobacco International spent up to €600,000. Imperial Tobacco, meanwhile, spent up to €250,000 between October 2011 and September 2012.

Umbrella groups bringing together a number of firms also mobilised to save the shades. The Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers had a lobbying war-chest of around €700,000 last year. The European Smoking Tobacco Association hasn't provided figures for 2012 but claims to have spent about €400,000 the previous year.

All this muscle and money had an effect. Following a controversy involving the dismissal of its health chief John Dalli, the European Commission finally got round to proposing a revised "tobacco products" law in December 2012. Rather than opting for an Australian-style approach to plain packaging across the entire surface of cigarette boxes, the Commission recommended that 30% of each packet could be reserved for branding.

Not content with that concession, the cigarette industry is now trying to weaken the draft law further. MEPs were supposed to decide whether to approve the law this week. By postponing the vote until October, they have given Big Tobacco more time to apply pressure.

No room for nuance

It is important to underline that officials and politicians who bow to this pressure are behaving illegally. The World Health Organisation's convention on tobacco control stresses that contact between public authorities and the tobacco industry should be kept to a strict minimum. Yet documents that I have obtained show there have been numerous contacts involving both EU officials and tobacco lobbyists in recent years. Some officials have even facilitated work aimed at improving the image of cigarette makers -- by, for example, taking part in a BAT conferences which presented that company as "socially responsible".

The lobbying budgets of tobacco firms gives an incomplete picture of their clout. It does not tell us how organisations with a veneer of respectability are essentially fronts for Big Tobacco. The Kangaroo Group is an innocuous-sounding club ostensibly dedicated to "a safe and prosperous Europe". Far from being a mere talking shop, it provides a forum where corporate representatives can cajole MEPs and high-ranking officials. BAT, Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco are among its members.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) - based in Paris - is more powerful again. The ICC's Jeffrey Hardy has been busy lately masquerading as a civil liberties campaigner. In a position paper written in May, he contended that any limitation on the "distinguishing features" of different cigarette brands would amount to a violation of free expression. Philip Morris and BAT both belong to a "business action" alliance that Hardy runs.

Whenever it harps on about the "rights" of firms and individual smokers, the tobacco industry neglects to mention that health has been recognised as a fundamental human right by the United Nations since the 1940s.

The tobacco industry has a long history of trying to entice young people to smoke and of suppressing evidence about the dangers of its products. Those activities breach the right to health.

There should be no room for nuance when tobacco is discussed. Six million lives are lost to smoking every year. The companies that cause this suffering deserve to be treated as pariahs. So why is the EU accommodating them?

•First published by EUobserver, 13 September 2013.

EU awards new science grant to occupation profiteer Ahava

When was the last time that the European Union decided to abet a war crime?

I have just learned that the EU's executive approved a grant to Ahava, a firm making cosmetics in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, on 5 July this year.

Under the EU's agreement with the firm, Ahava will coordinate the SuperFlex project on skincare research. Over €6 million ($8 million) of the scheme's budget comes from EU funds.

The aim of SuperFlex is to develop new cosmetic products for the elderly. This indicates that Brussels officials are more interested in finding a cure for wrinkles than in protecting international law.

Israel's settlements in the West Bank are regarded as war crimes by the United Nations. A 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice stipulated that public authorities around the world have an obligation not to assist Israel's illegal activities. The EU's deal with Ahava breaks the spirit and probably the letter of that ruling.

Ignorance is no defence

It is all the more disgusting that the agreement with Ahava was signed exactly two weeks before the EU published new guidelines stating that companies or institutions active in Israeli settlements were not eligible for the Union's grants. These guidelines will come into effect at the beginning of 2014. Why is it deemed OK to aid war crimes before then?

Replying to a recent query from several elected representatives, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's commissioner for scientific research, said that the EU's grants to Ahava were authorized within "the applicable legal framework" but "this situation is now changing" because of the new guidelines.

Geoghegan-Quinn's "legal framework" presumably refers to the rules covering cooperation between the EU and Israel. Even within that "legal framework," it's highly doubtful that giving money to Ahava can be considered acceptable. All of the Union's cooperation with Israel is supposed to be based on respect for human rights.

More importantly, whatever "framework" she operates within, Geoghegan-Quinn does not have carte blanche to trample over international law.

Ignorance is no defence, either. Geoghegan-Quinn and her advisers have received plenty of correspondence over the past few years alerting them to how Ahava manufactures its goods in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. Last year, she admitted to being "aware of the issue" when it was raised by a British member of the European Parliament and signalled that steps were being taken to rectify the problem.

Gobbling up Palestine

Ahava is one of four Israeli "partners" in SuperFlex. Another is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Its campus is located in East Jerusalem. While the EU has refused to recognize Israel's occupation and subsequent annexation of East Jerusalem, the Union has displayed remarkable flexibility towards the Hebrew University.

