Friday, July 14, 2017

When Haaretz explains Israel's crimes

It is easy to romanticize Haaretz, to view the Tel Aviv daily as a liberal counterbalance to the more hawkish organs of Israeli public opinion.


Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, the paper’s best writers, have taken considerable risks to chronicle Israel’s crimes and demand that Israel be held accountable. While it is proper that their work should be circulated widely, Haaretz as an institution deserves no praise.


Some of its most senior journalists behave as stooges to an apartheid state.


Amos Harel is promoted by the paper as “one of Israel’s leading media experts on military and defense issues.” He is a practitioner of hasbara – the Israeli brand of propaganda.


Hasbara is frequently translated as “explaining.” And Harel tends to “explain” Israeli conduct in a sympathetic way.


Downplaying a disaster


Take his coverage of the energy crisis in Gaza.


“Limited cuts” to electricity were “announced” by Israel “at the urging of the Palestinian Authority,” he wrote earlier this month.


By qualifying these cuts as limited, he was downplaying how Israel had deliberately worsened a humanitarian disaster. Far from being limited, the cuts have reduced Gaza’s electricity supply to an all-time low.


Harel’s framing of the situation chimed with the Israeli government’s claim that the energy crisis was an internal Palestinian matter.


Israel reluctantly accepted a request from the Palestinian Authority, Harel inferred. He provided no background details about how Israel has a history of subjecting Gaza to blackouts and how the – undeniably cruel – PA acts as Israel’s lackey, not the other way around.


Harel’s messages can get muddled. A few days after describing the power cuts as “limited,” he reported that the electricity supply in Gaza had been reduced to less than three hours per day. He then quoted Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s military chief, as saying that the Israeli approach was one of “intelligent risk management.”


Despite purporting to be an analyst, Harel did not analyze – or explain – the meaning of that repugnant euphemism.


Harel also transcribed a comment by Eisenkot that “it is in our interest for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to have hope.”


The “hope” being granted here apparently came in the form of some new houses that Israel had authorized for Palestinians. Harel did not point out that Israel has made strenuous efforts during its 50 years of occupying the West Bank – Judea and Samaria in Zionist parlance – to snuff out hope.


Harel evidently thinks it is appropriate to reach for the lexicon of perfume-makers when discussing the theft of another people’s land. “There is no such thing as a fragrant occupation,” Harel wrote in June.


“Subjecting a civilian population to your total control provides many opportunities for violence and abuse, far from the oversight of commanders,” he added. Commanders, he infers, are well-intentioned and violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by rogues. The truth, however, is that the occupation is inherently violent and abusive, and perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians are effectively granted total impunity by their superiors.


Hero worship


Harel labels Palestinian resistance fighters as “terrorists” yet casts Israel’s military commanders as heroic figures.


In another recent piece on Gaza, he reported that Israeli government ministers believed a general named Yoav Mordechai would “once again save the day” by averting a flare-up with Hamas.


Fixated on Mordechai’s ability to “save the day,” Harel neglected to explain how that particular commander has been accused of extreme violence. Mordechai led a battalion during Operation Cast Lead – an attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Soldiers under his direction reportedly took part in bombarding the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City and may have been involved in killing an eight-year-old hospital patient.


Today, Mordechai is in charge of overseeing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In that capacity, he is directly tasked with enforcing a medieval siege.


But you would not know that from Harel’s dispatches. Rather, he applauds Mordechai for extending the area in which Gaza’s fishermen may work – without observing that the fishermen are constantly fired upon by the Israeli navy – and for allowing the entry of some extra trucks into Gaza – without noting that the boundary crossings for people and goods are routinely closed.


The only problem with Mordechai is that he “can’t produce miracles,” Harel suggested in May.


Earlier this year, Harel interviewed Naftali Bennett, perhaps the most extreme minister in the Israeli government. Bennett argued that Lebanon should be sent “back to the Middle Ages” and that all its civilian infrastructure should be considered “legitimate targets” if another conflict breaks out between Israel and Hizballah.


That call for massacres was arguably genocidal; it was made by a politician who has boasted that “I have killed many Arabs in my life” and who participated in the 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana.


