Friday, October 30, 2015

Columnist Melanie Phillips defends Netanyahu's lie about the Holocaust

Few pundits have defended Benjamin Netanyahu's by now infamous claim that a Palestinian leader gave Adolf Hitler the idea of exterminating Europe's Jews. One exception is the right-wing British columnist Melanie Phillips.

Writing in The Jerusalem Post this week, Phillips contends that the Israeli prime minister was "fundamentally correct."

As "support" for her assertion, Phillips refers to a statement made by Dieter Wisliceny, an associate of Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust's architect. During the 1946 Nuremberg trials, Wisliceny alleged that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, was "one of the instigators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry."

Phillips neglected to remind her readers that Netanyahu himself had cited Wisliceny last week while the prime minister was trying to "clarify" his accusations about the mufti. That damage limitation exercise had been criticized by historians and even by hawkish media outlets.


The Times of Israel, for example, states: "It is not some, but rather most, serious historians who doubt the veracity of Wisliceny's account." That website quotes "Israel's preeminent Holocaust scholar" Yehuda Bauer, who pointed out that the mass killing of the Jews had already been underway for six months before Hitler met the mufti in 1941 and who called Netanyahu's version of events "entirely baseless."

By coincidence, I found some fascinating papers about the mufti in the UK's national archives a few days ago.

In an October 1936 letter, Arthur Wauchope, then Britain's high commissioner for Palestine, signaled there were differences of opinion between himself and John Dill, the newly-appointed commander of British troops in Palestine, over whether or not the mufti should be deported.

"Children, savages and RAF [Royal Air Force] intelligence officers love creating bogies," Wauchope wrote to the Colonial Office in London. "They are now getting Dill and others to believe that the mufti created, organized and was solely responsible for keeping going the strikes and disorders."

Wauchope was alluding to the Palestinian Arab revolt which kicked off that year. A general strike in April 1936 was called without the mufti's involvement. It was only afterwards that he assumed the presidency of a committee bringing together the various Palestinian Arab political factions.

The administration led by Wauchope behaved in a brutal manner. By ordering the large-scale demolition of Palestinian homes -- notably in Jaffa -- it ushered in a form of collective punishment that Israel still practices in 2015.

Despite how he downplayed the mufti's role in the revolt, Wauchope regarded al-Husseini as a bitter foe. In the same letter, Wauchope complained of the mufti's "hatred of Zionism" and expressed a desire to "clip his wings." Less than a year later, Wauchope relayed to London a request that Britain "took some action against this Frankenstein monster created by Samuel" (Herbert Samuel, the first high commissioner in Palestine, had appointed al-Husseini as mufti).


Yet what struck me about Wauchope's papers was how he recognized as early as 1936 that the mufti had become a bogeyman.

By blaming al-Hussaini for the Holocaust, Netanyahu therefore seems to be following a trend set by British imperialists.

Netanyahu's lies are too much for Israel's scholars to swallow. But that does not negate how the mufti has long been Israel's bogeyman.

I noticed such a distortion of history on my first visit to Palestine in 2001. On that occasion, I accompanied an EU "peace" mission on a trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. There, I was astonished to see a whole section devoted to the mufti's brief encounter with Hitler.

Although my knowledge of Middle Eastern politics was superficial at that time, I knew enough about the Holocaust to discern how something that should really be a footnote had been elevated to an event of central importance. The Palestinians were being held responsible for the crimes of Nazi Germany.

The demolition policy that Britain introduced has been invoked by Israel as part of its mythmaking over the Holocaust.

In 2009, Avigdor Lieberman, then Israel's foreign minister, tried to "justify" the construction of a Jewish-only settlement on the site of the Shepherd's Hotel in occupied East Jerusalem by pointing out that it once hosted the mufti's headquarters. Lieberman went so far as to instruct diplomats to circulate a photograph of Hitler's meeting with al-Husseini.

It was a typically crude attempt to manipulate the past so Israel could get away with ethnic cleansing.

Melanie Phillips last year urged Israel to think seriously about its propaganda. While visiting Jerusalem, she said that Israel was hampered by a "strategic failure on the battleground of the mind."

Her willingness to applaud Netanyahu suggests that the truth has no place on whatever battleground she was talking about.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 30 October 2015.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cameron breaks clean politics pledge with honor for Israel lobbyist

Before he became the UK's prime minister, David Cameron vowed to "come clean about who is buying power and influence" in Westminster.

Cameron broke that promise when he recently appointed Stuart Polak, a veteran lobbyist for Israel and the arms industry, to the House of Lords.

For the past 26 years, Polak has been a director with Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group inside the current ruling party. He has combined that post with running a consultancy that puts corporations in touch with law-makers.

Rules applying to the House of Lords state that its members will "declare all relevant interests in order to make clear what are the interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their parliamentary actions." The rules add that "information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for doing so."

Polak is not living up to these requirements.

His entry in the Lords' register states that he is a director of TWC Associates yet does not list that consultancy's clients.

The website of TWC Associates (formerly The Westminster Connection) says that references for its clients are available on request. Last week I contacted the firm asking for such references. I did not receive a reply.

That lack of transparency wouldn't be serious if Polak was planning to spend his time in the Lords concentrating on a topic such as wetlands conservation. Yet Polak has stated that he will use his new platform "to continue to advocate for Israel."

The website of TWC Associates says that it represents clients in the defense sector -- a euphemism for the weapons industry. Elbit, a provider of drones to the Israeli military, has been among its clients, according to The Sunday Times.

Most, if not all, of the West's large arms manufacturers have business connections to Israel. So there is no excuse for Polak to hide the identities of his clients. Each time he defends Israel, it should be emphasized that he has a vested interest in supporting that state.