A memo prepared by the EU's Tel Aviv embassy has pointed out that the EU will be able to continue awarding grants to the Hebrew University once its new guidelines come into effect.

Mount Scopus, where the university has its campus, was placed under Israeli control in 1948, while the remainder of East Jerusalem was seized by Israel in 1967. And so the EU doesn't consider the Hebrew University to be on occupied land, even though it has encroached into Issawiyeh, a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank.

European diplomats in Tel Aviv were once again trumpeting their admiration for the Hebrew University this evening. The EU was a sponsor of an "open night" on Space exploration held on several Israeli campuses.

As its contribution, the Hebrew University hosted exhibitions on what technology will be used for Space travel in 2050.

Providing a glimpse of the future does not atone for the wrongs inflicted in the past or in the present. It does not negate how the EU is helping Israel to gobble up every inch of Palestine.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

When arms industry calls the shots, Israel stands to benefit

There was a time when Israeli diplomats returned my phone calls. There was even a time when some of them granted me interviews.

It was on one such occasion -- more than a decade ago -- that I listened to Harry Kney-Tal, an ambassador in Brussels for Ariel Sharon's government, vent his frustration with the European left. Why, he wondered, could pictures of Yasser Arafat often be seen beside those of Che Guevara at political protests on this continent?

Leaving aside the fact that Arafat was a deeply flawed leader, it is not difficult to grasp why symbols of the Palestinian struggle were brandished by radical activists. Palestinians have been treated as pawns in a global power game that has been rigged to allow one nation -- the United States -- and the extreme version of capitalism it embodies to dominate over everyone and everything else.

I wish that I had delivered a sharp and witty response to Kney-Tal. But I was a lot more confused and reticent then than I am now. I was working for European Voice, a weekly newspaper read by top-level officials in Brussels. Part of my "responsibilities" involved writing articles for supplements financed by the arms industry. I hated being little more than a stenographer to the bloodthirsty and powerful and grew increasingly depressed. Eventually -- after five years in the job -- I quit.

Since then (2006), I have written two books, with the express intention of discomfiting the elite in Brussels and beyond.

My first one, Europe's Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, demonstrated that the EU is complicit in crimes against humanity. My new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War examines how lobbyists hired by the super-rich are trying to transform the EU into a carbon copy of the US (by among, other things, destroying or severely weakening social and environmental protections).

Both books are connected.

Opening my eyes

The work I've been doing on the EU's cozy relationship with Israel has opened my eyes to a number of issues. Each time a major new law or policy is under preparation, the EU bureaucracy is supposed to open it up to something called "public consultation."

In 2011, a number of Palestinian organizations and Palestine solidarity groups formally complained about how the EU was subsidizing Israel's war industry during a "public consultation" that was being held on the future direction of Union's science policy.

While these groups argued -- convincingly -- that the EU was abetting Israel's crimes against humanity, their complaints were completely ignored by Brussels officials. This helped me understand that the voices of the powerful are treated with reverence; the powerless are often dismissed as "cranks."

A good role model?

Corporate Europe also contains a chapter about the EU's militarization. This is one of strongest examples of how politicians this side of the Atlantic are striving to ape America. According to propaganda from weapons manufacturers, it is necessary for Europe to develop drones and other sophisticated weapons of its own if it is too "catch up" with the US. The current issue of European Voice carries an article making that point: the question as to why the US is considered a desirable role model isn't raised. Correspondence that I have seen between weapons-makers and Brussels officials suggests there is something of an obsession with drones. It is these same individuals who are pushing for the EU to devote more resources towards scientific research with a military dimension. Israel is already the most active non-European participant in the EU's research programme, so will more than likely stand to benefit if the weapons industry has its way.

Coveting drones would be obscene under any circumstances. Coveting them at a time when spending on vital public services -- including health and education -- is being slashed in many EU countries is all-the-more inexcusable. Yet it is symptomatic of how the Union's decision-makers feel duty-bound to please major corporations, regardless of the consequences.

In my view, the best way to counter this appalling state of affairs is through education and mobilization. Corporate Europe argues that an inclusive movement be built around a core set of demands, such as taxing the wealthy, putting banks under public ownership, achieving climate justice and outlawing war.

Israeli apartheid has endured because it has enjoyed valuable support from many of the corporate villains I have tried to expose. So it goes without saying that the kind of movement I want to see developing must have the dismantling of Israeli apartheid as one of its overriding goals.

If this demand will leave certain diplomats bewildered, then I will be a happy man.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 September 2013.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Biofuels fever still grips EU elite

I am bemused when Ireland's EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is hailed as a "progressive". Twenty years have passed since - as a justice minister - she oversaw the decriminalisation of homosexuality in her country. Though she deserves some kudos for standing up to the Catholic hierarchy, she has behaved in an obsequious manner towards more powerful men in her current role as the Union's science chief. I am referring here to the titans of the energy industry.