You would learn little about Bennett’s record, however, if you relied on the interview by Amos Harel. To him, Bennett’s comments were “interesting.” Not once in his article did he express anything that could be qualified as disapproval.


At times, Harel’s columns read like briefing papers on military strategy. When it appeared that the massive 2014 attack on Gaza was nearing its end, Harel helpfully prepared a list of issues that would “need to be addressed” before future operations were undertaken.


When Harel criticizes the Israeli military he does so timidly. More than once lately, he has written about “mistakes” being made.


Elor Azarya, the Israeli army medic who shot dead a Palestinian lying on the ground, made one such “mistake,” Harel has implied. Azarya was filmed carrying out an extrajudicial execution but the soldier’s youth and “turbulent emotional state” meant there were “mitigating circumstances,” according to Harel.


This is the kind of garbage that Haaretz publishes regularly.


Egregious human rights abuses are downgraded to unfortunate errors on the pages of a “liberal” paper. No matter how heinous Israel’s atrocities are, Amos Harel has his explanations at the ready.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 July 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Britain brought waterboarding to Palestine?

Were the Palestinians dispossessed by a sadistic lawyer?


Norman Bentwich was the chief legal officer with the British administration in Jerusalem between the two world wars. A committed Zionist, he drafted many of the ordinances that enabled Jewish settlers to seize land which indigenous Palestinians had farmed for generations.


Arguably, then, he was more responsible for uprooting Palestinians than anyone else in that period, except perhaps for his political overlords. There are strong reasons to suspect that Bentwich took pleasure in the pain that he caused.


In his book Mandate Memories, Bentwich admitted that a system of apartheid was introduced during that period, even using the term apartheid. The admission was not, it would appear, made through any sense of remorse. Rather, he applauded the violence by which the system was entrenched.


Orde Wingate, a British military commander who insisted that Palestinians be tortured and killed, imposed the “strictest discipline” and inspired “daring and devotion” among the Jewish troops that he mentored, according to Bentwich.


Over the past few years, I have plowed through the records left by many Britons who ruled Palestine from the 1920s to the 1940s. I was disgusted, if not surprised, by the sense of imperial hubris captured by these documents.


Yet it was a single line in Bentwich’s memoirs that unnerved me most. He noted casually that most members of a gendarmerie which the British dispatched to Palestine in the early 1920s “had been in the celebrated Black and Tan Brigade in Ireland, formed to crush the Irish rebels” during that period.


No excuse


My great granduncle, Patrick Hartnett, was shot dead by the Black and Tans – British forces stationed in Ireland during its war of independence. If a “rebel” meant somebody who was involved in an armed revolt – as Bentwich implied – then Patrick Hartnett was not a rebel.


Hartnett was a postman from Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. On 20 September 1920, he was chatting with Jeremiah Healy, a blacksmith, as they walked along a country road. The men were caught unawares by Thomas Huckerby, a member of the Black and Tans.


Huckerby shot the two men at close range, killing both of them.


A military court of inquiry accepted, in effect, that Huckerby had no excuse for his actions.


Such courts routinely handed down verdicts of “justifiable homicide” when examining killings by British forces. In Huckerby’s case, the court of inquiry merely recorded that Hartnett and Healy died because of “revolver shots fired by T.D. Huckerby.” Neither of the victims had been involved in the Irish Republican Army.


According to a local historian, Tom Toomey, Huckerby was “by far the most notorious of all the Black and Tans in County Limerick.” His other victims included John Hynes, a 60-year-old man shot dead on the way home from a pub.


Huckerby resigned from the Black and Tans towards the end of 1920. Although he had not been punished for his misdeeds, disciplinary charges were pending at the time he left the force.


Celebrated?


His barbarity was by no means atypical. The Black and Tans may have been “celebrated” in the mind of Norman Bentwich. To the Irish, they were feared and despised.


Patrick Hartnett and Jeremiah Healy were not the only ones killed by the British forces on 20 September 1920. Two men were also “done to death” – the words engraved on a commemorative stone – that day in Balbriggan, County Dublin, the town where I grew up.


