Friday, June 5, 2015

Tony Blair recruited by cheerleader for Israel's crimes

Scanning the headlines about Tony Blair's latest appointment, I wanted to believe that someone was playing a joke. The war criminal who morphed into a Middle East "peace envoy" will now work pro bono for an Israel lobby group. For that is the most accurate way to describe Blair's new "employer", the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.

While its name might give the impression that it is a dispassionate intergovernmental body, the ECTR is a project of the Zionist zealot and fertilizer tycoon Moshe Kantor.

As well as being the ECTR's founder, Kantor is the president of the European Jewish Congress. Despite how he claims to represent 2.5 million Jews, Kantor regularly panders to anti-Semites.

By acting as a cheerleader for Israeli aggression, Kantor lends credence to the fallacy that Israel enjoys a universal blessing from Jews. He is completely out of sync with the growing number of his co-religionists who are speaking out against Israeli apartheid.

Kantor's stance is also at odds with that taken by Blair as prime minister. Officially, the UK views the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal under international law. Kantor, on the other hand, has argued that such colonization facilitates the "positive interaction" between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a joint opinion piece with Kantor published yesterday by British newspaper The Times, Blair identifies "creating clearer definitions of what is racist and anti-Semitic" and giving judiciaries greater powers to prosecute "hate speech" as priorities for his work with the ECTR.

Blurring the distinction

Careful scrutiny of Kantor's activities indicates he is not really interested in bringing clarity. Whereas opposition to Zionism is very different from a blanket animosity towards Jews, he is seeking to blur the distinction between these two phenomena.

For example, the ECTR has drafted a convention on "promoting tolerance." Its preamble refers to "the current increase in anti-Semitism in many European countries", alleging that "this increase is also characterized by new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

Kantor's European Jewish Congress has invested much energy into accusing the Palestine solidarity movement of being responsible for "new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

I have obtained a letter sent by the EJC to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency in April 2012. The letter alleges that "the new form of anti-Semitism, which emanates from pro-Palestinians, from Arabo-Muslim extremists [sic], is today considered by European Jews as a real threat, which creates fear and tension among European Jews. Therefore, the definition of anti-Semitism should be clarified: the new form of anti-Semitism emanates from Arabo-Muslim extremists, from pro-Palestinians, being one way importers of the mid-East conflict into Europe."

Such lobbying has proven effective. In response to pleas from the EJC and similar groups, the EU's agency decided to include calls for boycotting Israel -- a key tactic of the Palestine solidarity movement -- as examples of anti-Semitism in a report it issued during 2013.

Dodgy dossier

The agency, which has been tasked with monitoring racism and xenophobia across the Union, has failed to acknowledged that the Palestinian-led mobilization for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targets goods, companies and institutions -- not individuals.

Blair's call for a crackdown on "hate speech" should be seen against the backdrop of attempts to smear Palestine solidarity campaigners. The attempts have made an impact. Canada's right-wing government is in trying to criminalize BDS campaigning by categorizing it as "hate speech."

Violence against Jews is a real problem. Just this year, there have been attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris and a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen.

To tackle the hatred behind such incidents, it is necessary to remain focused. Smearing Palestine solidarity activists with bogus accusations is a distraction.

It would be comforting if Blair and Kantor could be dismissed as yesterday's men. Sadly, both are influential.

Kantor even has a center called after him in Tel Aviv University. It publishes annual reports that pretend to give a global overview of anti-Semitism. According to the latest such report, Israeli soldiers were blamed for "every evil on earth" at demonstrations sparked by Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.

No evidence is provided to back up that wild assertion. But such sloppiness does not seem to worry Blair and Kantor, who refer to the report in their aforementioned opinion piece.

Come to think of it, this isn't the first dodgy dossier that Blair has endorsed. Didn't he invade Iraq to search for weapons that did not exist?

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 June 2015.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arms dealer Airbus adapts Israeli drone for refugee boat surveillance

The weapons-maker Airbus is promoting an Israeli-designed drone as suitable for tracking boats used by refugees.

A new brochure from Airbus Defence and Space lists "border surveillance" and "anti-smuggling" as potential applications for the Harfang. That drone was developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries and the Franco-German arms giant EADS, now owned by Airbus.

The possibility that such warplanes could be used in attacks that result in refugees being killed is far from academic. WikiLeaks has just published a classified EU plan for military action against boats in Libya which transport refugees to Europe.

According to the plan, this action should draw on the "full range" of surveillance equipment and knowhow available to EU governments.

The Harfang is among such equipment as it has been deployed by France while bombing Mali and Libya over the past few years and as part of the French contribution to NATO's war in Afghanistan.

Gaza "debut"

Not only has the Harfang been developed in tandem with IAI, it is modeled on an Israeli drone known as the Heron TP. DefenseNews, a publication popular with arms dealers, has noted that the Heron TP received its "operational debut" during Israel's three-week bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during that offensive.

Last week I took part in a debate with Chris Henny, a representative of Airbus, at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.

I am forbidden from disclosing what Henny said on that occasion. The debate was subject to the "Chatham House rule", protocol drawn up by a British think tank which prevents those who attend its discussions from attributing comments to the person who made them.

However, I subsequently asked Henny to comment on the record about why Airbus was suggesting that a drone tested in Gaza would be helpful in tracking refugees trying to reach Europe. He sent me a snide reply by email: "The topic for discussion during the debate at the Institute of European Studies was 'securing Europe’s border.' Israel and Palestine are not part of Europe as far as I am aware. "

"Airbus is working with many legally constituted and sovereign states and state enterprises around the world to help them control their borders through the use of technology, some of which we help to develop ourselves, and other technologies which we buy in, or license to others." he added. "What those technology partners choose to do with their own developments, in their own countries, is, of course, their business."


That attempt to put some distance between his firm and Israel should not go unchallenged. While Henny insinuates that Israel has nothing to do with him, his Airbus colleagues use their Israel connections as a selling point. Last year, Airbus issued a statement celebrating how the Harfang was based on an Israeli drone which was "combat proven."

That terminology is identical to that of Israel's arms industry. "Combat-proven" is a polite way of saying that the weapons have been tested out on Palestinians.

Henny's cavalier attitude is in keeping with the dodgy history of Airbus and EADS. Their record betrays a willingness to engage in pretty much any activity that will turn a profit.

EADS was part of a consortium known as MBDA which helped arm Muammar Gadaffi's regime in Libya. The very same consortium later benefited from NATO's 2011 assault on Libya, an "intervention" with ruinous consequences for ordinary people across several countries.

Airbus' border management activities have, to put it mildly, proven controversial. The firm is under investigation in both the UK and Germany for allegedly paying bribes to the Saudi dictatorship. The probes relate to Airbus' role in building a fence along Saudi Arabia's borders.

With its start-of-the-art surveillance equipment, the fence has been presented as necessary to defend Saudi Arabia against ISIS. Yet because the fence was planned before ISIS emerged as a serious threat, it would appear that its real purpose is to keep Iraqi refugees out of Saudi Arabia.

Another thing I noticed is that Airbus' brochure points to the Harfang's use in "regular national homeland security missions on French territory since the end of 2008." I can't imagine that everyone in France would be happy to know their law enforcement authorities are undertaking surveillance with Israeli-designed drones.

But I'm sure Airbus representatives have a ready-made response for any complaints: what clients do is, of course, their business.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 June 2015.