The World Food Programme, the World Bank and numerous anti-poverty groups have all documented how using agricultural crops for transport causes the price of basic groceries to rise, thereby exacerbating hunger. Yet Geoghegan-Quinn has decided to disregard these warnings and to continue promoting biofuels.

In July, Geoghegan-Quinn announced that 1 billion euros in EU funds was being allocated to a new initiative for supporting "bio-based industries". Among the stated objectives of this seven-year project are to replace oil refineries with "biorefineries" and to hasten the production of alternatives to conventional petrol and diesel.

Because the bumph prepared for the initiative is peppered with "green" buzzwords like "sustainable" and "locally-sourced", it is important to look at who its main beneficiaries will be. Far from being a bunch of organic farmers or tree-huggers, the corporate consortium behind the project brings together agri-food giants like Unilever and Cargill with the Dutch airline KLM and the Spanish oil and gas firm Repsol.

This means that the future of Europe's energy is being shaped by unaccountable corporations whose primary motivation is maximising profits, not meeting the needs of society.


Geoghegan-Quinn is more gung-ho in supporting biofuels than many of her colleagues in the European Commission.

In October 2012, the EU's executive belatedly conceded that a goal established in 2007 that biofuels should power 10% of all cars and truck journeys by 2020 was harming the hungry. Revising the target, it stipulated that the proportion of road trips undertaken with food crops should not exceed 5%.

Despite that admission, Geoghegan-Quinn used a conference in Dublin on Valentine's Day this year to declare her undying love for biofuels. Branding the "food versus fuel" debate as "too simplistic", she argued that "with a fully functioning bioeconomy" the need for both nutrition and energy can be satisfied.

Her reassurances jar with a recent study by ActionAid, which found that the biofuel industry is gobbling up Africa's resources. According to the charity, less than 100 European companies took over 6 million hectares of land in sub-Saharan Africa between 2009 and 2013. The EU's biofuels craze could push up the price of foods by 36% by 2020, ActionAid has estimated.

Certain of a generous pension when she finishes her current job, Geoghegan-Quinn will not endure much anguish over higher supermarket bills. Millions affected by her policies won't have the same luxury.


Why is she being so callous? The most plausible explanation is that she has allowed her attitude to biofuels be determined by the army of corporate lobbyists who regularly badger her entourage. It has been reported that these lobbyists bombarded her office with three emails every hour ahead of a key decision in October 2012.

Despite the damage caused by the EU's targets for biofuels, these lobbyists are pushing for fresh targets to be set, according to documents that I have seen. An alliance of large food and energy firms called ePure has been urging Geoghegan-Quinn to provide incentives for biofuel use beyond 2020. The Carlyle Group - a private equity firm with a history of business connections to both the Bush and Bin Laden families - has struck an alarmist tone in its dealings with the Commission. Last year, it predicted that a weakening of the EU's biofuels goals would "leave the industry fighting for its survival".

Geoghegan-Quinn has proven receptive to these arguments. A key recommendation of the "bio-based industries" initiative is that 25% of all transport be undertaken with biofuels by 2030.

Even before she agreed to fund this initiative, Geoghegan-Quinn oversaw a variety of schemes designed to boost the use of biofuels in aviation. Participants in an EU-financed research project called ALFA-BIRD (alternative fuels and biofuels for aircraft development) included Shell and the weapons manufacturers Dassault and Rolls-Royce.


The official rationale for such projects is to make transport more environmentally friendly. Asking a notorious polluter like Shell or firms whose bottom line depends on military aggression for help on protecting the environment is like asking Starbucks for advice on ending tax avoidance.

Of course, research is required into the future of transport. Data published by the European Environment Agency indicates that transport accounts for almost one-quarter of all the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. Given the massive contribution of road and air travel to climate change, it is surely imperative that policy-makers focus on ways of reducing car and plane journeys.

If Geoghegan-Quinn was a genuine progressive, she would encourage research on such topics as how more cities can follow the fine examples set by Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where cycling is a popular way of getting around. She would prioritise public transport over congestion and seek to curb the growth of airports.

Championing biofuels is a convenient way of dodging necessary action. It allows powerful corporations to spout gibberish about "sustainability", as they carry on causing hunger.

•First published by Counterpunch, 6 September 2013.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Top-selling Irish paper keeps on grovelling towards Israel

I've been thinking a lot lately about what my native Dublin was like one hundred years ago. During this week in 1913, seven people were killed when two tenement buildings in the city collapsed. The living and working conditions of the poor were deplorable. When a strike halted the tram service on Dublin's main street, leading industrialist William Martin Murphy tried to starve his employees into submission by locking them out of their jobs.