The killings left a lasting bitterness. I can still recall one of the town’s residents ranting in the early 1980s against the “bastards” who killed those two men – Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons – more than six decades earlier. The killings took place during the “sack” of Balbriggan, when British forces burned down numerous houses and pubs and a factory on which hundreds relied for employment.


I was fascinated to learn that the gendarmerie sent to Palestine in the early 1920s was comprised largely of men who had served with the Black and Tans and a similar division called the Auxiliaries. It was that fact which prompted me to write my latest book Balfour’s Shadow.


British forces perceived their role in Palestine as similar to that which they had performed in Ireland. As Geoffrey Morton, one British officer, observed, they were “intended to be used not as real policemen but as shock troops.”


The gendarmerie to which Norman Bentwich referred was assembled in response to Palestinian anger at Britain and its sponsorship of the Zionist colonization project. The British authorities had declared a state of emergency in Palestine during the early 1920s. As a result, there were few bounds on what the British police could do.


Douglas Duff had worked with the Black and Tans in Galway. He confessed to “going berserk” after being dispatched to Palestine.


Duff, who became a police chief in Jerusalem, may have been a pioneer of waterboarding. In his memoirs, he wrote about how a torture victim would be “held down, flat on his back, while a thin-spouted coffee pot poured a trickle of water up his nose.”


Malcolm MacDonald, then Britain’s colonial secretary, stated during 1938 “that we must set our faces absolutely against the development of ‘Black and Tan’ methods in Palestine.” His plea came too late. Black and Tan methods had been used for almost two decades at that point.


Every so often, someone asks me why Irish people empathize with the Palestinians.


In the past, I have struggled to give a succinct reply. Now I am convinced that the question can be answered in four words: the Black and Tans.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 July 2017.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Do European Parliament staff work for Israel?

At this juncture, it would be foolish to predict the full consequences of Brexit. One probability, however, is that Britain’s departure from the European Union will cause Israel to lose a few apologists in Brussels.


Those apologists include Britain’s Conservative members of the European Parliament. Geoffrey Van Orden, a representative of eastern England, excuses Israeli aggression with the haughty demeanor one would expect from a retired military officer (which he is).


Earlier this year, he accused Palestinians of “violent and frustrated envy” at Israel’s “success.”


Van Orden is in regular contact with the Israel lobby. He has admitted to being consulted by Alex Benjamin, a leading pro-Israel advocate in Brussels, about how the lobby organizes itself.


Benjamin, who heads the Europe Israel Public Affairs group, used to be a press officer for the cross-party alliance to which Van Orden belongs.


Named the European Conservatives and Reformists, it is the third largest such alliance in the parliament. As well as the British Conservatives, it comprises the far-right Danish People’s Party and a number of Christian Zionists.


“Second homeland”


Bas Belder, a Dutch politician, is among those Christian Zionists; hailing from a Calvinist background, he views Israel’s activities as the fulfilment of a biblical prophecy. Belder has said that “no day passes” without him thinking of Israel, his “second homeland.”


Belder may have flouted the European Parliament’s rules.


Press reports indicate that he has taken part in a number of trips hosted by pro-Israel organizations over the past few years.


Under a code of conduct, the parliament’s members are required to declare all trips paid for by pressure groups. No declarations have been uploaded to the parliament’s website for Belder since September 2014. I asked Belder why he has not published details of how his visits to the Middle East were financed; he did not reply.


Belder has bragged of how right-wing members of parliament have used their “political weight” to insist that policy documents criticizing Israel be watered down. In 2015, he wrote an article for The Jerusalem Post about his role in thwarting an attempt to have the European Parliament formally call for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners and for the labeling of goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.


Cowards


Part of the European Conservative and Reformists’ work on Israel is undertaken by Elise Coolegem, the group’s adviser on Middle East policy. Last year, she and Belder signed an opinion piece, which recycled the Israeli government’s talking points on Hamas and Hizballah.


Coolegem has strong connections to Israel. Before her current job, she was an intern with the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv and with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a “think tank” in the nearby city of Herzliya. That institute seeks to cloak Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians with a veneer of intellectual gravitas. Among the hawks steering its activities are a former head of Mossad, Israel’s spying and assassination agency.


