Friday, December 22, 2017

We will work with Holocaust deniers, says leading pro-Israel group

Israel’s supporters appear confident that Poland’s government – which refuses to accept some facts about the Holocaust – will be an important ally when it joins the United Nations Security Council in the new year.

The European Leadership Network, a pro-Israel lobby group, has reported that assurances were recently given by unnamed Polish officials about their country’s intentions.

The Israeli government was told towards the end of last month that it “can count” on Poland’s backing in 2018 and 2019, according to a briefing paper drawn up by the lobby group. Poland will be a temporary member of the Security Council over that period.

“Israel looks to Poland as one of the friendliest countries in the European Union,” the briefing paper – unpublished until now – adds. “Today, Poland helps improve the language of EU resolutions affecting Israeli interests and its voting record at the United Nations is better than many [other] EU member states.”

The briefing paper was drafted before this week’s debate in the UN General Assembly. Poland was one of the 35 countries to abstain in a vote condemning the recent announcement by Donald Trump that the US will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The European Leadership Network’s office in Warsaw is headed by Jacek Olejnik, who has worked in the diplomatic services of both Poland and Israel.

His team is willing to cooperate closely with the Polish government, the briefing paper suggests, despite how the ruling Law and Justice party has reacted with hostility when crimes committed against Jews on Polish soil have come under scrutiny.

One government minister has even suggested it was merely an “opinion” to state that Poles carried out a 1941 massacre of Jews in the Jedwabne area during the Nazi occupation of the country.

Valued client

The European Leadership Network goes so far as to allege that Law and Justice is “in denial” over how Polish citizens were involved in murders of Jews during the Holocaust.

Nonetheless, the group notes that prominent figures in Law and Justice take positions favorable to Israel.

Anna Fotyga, a former foreign minister who now represents that party in the European Parliament, is praised in the aforementioned briefing paper for opposing the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Fotyga has called on the EU to ensure that it does not fund any organization that endorses the boycott of Israel.

When I asked if any assurances were given to Israel ahead of Poland joining the Security Council, the foreign ministry in Warsaw did not answer the question. The ministry fudged the issue by replying that Poland had “always been a supporter of a balanced approach” that would guarantee “the security of Israel,” while “taking into account Palestinian state-building aspirations.”

It is significant that the European Leadership Network perceives Poland as a key ally for both the US and Israel. The European Leadership Network is closely connected to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.

The briefing paper identifies Poland as a valued client for Israel’s weapons industry. In July this year, Poland’s defense ministry agreed to buy a missile interceptor system called David’s Sling, designed by the Israeli firm Rafael. According to the European Leadership Network, that was “one of the largest orders the company ever received.”

Rafael, a state-owned weapons producer, is a profiteer of Israel’s attacks on Palestinians. For example, the Tamuz missiles that it manufactures were used during the major offensive against Gaza in the summer of 2014.


The European Leadership Network also states that it has “developed relations” with high-ranking officials such as Pawel Soloch, head of Poland’s National Security Bureau.

Earlier this year, Soloch described Muslim communities as “a natural feeding ground” for “terrorists.”

His bigotred remarks were reported sympathetically by the US website Breitbart and other racist publications.

In the recent past, Israel’s supporters have been happy to work with political parties and governments with extremist views.

The European Leadership Network has expressed a willingness to cooperate with the far-right Alternative for Germany as some of its members have publicly backed Israel’s settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is remaining in contact with the newly formed Austrian government, although seeking to avoid direct meetings with ministers who are part of the neo-Nazi Freedom Party.

But this may be just for show, as lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud have already been forged close ties with the Freedom Party.

Netanyahu has, meanwhile, hailed his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban as a stout defender of Israel in international forums. The same Viktor Orban has eulogized the Hitler-allied wartime Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy who facilitated the transit of Jews to Auschwitz.

A few months ago, Netanyahu said it was “crazy” that the EU has attached conditions to its relations with Israel. Netanyahu did not spell out that the Union has never imposed robust sanctions on Israel when those conditions – which include respect for human rights – were not met.

Netanyahu’s comments were made to the leaders of Poland and Hungary. The EU’s conditions are contained in an “association agreement” that entered into force in 2000. As Poland and Hungary only joined the Union four years later, they are not historically responsible for the EU’s tacit policy of complaining about Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, while simultaneously hugging Israel – the oppressor – tighter.

The inference behind Netanyahu’s point was that some EU governments are less “crazy” than others. The right-wing governments of Poland and Hungary are not likely to berate Israel. They are happy to do business without asking awkward questions. Perhaps that is why Israel feels it can count on them.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 21 December 2017.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When Britain turned Palestine into a "second Ireland"

I live near a shrine dedicated to the British military commander Bernard Montgomery. Located on a tree-lined avenue that leads to a triumphal arch, this statue of Montgomery in Brussels illustrates how some Europeans regard him as a hero for his role during World War II. In truth, Montgomery was a thug. That became clear when I read his handwritten notes in Britain’s national archives.

