Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Has Israeli college in East Jerusalem been deceiving its EU donors?

Has Israel been resorting to deception so that it can benefit from European Union funding?

For the past few years, I've been protesting about how the EU is continuing to subsidize Hebrew University of Jerusalem, even though it has a campus in occupied East Jerusalem. Aiding the university, I have argued, runs counter to "guidelines" published by the Union in 2013, which say that Israeli firms and bodies located in land seized by Israel in 1967 are ineligible for grants or loans.

After making a few complaints to the Brussels bureaucracy, I now believe that Hebrew University is circumventing those guidelines.

Robert-Jan Smits, head of the European Commission's research department, has told me that Hebrew University names its campus at Givat Ram in West Jerusalem as its "place of establishment" when applying for science grants.

That appears misleading: the university's administrative headquarters are actually located on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem.

In his latest reply to my complaints, Smits acknowledged that Hebrew University is active on Mount Scopus. "We have carefully checked and we can confirm that Mount Scopus is located within the pre-1967 borders" of Israel, he stated.


He has provided an unconvincing "justification" for why the EU supports this institution.

Indeed, his attitude is at odds with the EU's general policy towards Jerusalem. Though riddled with inconsistencies, that policy has been one of avoiding measures that would confer recognition on Israel's ever-tightening grip on Jerusalem.
The most visible manifestation of that policy has been the EU's insistence that its embassy -- and those of its member governments -- for relations with Israel is situated in Tel Aviv, rather than Jerusalem.

While it's correct that Hebrew University was built before 1967, it has supported and sought to exploit the occupation starting that year.

According to the potted history of the university on its website, "studies were discontinued" on Mount Scopus in 1948, the year of Israel's foundation. The reason cited was that "the road to Mount Scopus went through Arab areas and the convoys that camp up to the mount were an easy target for Arab snipers."

The same official history states that "efforts to return the university to Mount Scopus began immediately" after Jerusalem was "reunited" in 1967. "Reunited" is the term Israel uses to describe a brutal occupation.

In 1968, the Israeli government confiscated land belonging to Palestinians on Mount Scopus. Part of that land was sold to Hebrew University the following decade; its Palestinian owners were adamant that the sale was illegal.

In order to expand its facilities, Hebrew University has long been demanding the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Hebrew University is the top Israeli recipient of EU science grants. It took part in a total of 237 projects under a €53 billion ($61 billion) research program that ran from 2007 to 2013.

If the number one beneficiary can skirt around the 2013 guidelines with such ease, doing so shouldn't prove difficult for other Israeli companies and institutions.

Last year, I unearthed evidence showing that senior EU representatives had pledged to interpret the guidelines in a "flexible" manner. So it doesn't surprise me that the Union has shown no desire to halt its aid to Israeli weapons manufacturers.

The drone-maker Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was also one of the ten leading recipients of EU grants in the 2007-13 period. IAI is involved in joint research with Ariel University -- located in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank -- on using nanotechnology to develop miniature satellites.


Under the aforementioned guidelines, the EU does not (as far as I can tell) directly give money to Ariel. Yet there is a high probability that some of Ariel's activities draw on research which the EU is financing.

An IAI "expert" sat on a panel that advised the EU on what to prioritize in nanotechnology research between 2010 and this year.

IAI has supplied warplanes used to bomb civilians in Gaza and surveillance equipment installed in the apartheid wall in the West Bank.

If the EU was serious about standing up for Palestinian rights, it would refuse to have any dealings with such companies. Instead, the Union is allowing them dictate the agenda for spending programs in which they are participating.

This sordid affair encapsulates how the EU's policies towards Israel are characterized by both confusion and cooperation. The timid guidelines that the EU introduced in 2013 have not reduced either.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2015.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Game over for Labour Friends of Israel?

These must be worrying times for Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).

The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being elected the UK Labour Party's new leader is something of a nightmarish scenario for its internal pro-Israel lobby. Not only is Corbyn a long-standing defender of Palestinian rights, he stated that Tony Blair should be tried for war crimes in a BBC interview earlier this week.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- all the carnage Blair caused in Iraq, the former prime minister is still spoken of in reverential tones at LFI gatherings.

Recent comments from the LFI hierarchy prove that it is an amoral organization.

Jennifer Gerber, its director, claimed in July that "something has gone badly wrong with Labour's once warm relationship with the [Jewish] community."

Deceitful and dangerous

Writing for the website Labour List, she argued that since the party went into opposition in 2010, its leadership showed a "certain carelessness" towards Britain's Jews. "The rhetoric deployed by the party's front bench during last summer's Gaza war, for instance, seemed one-sided with little empathy with the fears of ordinary Israelis as their homes were under attack from Hamas rockets."