Israel’s embassy in Brussels has an entire division dealing with the European Parliament. Coolegem is known to liaise with Israeli diplomats and pro-Israeli lobbyists.


I emailed Coolegem seeking details of her working relationship with Israel and if she has received any payments from the Israeli state. Rather than answering those questions, she referred my query to Jan Krelina, a spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists. Krelina stated that the parliament’s rules forbid staff from being paid by “third parties” and “I can assure that all our employees strictly respect these rules.”


Krelina also stated that the “work of our staff requires professional contact” with various “diplomatic missions.” Fair enough. But there is a huge difference between “professional contact” and groveling.


Coolegem’s activities can be categorized as groveling, as can those of the politicians she advises.


The correct term for someone who defends a bully is a coward. The European Conservatives and Reformists are abject cowards determined to throw their “political weight” around in defense of that notorious bully Israel.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 June 2017.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Britain's great deception in Palestine

Consistency has never been Boris Johnson’s strongpoint.


When Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Foreign Office earlier this year, Johnson beamed as he pointed to the ‘desk where the Balfour Declaration was composed’. Johnson has both celebrated that November 1917 document as a ‘great thing’ and described it as ‘tragicomically incoherent’ and ‘bizarre’.


The Balfour Declaration is indeed bizarre. Britain had no legal or moral standing to dictate Palestine’s future in November 1917; it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. That did not stop Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, from issuing his pledge to facilitate the development of a ‘Jewish national home’ - code for a Jewish state - in Palestine. Lip-service was paid to the ‘civil and religious rights’ of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants but the idea that they could constitute a nation was not entertained. Through that deception, Britain threw its weight behind a colonisation project that is still continuing a century later. With the stroke of Balfour’s pen, Palestinians were condemned to upheaval and oppression.


That much became clear after Britain was tasked with administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate in 1920. Over the next five years, the British authorities issued around 150 ordinances, many of which facilitated the dispossession of and discrimination against Palestinians.


As well as favouring Jews in access to land and employment, the British enabled the so-called Jewish Agency - a body representing settlers in Palestine - to behave as a de facto government. As part of their efforts to quell Palestinian dissent, the British trained and recruited Jewish forces. Replicating Britain’s policies in other lands that it controlled, one section of the population was armed so that another could be subjugated.


That does not mean that Britain relied on proxies; its own forces - including some illustrious commanders - were guilty of immense brutality. Bernard Montgomery, a military chief later credited with a key battle victory in the Second World War, advocated a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against all those who took part in or assisted a Palestinian revolt in the 1930s. Jaffa’s Old City was largely demolished in that period; men from a number of villages were rounded up en masse; hospitals were attacked and torture chambers established. Many suspected rebels were interned without trial in a concentration camp - the precise term used by British representatives.


Britain bears much of the responsibility for the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Around 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted then by Zionist militia who had been mentored by the British Army. The expulsions from Haifa took place under British supervision.


The relationship between Britain and the Zionist movement has been occasionally fractious. Two armed Zionist groups even waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against the British in the 1940s. The relationship has nonetheless endured, albeit in an often grubby manner. Britain has tried at times to manipulate Israel - the state it sired - in order to advance its own agenda. That was certainly the case in 1956 when Britain and France persuaded Israel to attack Egypt over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, which lay on a key shipping route between Europe and India. Israel again declared war against Egypt in 1967. Though Israel was now acting on its own initiative, it received substantial supplies of arms from Britain. The result was the seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights - territories that remain under Israeli occupation 50 years later.


During the second half of the twentieth century, the British were forced to accept that they had been replaced by the United States as the world’s leading imperial bully. Henry Kissinger was among the key strategists in advancing American power. His approach towards the Middle East involved simultaneously courting Arab dictators and Israel. Britain connived in such efforts, which continued long after Kissinger ceased to play a direct US government role.


Tony Blair, for example, doubled up as a guarantor of arms contracts with Saudi Arabia and as a leading apologist for Israel. By applauding Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon - a criminal endeavour that involved spraying vast tracts of land with cluster bombs - Blair finally lost the confidence of his Labour Party colleagues. Yet that did not prevent him from bagging an international job focused on the Middle East ‘peace process’ within hours of saying farewell to Downing Street. That post ended without any tangible results, according to many pundits, yet it did allow Blair strengthen his connections with the Israel lobby. He was among the star attractions at the latest annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful pressure groups in Washington.