During 1938, Montgomery took charge of an infantry division in Palestine. In that role, he helped suppress a major revolt. His advice – preserved in the aforementioned handwritten notes – was that Britain, then administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, should display little mercy.

Rebels “must be hunted down relentlessly,” he wrote. “When engaged in battle with them, we must shoot to kill.”

Although he advocated that soldiers be “scrupulously fair” towards Palestinians not taking part in the revolt, he contended that “if they assist the rebels in any way, they must expect to be treated as rebels.”

Those instructions were issued in a situation where Britain had been anything but fair. Soon after the revolt erupted in 1936, the British authorities demolished Jaffa’s Old City, leaving thousands of its residents homeless. That set a pattern whereby entire communities would be penalized for failing to obey their oppressors. The British, for example, categorized villages where rebels lived as hostile and were known to round up all of the men living in them.

In practice, the British authorities drew no real distinction between combatants and civilians. The activities of Israel today bear a strong resemblance to those of Britain. As part of efforts to erect a smokescreen around its crimes in Gaza, Israel has designated that whole territory as “hostile.”

“You must be ruthless”

About 15 years before his time in Palestine, Montgomery had made similar comments about his experiences in Ireland.

While Ireland’s War of Independence was being fought during the 1920s, Montgomery served as a brigade major in Cork. Upon request, he wrote a memorandum on his experiences for a senior British Army officer.

“Personally, my whole attention was given to defeating the rebels and it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt,” he wrote. “I think I regarded all civilians as ‘Shinners’ and I never had any dealings with them.”

“Shinner” is slang for someone connected to Sinn Féin, the Irish republican organization.

Montgomery argued “that to win a war of this sort you must be ruthless,” adding, “Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time.” Cromwell was an Englishman who led an invasion of Ireland during the 17th century. To the Irish, his name remains synonymous with massacres carried out by his troops.

Montgomery arrived in Cork during January 1921. A few weeks earlier British forces had burned down more than 60 shops there, as well as the city hall and the main library. Around 2,000 jobs were lost as a consequence.

A recent study by historians Andy Bielenberg and James Donnelly concludes that British forces resorted to a “crude strategy” in the Cork area. Mainly implemented in 1921, it involved the shooting dead of people who allegedly failed to stop when ordered by British forces. Seventeen civilians were killed because of that “strategy,” according to the two historians.


One year later, the media boss Alfred Harmsworth – owner of mass circulation British papers like The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror – paid a visit to Palestine.

Despite being an archetypal establishment figure, Harmsworth – who died shortly after that trip – was shocked by the effects of British policy in Palestine. Harmsworth “declared that we were making a second Ireland of that country,” the journalist J.M.N. Jeffries wrote.

A new edition of Jeffries’ 1939 book Palestine: The Reality was published this year. About eight decades may have passed since that 750-page tome was written, yet it remains painfully relevant.

Palestine was, indeed, transformed into something of a “second Ireland.”

Both countries suffered the effects of settler-colonial projects, sponsored by the British authorities. Both were subjected to British brutality – often carried out by the same individuals. Montgomery was among many members of Britain’s “security” forces who were stationed in Ireland before being sent to Palestine.

Jeffries’ book stresses that the men who drafted the Balfour Declaration – Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for Zionist colonization – mostly treated indigenous Palestinians as expendable. The British government, he wrote, “passed the Arabs by completely, as though they did not exist.”

Montgomery’s advice on Palestine was not always accepted by Britain’s political elite.

Two armed Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Lehi, came to regard Britain as an obstacle to the realization of their aims. In the 1940s, they waged a campaign of assassination and bombing against Britain’s diplomats and troops.

By that time, Montgomery had been promoted to chief of imperial general staff in the British Army. Complaining that Britain had a “policy of appeasement” towards Zionist armed groups, he advocated that heavy force should be used against them.

That advice was rejected by Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner for Palestine. Cunningham felt that Britain remained duty-bound to nurture the Zionist project.

The episode says much about how Britain’s support for Zionism has endured against considerable odds. It underscores, too, the egregious double standards of the British authorities. An iron fist approach was applied towards the people they viewed as expendable; their protégés, by contrast, were treated with kid gloves.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 15 December 2017.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Journalists must refuse Israeli junkets

Reporters working for mainstream media educated many people – myself included – about South African apartheid.

