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.

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