The Conservative-led governments of the past seven years have tried to hug Israel even tighter again. While serving as foreign secretary, Philip Hammond enthusiastically backed Israel’s 2014 offensive against Gaza. Not only was the British government unperturbed by how entire families were wiped out by the Israeli military, it has ordered significant quantities of Israeli arms tested out on Palestinian civilians. Securing a free trade deal with Israel, meanwhile, has been identified as a priority for Britain now that its membership of the European Union is coming to an end.


Following the recent general election, the newly retired MP Eric Pickles wondered how Labour candidates sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle could prove attractive to voters. Pickles’ remarks smacked of desperation. Foreign policy has been regarded as an elite issue by successive British governments; they have treated the views of ordinary people with contempt. The contempt may not be sustainable, especially if it is rejected at the ballot box. And while Britain’s support for Zionism remains solid after a century, the toxic alliance could ultimately collapse.


• First published by Left Book Club, 23 June 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pro-Israel group NGO Monitor teams up with Europe's far-right

The pro-Israel group NGO Monitor hunts for hidden motives where there are none. It has made many baseless allegations that human rights activists are hostile towards Jews.


Displaying enormous hypocrisy, NGO Monitor appears happy to ally itself with actual peddlers of bigotry. This week, it is jointly hosting an event in the European Parliament with a representative of the far-right Danish People’s Party.


Anders Vistisen, the politician in question, would be a suitable candidate to run Donald Trump’s Nordic fan club – if such a thing exists. In some respects, Vistisen has acted as a vanguard for the politics of division that the US president espouses.


Trump made his infamous call for a Muslim entry ban in December 2015. Vistisen urged similar measures in Denmark almost two years before then.


More recently, Vistisen has advocated that a barbed-wire fence should be erected on Denmark’s border with Germany in order to keep refugees out. He also favors the Australian model of detaining refugees in large camps.


Amnesty International has found that the Australian authorities have been deliberately cruel towards refugees. Those who arrive in boats are forcibly transferred to what Amnesty calls “abusive” camps in Nauru and Manus Island.


Promoting racism


Vistisen’s party promotes racism and religious intolerance.


Its former leader Pia Kjaersgaard has complained of Copenhagen hosting ethnic groups “at a lower stage of civilization.” Other members of the party have proposed that refugees be shot and that pressure be applied on Muslims to attend Christian services.


Although Vistisen styles himself as a champion of transparency, he is helping NGO Monitor to use deceptive tactics.


The flyers for this week’s event indicate it will focus on “evaluating” the impact of European Union funding to human rights and environmental organizations. There is no mention of the Middle East or explanation that NGO Monitor is an Israel lobby group.


The uninitiated could easily think, therefore, that NGO Monitor is some kind of charity watchdog.


This is not the first time that the group has been less than open.


Earlier this year, it circulated a paper in the European Parliament on funding of campaigning organizations. That paper, too, failed to spell out that NGO Monitor has a pro-Israel stance.


Evasive


Details provided by NGO Monitor to a register of lobbyists working on European affairs are comparably misleading. The only hint of the group’s Middle East focus is that a Jerusalem address is given for its head office.


I phoned Laura Silva from NGO Monitor’s Brussels office, asking why she is teaming up with the Danish far-right. She evaded that question by pointing out that other politicians are involved in next week’s event.


When I asked if NGO Monitor was itself a far-right organization, she replied: “I will not comment.”


NGO Monitor’s staff try to find clever and convoluted arguments to justify Israel’s crimes. Gerald Steinberg, the group’s founder, has contended that human rights are “utopian idealism” and “divorced from the reality of bitter and very violent conflict in much of the world.”


A new paper by NGO Monitor defends firms active in the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank. Although all of the settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law, NGO Monitor suggests that firms operating within them are not violating human rights. This argument is at variance with the findings of most reputable lawyers.