Gerber's "analysis" is both deceitful and dangerous.

First, it is simply not true that the party's grandees resorted to partisan rhetoric.

Ed Miliband, then Labour's leader, couched his timid criticisms of Israel with repeated references to "both sides." By doing so, he suggested there was some kind of parity between a nuclear-armed state assailing a besieged people with drones, bunker-buster bombs and white phosporous and a resistance group fighting back with crude projectiles.

Secondly, Gerber implies that defending Israel is a central concern for all British Jews. She negates how there are many Jews in the UK and further afield who are horrified by Israeli aggression and by its apartheid system.

Gerber has been trying to vilify Jeremy Corbyn for once describing Hamas and Hizballah as "our friends" at a meeting in the House of Commons.

Corbyn's choice of words was innocuous; the term "our friends" is used frequently in political discourse. Most people know that calling someone a "friend" doesn't mean you agree with him or her on everything.

Smear campaign

More than likely, Corbyn was just being polite to visitors from the Middle East at that meeting. Yet contributors to The Jewish Chronicle, a London-based Zionist newspaper, have exaggerated the significance of his comments in a smear campaign.

One of the paper's columnists, Geoffrey Alderman, has effectively accused Corbyn of anti-Semitism. Alderman made a big deal out of how Corbyn stated during a LFI-sponsored debate last month that the Balfour Declaration was opposed by "some of the Jewish members" of the British government.

At the time that Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, delivered his 1917 declaration in support of creating a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, Edwin Montagu was the sole Jew serving as a British cabinet minister.

While acknowledging that Montagu was indeed hostile towards Zionism and the Balfour Declaration, Alderman has tried to detect a sinister undercurrent behind Corbyn's remark.

"He might, of course, have made a genuine error," Alderman wrote. "But I believe his reference to 'some of the Jewish members of cabinet' was more in the nature of a Freudian slip and that what this error tells us is that Jeremy Corbyn sees Jews where there are none (or at least very few)."

"Corbyn -- in other words -- has a problem with Jews, whose political influence he grossly overstates," Alderman added.

There is an inevitability behind these kinds of insinuations. Hurling baseless allegations of anti-Semitism at Palestine solidarity activists is standard operating procedure for the Zionist lobby.


Other Israel supporters have been more subtle when trying to disparage Corbyn.
Jonathan Freedland, a pro-Israel pundit, has rebuked the numerous young people energized by Corbyn for being motivated more by social justice than power. He wants Labour strategists to persuade those callow idealists that "an identity built on the purity of impotence is not much of an identity at all."

Freedland is editor of The Guardian's opinion pages. Those pages have featured quite a few anti-Corbyn rants over the past few weeks.

From searching The Guardian's website, I counted eight opinion pieces in which Labour members were explicitly urged to reject Corbyn since Saturday 18 July. Owen Jones was the only Guardian writer to have a column endorsing Corbyn in that period.

It is easy to see why the mainstream media wants to stop Corbyn. His views on public services, taxation and foreign policy are anathema to an establishment besotted by capitalism and imperialism.

Labour Friends of Israel became a key pressure group during the Blair years. Joining it was considered almost mandatory for ambitious members of parliament.

It is also a simple fact that there has been a strong overlap between it and other groups linked to the party -- notably the Blairite "think-tank" Progress -- dedicated to narrowing the policy difference between Labour and the traditionally more right-wing Conservatives.

A Corbyn victory would certainly discomfit LFI. But I think it would be premature to pen that group's obituary. Regardless of who becomes leader, there will still be a sizeable Blairite wing in Labour. LFI will be able to rely on its support at least for the near future.

Nor is it beyond the bounds of possibility that Corbyn will weaken his stance on Palestine and other causes he has championed.

Broadly, I share his politics. As an Irishman, I am especially impressed that he recognized there were real injustices fuelling the conflict in my country. When the British establishment was fulminating about "terrorism" in the 1980s, he was advocating dialogue with Sinn Féin. It is now generally accepted that he was correct.

As a general rule, though, I do not trust politicians. The Labour Party's record in power does not inspire confidence.

The late Robin Cook is remembered for his eloquent resignation speech in protest at the invasion of Iraq. Yet, as foreign secretary in Blair's government, Cook approved the delivery of weapons to Indonesia, a military dictatorship conducting a genocide in East Timor.

The same Robin Cook had pledged to ensure that British foreign policy acquired an "ethical dimension."

I'm not comparing Corbyn to Cook. Rather, I'm saying that Blair has left an enormous stain on Labour's record.