Polak has been gloating about the effectiveness of his pro-Israel work. Earlier this month, he celebrated how CFI had moved from being "a reasonably active organization to one somewhat feared" in Westminster.

His role in TWC Associates is not the sole example of an overlap between his business and political pursuits. He is also named as a director of Cedars Oak, a firm providing the administration of a cross-party alliance for Israel in the Houses of Parliament.

That group's chairperson -- Louise Ellman from the Labour Party -- has been televised telling lies in the service of Israeli propaganda. In 2011, she claimed -- in the present tense -- that Hamas was using children for suicide bombings. The BBC upheld a complaint against that broadcast -- on its current affairs program Newsnight -- on the grounds that nobody under 18 had undertaken a suicide bombing for Hamas since 2003.

Ellman has also described Israel's use of extrajudicial executions as "legitimate" despite how they violate due process.

Polak's pro-Israel activities are not confined to London. He founded European Friends of Israel, a group headquartered in Brussels that has played an important role in integrating Israel into the EU's single market for goods and services.

A seat in the Lords (a "peerage" in Westminster parlance) is the second honor that the British establishment has bestowed on Polak in as many years. In early 2014, he was given the title commandant of the British Empire by the queen of England.

CFI's cheerleading for Israel's attacks on Gaza later that year did not damage its reputation among the elite. Attending a recent CFI event, Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, said he was "proud" to have supported the 2014 offensive.

Israel killed more than 551 children during that attack.

People of conscience everywhere were horrified by Israel's crimes. The UK government was proud to support the criminals.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 26 October 2015.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Outlawing Israel boycott in Europe revealed as key AIPAC goal

At a time when Palestinians are rising up against Israeli apartheid, ranting about a trans-Atlantic trade accord might seem off-topic. Yet a protest camp held in Brussels this week illustrated how to blend a fight against corporate power and the expression of solidarity with an oppressed people.

As well as trying to shut down a European Union summit, participants in the camp joined a demonstration against a football match between Belgium and Israel. Inevitably, that sparked some questions about how a sporting event was relevant to plans for a gigantic EU-US "free trade" zone, the protest camp's main focus.

The connection, as it happens, has been made by the Israel lobby. Its most powerful group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is following closely the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

In June, President Barack Obama signed a demand by the Israel lobby for how the TTIP negotiations should be conducted into US law. Because of clauses inserted into "fast-track" legislation, the American team in the TTIP talks has been instructed that one of its main objectives is to protect Israel's interests.

The legislation explicitly says that the TTIP negotiators should act to discourage boycotts and other economic measures against Israel. Such measures would include sanctions targeting goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Outlawing solidarity

AIPAC devoted considerable resources to getting this law approved.

According to documents filed with the US Congress, AIPAC had a team of 10 lobbyists working on a handful of trade dossiers during the first six months of this year. TTIP was a key dossier.

AIPAC declared an income of more than $1.6 million related to its lobbying activities in that period.

The documents suggest that TTIP has ranked alongside Iran as top priorities for AIPAC lately. That is significant: while the failure of Israel and its supporters to wreck Obama's nuclear deal with Iran was widely reported, their work on trans-Atlantic trade has assumed a much lower profile.

That low profile belies the anti-democratic nature of this work.

When challenged recently about why she was ignoring the large-scale opposition to TTIP, Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade commissioner, said: "I do not take my mandate from the European people."

The TTIP negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic have been pursuing an agenda dictated by corporations. Much of the preparatory work for their talks was undertaken by an alliance of banks, oil companies and cigarette manufacturers.

It is now clear that the US negotiators are also required to grovel towards the Israel lobby.

AIPAC's real goal is to make effective gestures of solidarity with the Palestinians illegal. If AIPAC has its way, any restrictions placed on importations of Israeli goods would be viewed as "barriers" to trade.

TTIP is designed to remove such barriers.


The lobbying by AIPAC has taken place at a time when the European Union's governments have been mulling the introduction of mandatory labeling for goods from Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank.

As the construction and expansion of those settlements amount to war crimes, sticking a label on tomatoes or avocadoes grown there is clearly inadequate. Labeling rules are also easy to break: the occupation monitoring group Who Profits? has already documented how food from the settlements is transported to warehouses and processing plants in present-day Israel, so that regulators can't check its precise origin.

Nonetheless, the labeling idea has caused some jitters among Israel lobbyists. European Friends of Israel -- a Brussels-based organization operating in a similar way to AIPAC -- has warned its supporters that the labeling proposal would likely "gain momentum" and lead to friction between the EU and Israel.

The Israel lobby sees TTIP as an opportunity to nip such initiatives in the bud before the public clamor for tough sanctions against Israel becomes too loud for politicians to dismiss.

By jumping on the TTIP bandwagon, the Israel lobby is allying itself with the world's corporate bullies.
An overriding goal of big business is that TTIP should usher in a court system reserved for corporations to challenge social, health or environmental standards affecting their profits. Because such standards have often been introduced following years of campaigning by public interest advocates, TTIP can be regarded as an enemy of the people.

It is intriguing that the Israel lobby is cozying up with corporate behemoths. The American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel group, has been trying to drum up support in Congress for the Keystone XL pipeline, intended to bring tar sands from Canada to Texas.

Tar sands extraction is a highly destructive activity. In Alberta, it has befouled First Nations' land and food.

Promoting fossil fuels is a departure from the Israel lobby's traditional activities -- but not a radical one. Groups that try to put a respectable sheen on Israeli apartheid make appropriate allies for the world's polluters.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 16 October 2015.