Some press associations are rightly proud of their anti-racist history. The National Union of Journalists for Britain and Ireland now celebrates how it supported the international campaign to boycott and isolate the white minority regime in Pretoria.

But the need to fight bigotry around the world did not end when Nelson Mandela was released from prison or elected president.

Palestinians endure the “worst version of apartheid,” Mandla Mandela – Nelson’s grandson – stated recently. He is among many South Africans who have argued that the system of racial discrimination enforced by Israel is more extreme than the one they encountered. His grandfather called Palestine the “greatest moral issue of our time.”

So far, the NUJ – of which I am a member – has declined to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

And the union’s code of ethics says nothing about what reporters should do if offered junkets by major human rights abusers such as Israel.

The need for clear guidance has become more pressing as Israel ramps up its propaganda activities.


Next year, the Giro d’Italia – a major cycling race – will start in Jerusalem.

Hoping to garner some favorable publicity, Israel and its supporters are already organizing press trips ahead of the event.

Richard Abraham, a cycling writer, has admitted that a recent visit he made to the Middle East was “paid for by the Israelis” as part of a charm offensive. Significantly, his disclosure was included in a reflective article for a publication called Rouleur, rather than in a news feature on the same topic that Abraham wrote for The Guardian – a more widely-read newspaper with a declared desire to discover and tell the truth.

By coincidence, I arrived in Italy last week on the day that the route for the 2018 Giro was unveiled. The announcement – made during a glitzy event in Milan – sparked a tantrum from the Israeli government, which objected when the Giro administrators referred to the starting location as “West Jerusalem.”

Israel’s tantrum proved effective. Promptly, the word “West” was dropped from the Giro’s official website.

The row illustrated how bringing an Italian competition to Jerusalem is a blatant propaganda exercise. Jerusalem is being promoted as a city of harmony. The reality that Palestinians in the city live under military occupation must not interfere with the image that Israel wishes to project.

Image manipulation

We got a taste of the image manipulation a few months ago. According to the Israeli authorities, the aim of starting the Giro in Jerusalem was to demonstrate how the city was “open to all.”

My traveling companion in Italy – Fareed Taamallah – has not experienced such openness.

A farmer and political activist in the Ramallah area of the occupied West Bank, Fareed lives around six kilometers from Jerusalem but is seldom allowed to visit that city.

“Israel says it is an open country, that it is a democratic state,” he said. “It is a democratic state for Jews and foreigners. When it comes to Palestinians, it is closed.”

His family has endured much torment because of the restrictions imposed by Israel.

Fareed’s daughter Lina – born in 2002 – has required treatment in Jerusalem’s hospitals for most of her life.

When she was about 18-months-old, Lina was diagnosed with kidney failure.

Lina needed a transplant and a South African friend of her family was identified as a compatible donor. Yet when the South African woman applied for a visa before the transplant operation, she was rejected by the Israeli authorities as she had previously visited Palestine and campaigned against the Israeli occupation. It was only after a documentary-maker – working in tandem with a lawyer – investigated why Israel was endangering Lina’s life that the visa was granted.

Fareed himself has been stopped from seeing his daughter in hospital on many occasions. Lina has to visit Jerusalem for check-ups and treatment every three months. Usually her mother, Ameena, accompanies Lina. A few times, both Fareed and Ameena have been refused permits.


In 2014, Lina had to undergo a knee operation in Jerusalem. Fareed wanted to be with his daughter on the day of her surgery. When he sought a permit from Israel’s Civil Administration – a military body that oversees the occupation – “an Israeli soldier told me ‘quit all your [political] activities,’” he said.

Among those activities were Fareed’s work on opposing Israel’s wall in the West Bank and on advocating a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions. Fareed, who helps run an ecological farming project called Sharaka, has insisted that he will remain politically active despite the pressure he has encountered.

“They play with my nerves,” Fareed said, adding that he has given up applying for permits to visit Jerusalem. The ordeal of spending hours waiting in an Israeli military building made him “feel very humiliated,” he said.

Fareed emphasized that his story is “not isolated.” It is common for Palestinians to be obstructed from receiving medical treatment by the Israeli authorities. Israel has a deliberate policy of restricting Palestinians’ movement.

Journalists are being courted by Israel, the very same state that stops parents from visiting their children in hospital.

Israel’s strategic affairs ministry is arranging propaganda trips as part of its aggressive efforts to counter the BDS movement. Lobby groups with whom that ministry works have bragged of taking reporters from well-known media outlets like the BBC and The Daily Mail in Britain and Le Figaro in France on junkets.

Journalists who take part in such trips are allowing themselves to be seduced by an apartheid state. By ignoring Palestinian calls for a boycott, they are siding with the oppressor against the oppressed – the last thing that a journalist should do.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 December 2017.