NGO Monitor has strong connections to the Israeli government. Steinberg has worked as a consultant for the Israeli foreign ministry and other official bodies.


He draws on the same sources of funding as some key players in Israel’s settler movement. One named donor of NGO Monitor, the Orion Foundation, also gives money to Elad, a group that seizes Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem so that they can be taken over by Israelis.


NGO Monitor has its own fundraising arm in the US. Previously known as American Friends of NGO Monitor, the fundraising division now calls itself REPORT.


Donors to REPORT – such as the Klarman Family Foundation – are known to have supported Elad, too.


NGO Monitor prides itself on asking awkward questions about human rights organizations and how they are funded. The bitter irony is that for all the accountability it demands from others, NGO Monitor is coy about what it is really up to.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 June 2017.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New British minister Michael Gove gets funding from Israel lobby

Rupert Murdoch’s influence over British politics is finally sagging. His best-selling paper The Sun – which in 1992 claimed to have won a general election for the Conservatives – tried its best to lampoon opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn ahead of last week’s general election. The efforts backfired: against the odds, Corbyn’s Labour Party dramatically increased its vote.


Murdoch has nonetheless been offered a consolation prize. Michael Gove, a Conservative with a record of sycophancy towards the media tycoon, is back as a cabinet minister.


Since his bid to lead the ruling Conservatives failed last year, Gove has been writing a column for The Times – a Murdoch title.


Gove has used that platform to argue that Britain should be more strident in its support for Israel. In one article, he advocated that Britain should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


That would be a reversal of official British policy – which opposes Israel’s settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem as they violate international law.


Gove has also worked as a pro-Israel lobbyist during the past 12 months.


Misleading


He has become a trustee of the Henry Jackson Society, which he has misleadingly called a “charity dedicated to upholding democratic values worldwide.”


The Henry Jackson Society is not actually dedicated to democracy – if democracy means ordinary folk having a genuine say in their nation’s affairs. Rather, the London-based outfit espouses a neoconservative worldview; it was founded in 2005 to make the case that the US and Britain “must shape the world more actively.”


Support for Israel is integral to its viewpoint. And the group’s staff frequently behave as mouthpieces for Israel – by, for example, depicting those who expose Israel’s human rights abuses as “terrorist” sympathizers.


The Henry Jackson Society is embedded within the wider pro-Israel network in London. In November last, Gove took part in an event that the Henry Jackson Society organized to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for Zionist colonization in Palestine. The event featured, too, an array of Israeli diplomats.


Earlier this year, Gove visited Washington. He met US government officials in his capacity as a lobbyist for the Henry Jackson Society, according to his parliamentary declaration of interests.


Most of his expenses for that trip were covered by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful organizations in Washington. Gove was a speaker at AIPAC’s annual conference.


Evangelical


He has been active, too, in Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group within his party that enjoys extremely close relations with the Israeli state apparatus.


It regularly brings members of parliament on trips to the Middle East. The trips are organized in tandem with and receive significant funding from the Israeli foreign ministry.


The staff at Conservative Friends of Israel include former employees of the Israeli state. Tanyah Murkes, who heads the group’s office in Tel Aviv, has previously worked in “public relations” for an Israeli embassy, for example.


Gove is especially close to David Meller, an entrepreneur in the jewelry and cosmetics trade who has been a senior officer with Conservative Friends of Israel.


When Gove held the post of education secretary in the British government a few years ago, he introduced “reforms” aimed at treating schooling as a commodity, rather than a basic right. Meller was involved in some of the projects under that rubric and was given a post in the education ministry while Gove was steering through his “reforms.”


A man named David Meller was among the donors to Gove’s failed Conservative leadership bid in 2016.


Gove now holds the environment portfolio in the reshuffled British cabinet. If his past performance is anything to go by, there is little chance that he will discard his neoconservative baggage and concentrate on saving the planet.


Before the 2015, general election Gove held the post of government chief whip. He still found time to engage in pro-Israel activities then. It is highly probable that he will do so again.


Parroting Israeli propaganda is almost mandatory for right-wing British politicians. Gove is evangelical in his support for Israel – to the point of praising that state as a “near miraculous” success story.