Hopefully Corbyn will be able to wash off that stain. But I fear it is indelible.

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

Israeli college in East Jerusalem bags $15 million of EU funds

Two years ago, the European Union was accused of causing an "earthquake" in Israel.

The "earthquake" claim was made by an unnamed official who was widely quoted in the press. The official had voiced displeasure at new EU "guidelines" stating that the Union would not award subsidies to Israeli firms or institutions based in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem).

I was skeptical of these guidelines. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted them as an existential threat to Israel, my feeling was that they did little more than reiterate the EU's official policies. Because they did not seem to be accompanied by a proper monitoring system, I also felt that it would be easy for Israeli institutions or companies active in the West Bank to circumvent them.

The latest available data on Horizon 2020, the EU's scientific research program, proves that my skepticism was well-founded.

After navigating my way through a spreadsheet that was the polar opposite of user-friendly, I calculated that Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been allocated nearly €14 million ($15 million) under the program so far. A significant part of Hebrew University is located in East Jerusalem.


My spreadsheet trawl was prompted by the patronizing reply I received when I complained to the European Commission about how it was continuing to subsidize Hebrew University. Robert-Jan Smits, head of the Commission's research department, told me to "rest assured" that projects involving Hebrew University had been subject to an "ethics review procedure."

Smits explained that Hebrew University is required to make a declaration when applying for EU grants that it will not carry out any of the research in question on land captured by Israel in 1967. "According to our official records and its self-declaration, the place of establishment of Hebrew University of Jerusalem is within the pre-1967 borders," Smits wrote.

If Smits and his colleagues examined Hebrew University's own publications, they would find details which contradict that "self-declaration."

A "students' guide" published by the university notes that before 1967, Hebrew University's original Mount Scopus headquarters was "an Israeli enclave in the eastern part of the city, then under Jordanian control."

The booklet adds that "expansion of the campus began" with the "reunification of Jerusalem in 1967."

Blatant theft

"Reunification" is Israel's euphemism for its brutal military occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem. The European Union has refused to confer any recognition on that blatant theft of Palestinian territory.

Hebrew University encroached directly into land around Mount Scopus that Israel confiscated from Palestinians in the early stages of the 1967 occupation.

The "self-declaration" to which Smits alluded is, therefore, worthless.

Similarly, it is hard to have any confidence in the ethics review procedure" about which he wants me to "rest assured."

A lawyer familiar with this procedure recently told me that it is little more than a "box-ticking" exercise. In most cases, it involves a "screening" of grant applications, rather than a rigorous assessment.

There is no reason to believe that those overseeing this procedure have challenged the veracity of Hebrew University's "self-declaration."

Israel is taking part in an equal basis to the EU's own countries in the Union's research activities. Hebrew University was the main Israeli beneficiary of the EU's previous science program between 2007 and 2013.

The EU's 2013 guidelines have had no effect either on funding for Israel's weapons industry. More than 70 of the Union's elected representatives recently called for Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli arms firm, to be excluded from Horizon 2020.

From searching through the EU's records, I found at least one Horizon 2020 grant already approved for Elbit. It has been given €400,000 ($436,000) to take part in an airport security project.

Stop the Wall, a Palestinian campaign group, has documented how Elbit is known to have made nine applications for funding under the EU's program, which runs from 2014 until the end of the decade.

Profiting from war crimes

Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries were the two main suppliers of drones used to attack Palestinians in Gaza during July and August last year. Despite its profiting from war crimes, IAI has also been awarded at least two Horizon 2020 grants to date.

Their combined value comes to more than €2 million ($2.2 million).

Elta Systems, a subsidiary of IAI, is taking part in Horizon 2020, too.

The European Commission is part of a "troika" that is inflicting enormous hardship on Greece. It has refused to respect the clear rejection of the Union's austerity agenda by Greek voters in both an election and a referendum.

Considering its contempt for democracy within Europe, nobody should be surprised that the Commission is at variance with public opinion on Palestine.

The EU's citizens have demonstrated their solidarity with the Palestinians by marching against the attacks on Gaza and by refusing to buy Israeli goods. Smits has, instead, actively encouraged Israel to milk the EU's science program.

During 2014, he told a Horizon 2020 launch event that Israel's scientific cooperation with the EU has been "a success for both sides."

Regurgitating Zionist propaganda, he praised Israel as a "start-up nation."

The 2014 attack on Gaza was a showcase for the "start-up nation." Cutting-edge drones were tested out in bombing raids against a besieged population.

Those drones were developed by the same arms companies that the EU is happy to subsidize. Until those subsidies stop, it would be foolish to "rest assured" about anything.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 22 July 2015.