Murphy's business empire included The Irish Independent group of newspapers. Dublin has changed largely for the better since the 1913 Lock-Out; yet this media organ has remained consistent in displaying a contempt for the downtrodden and marginalized. Palestinians, victims of AIDS in Africa, the unemployed and even people with disabilities have all been attacked by its venomous, right-wing columnists in recent times.

The latest issue of The Sunday Independent contains a piece from Nicky Larkin, a film-maker who has been dubbed "the Irish Zionist" by the Israeli press. (Nicky Larkin should not to be confused with Murphy's nemesis, the early twentieth century union leader Jim Larkin).


In it, Nicky Larkin recalls a conversation in which a German neo-Nazi expressed an affinity with Palestinians on the assumption that they hated Jews. Larkin also stated that his interlocutor was the proud owner of a kuffiyeh -- a Palestinian checkered scarf.

I'm not sure if Larkin was trying to imply that the kuffiyeh is a popular fashion accessory for the extreme right. But I do know that he frequently writes about the kuffiyeh, sometimes in an ill-informed way. Last year, he described it as the "PLO scarf." That apparent attempt to brand it an item of "terrorist chic" ignores how it was worn by Palestinians long before the PLO's inception in 1964.

In that same 2012 article, Larkin outlined an "intellectual journey" (his words), where he was persuaded to become pro-Israeli by people he met in Tel Aviv. One of those was a former soldier who, according to Larkin, was attacked by "about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets" while he was serving in Gaza.

Larkin felt that the soldier's memories were indicative of the "sense of alienation" felt by Israelis. He neglected to mention that the soldier was enforcing a brutal occupation at the time.

Free speech?

Larkin's efforts to portray the oppressor as the oppressed haven't gone down too well in Ireland's coffee shops. "Free speech must work both ways," he wrote. "But back in Dublin, whenever I speak up for Israel, the Fiachras and Fionas look at me aghast, as if I'd pissed on their paninis."

The Sunday Independent isn't too big on this free speech lark. A few weeks ago, I bumped into Paul Murphy, a left-wing member of the European Parliament, on a flight from Brussels to Dublin. Murphy (not to be confused with William Martin Murphy) told me that he had just written a response to an article in that paper, which had attacked his stance on Palestine.

Penned by Richard Humphreys, who sits on a local authority in South Dublin, the article denounced Murphy for stating that he would be in favor of a new Palestinian intifada. Humphreys branded Murphy's argument as "eccentric" and "embarrassing," while praising the position of the Irish government on the Middle East as "one of balance and sensitivity." To bolster his case, Humphreys referred to how Eamon Gilmore, the Irish foreign minister, had been part of an EU decision to blacklist the armed wing of Hizballah.

Murphy was denied a right of reply by the newspaper's editors. So he posted his response on his own website. It stressed that far from being a cool-headed commentator, Humphreys was "an apologist for the crimes of the Israeli state." When Israel murdered nine activists who were sailing towards Gaza in May 2010, Humphreys insulted the dead by calling them "Turkish terrorists."

(Full disclosure: I took part in a conference organized by Murphy earlier this year. My travel expenses were covered but I was not paid for my participation).

The Sunday Independent is the most widely-distributed weekend paper in Ireland. Although I've never heard any of my relatives or friends saying a good word about it, the paper nonetheless helps to make reactionary views appear acceptable.

Attack on truth?

One of its regular pundits, Eoghan Harris, has a deep-seated aversion to Palestinian rights. In April, Harris vented his fury at the Teachers' Union of Ireland over its decision to call for an academic boycott of Israel. "To call Israel an apartheid state is an attack on truth," he wrote. "As wrong as teaching that two plus two equals five."

Of course, Harris omitted some salient truths while trying to highlight differences between Israel and South Africa under white rule. He forgot, for example, how Henrik Verwoerd, the former South African prime minister, had declared that "Israel, like South Africa is an apartheid state."

I doubt that Harris was too perturbed by his omissions. He received a pat on the back for that "excellent op-ed" from Israel's embassy in Dublin.

Harris has done well from groveling. In 2007, he was appointed to the Irish Senate -- an elitist institution -- by the country's then prime minister Bertie Ahern. The appointment was clearly a reward for how Harris had sung Ahern's praises during a pre-election TV debate.

I had a friend who worked for The Independent group, when the late Vinnie Doyle was one of its top editors (confession: I also wrote feature articles for The Irish Independent in the 1990s). On one occasion my friend was commissioned to write a piece alleging that Dublin's beggars weren't really poor. A senior member of staff told him: "Always remember that Vinnie Doyle doesn't have much time for the little people in our society."

The same can be said for the paper's attitude to the Palestinians. Why bother holding the powerful to account, when it is so much easier to pick on the little people of our world?

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 3 September 2013.