Perhaps Gove believes the hyperbole that he has churned out. His activities indicate, though, that he is not an independent analyst. He is a gun for hire.


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

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Britain aided Israel's 1967 war

The British press can display a dubious sense of priorities when it comes to marking important anniversaries. Far more attention has been paid lately to how The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is 50 years old than to how Harold Wilson’s government assisted Israel’s capture of Arab territories in 1967.


The assistance was both practical and diplomatic.


In March 1965, Levi Eshkol, then Israel’s prime minister, visited London to meet Wilson, his British counterpart, and other political figures.


Eshkol enquired if Britain would be willing to sell a large consignment of Centurion tanks. Denis Healey, Britain’s defense secretary at the time, proved receptive. “I see no reason to think that we shall not be able to meet your needs,” Healey told him.


The Centurion was the main British battle tank for around two decades following the Second World War and Israel had already placed orders for it before Eshkol’s trip.


By July 1965, Britain supplied Israel with more than 180 such tanks. Another 150 were transported between that month and May 1967.


They were not the only weapons that Britain gave Israel. Just one week before Eshkol’s government made a surprise attack against Egypt on 5 June 1967, a ship brimming with machine guns, tank shells and armored vehicles sailed to present-day Israel from the English port of Felixstowe. It was among a series of secret weapons deliveries.


“Handsome praise”


The Centurions were heavily used by Israel as it seized Arab territories.


The British embassy in Tel Aviv was pleased with that fact. It noted how Israeli military commanders were “particularly handsome in their praise” of the Centurion. The tank “apparently did far more than was ever expected of it,” according to an embassy memo.


Harold Wilson also gave advice to Israel on the circumstances under which attacking its neighbors would be deemed acceptable.


His book The Chariot of Israel refers to a letter that he sent Eshkol ahead of the war. The letter, Wilson explained, backed the US argument that Eshkol should only order military action against Egypt if its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, blocked Israeli ships from the Straits of Tiran, the narrow Red Sea waterway that all ships must pass to reach the Israeli port of Eilat. “If we are to give you the international support we wish, it must be based on your undoubted [shipping] rights,” Wilson wrote.


Nasser had long been perceived as hostile to Western interests. In 1956, Britain and France had persuaded Israel to invade Egypt over Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. While doing so, the Israelis committed massacres in Gaza that have been airbrushed by many historians.


Under a decision taken by Nasser in May 1967, oil tankers passing through the Straits of Tiran were required to submit documents saying that they were not destined for Israeli ports. The decision was taken amid an Arab League boycott of Israel.


Natural and proper?


Nasser did not present any existential threat to Israel. According to US intelligence assessments, Egypt’s military deployments in the Sinai were defensive and Israel would have no trouble defeating the combined armies of neighboring Arab states. That has even been acknowledged by the notoriously hawkish Menachem Begin when he was Israel’s prime minister in the early 1980s.


There was no proof in 1967 that Nasser was about to attack Israel, Begin declared 15 years later. “We must be honest with ourselves,” Begin said. “We decided to attack him [Nasser].”


As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented, Israeli leaders had harbored a desire, and prepared plans, to conquer the remainder of Palestine that they had not seized in 1948. They only sought the appropriate pretext.


Begin himself called the 1967 conflict a war of “choice.”


Harold Wilson was enamored of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.


The Chariot of Israel attributes his admiration for Zionism to what he learned about biblical prophecy during his childhood. The admiration was so intense that Wilson has ignored the victims of the Zionist project. His chapter on the 1967 war omits any mention of the 400,000 Palestinians displaced when Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank that year.


Wilson’s government officially backed UN Security Council resolution 242, which urged Israel to relinquish the territories it seized in 1967. Yet in 1972, Wilson (then an opposition leader), said “it is utterly unreal to talk of withdrawal.”


“Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation,” he added. “It is not recognized as a nation by the world.”


There was something both contradictory and consistent about Wilson’s stance. Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain promised to help establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. The idea that indigenous Palestinians could belong to a nation was not entertained.


Britain had backed a racist colonization project in 1917. The war of June 1967 was a continuation of that project. Once again, it was enabled by Britain.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 7 June 2017.