Friday, May 31, 2013

Warmonger poses as voice of reason on Palestine

Experts are the enemies of democracy.

I'm not referring here to people who strive to be well-informed, something that is desirable and healthy. Rather, I'm talking about those who use their privileged status to try and keep debates within strict limits so that power remains in the hands of an elite.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) -- a "think tank" based in London and partly funded by the financier George Soros -- includes veteran civil servant Nick Witney on its panel of "experts." Witney is a handmaiden of the arms industry (a subject to which I will return momentarily), posing as a peacemaker.

His latest pamphlet -- Europe and the Vanishing Two-State Solution -- advocates "tough love" towards Israel. The European Union should be more "assertive" in dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu's government , he argues.

His understanding of the word "assertive" is narrow and the steps that he advocates are far from radical. He is favorably disposed, for example, towards an effort being made to introduce compulsory labelling for goods imported from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This idea is already on the EU's agenda -- though a discussion on that the Union's foreign ministers were supposed to have earlier this week was postponed under pressure from the US.

Witney emphasizes his opposition to a total ban on settlement goods. He is similarly against wider sanctions and boycotts, dismissing claims that such tactics worked in the case of South Africa. Witney attributes the end of white minority rule in that country to the courageous leadership of FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. He ignores how de Klerk decided to release Mandela only after support for apartheid had proven costly for global capitalism by, among other things, campaigns for the closure of accounts with Barclays, a bank with major investments in South Africa.


Perhaps the most offensive point that Witney makes is that judgments on the "credibility" of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority's president, should rest on his willingness to sacrifice the right of return for Palestinian refugees uprooted by Zionist forces in 1948. Witney even puts the words "right of return" in quotation marks and suggests that it should be "satisfied only at some token level."

The right of return is a central issue in the battle for justice. The question of how that right can be realized is one for all Palestinians -- including those forced out of historic Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas has no mandate to abandon that right -- nor do experts in think tank land.

Before taking up his current job, Witney was the first head of the European Defence Agency (EDA), a Brussels-based body set up in 2004 with a view to strengthening the arms industry on this continent.

I interviewed Witney for my new book Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War. He confessed that he had "clear memories" of discussions with Israeli diplomats about strengthening cooperation between European and Israeli weapons makers.

The possibility of a formal cooperation agreement between the EDA and Israel was explored, he told me, though none was reached. "I didn't want to spend the first three years of the agency negotiating agreements," he said. "I wanted to spend the time on more practical things."


Witney stated he was "uneasy" about the idea that Israel could be one of the first countries with which the agency decided to liaise. "On one hand, I am signed up 100 percent to the security of Israel," he said. "On the other side, many of the things the Israelis do are flat contrary to European values -- especially the settlements."

It is odd that Witney was afflicted by scruples on this matter -- assuming that he told me the truth. During his career, he has been happy -- even proud -- to do business with human rights abusers.

Witney's own resumé notes that he helped Britain's ministry of defense secure a massive arms contract with Saudi Arabia. Known as the al-Yamamah program, this deal was so controversial that Tony Blair intervened personally when he was prime minister to block a probe into allegations that it involved large-scale corruption.

When I asked Witney how he could justify the contract, he implied that it did not aggravate tensions in the Middle East in any way. "It always seemed to me that the Saudis lived in the biggest glasshouse in the world and would be the last to throw stones," he said.

Grubby alliance

His metaphor is unfortunate, to say the least. In March 2011, Saudi Arabia sent 1,200 troops across the causeway linking it to Bahrain. The troops brutally repressed pro-democracy protests in Manama, the Bahraini capital.

Who manufactured many of the tanks driven by those troops? None other than BAE Systems, the company that has been the main beneficiary of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Like David Cameron and many others in the British government, Witney went to Oxford, a university dedicated to maintaining the country's iniquitous class system. He is certainly educated enough, then, to be able to understand the consequences of what he is advocating.

One of his pet projects is to campaign for a more militarized EU. The Union's grubby alliance with Israel is intimately linked to this process of militarization. Israel, for example, is taking part in a number of warplane projects with European firms.

Witney might come across as an erudite voice of reason. In reality, he is a warmonger.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2013.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Amnesty has let down Bradley Manning

Why has Amnesty International refused to declare Bradley Manning a prisoner of conscience?

A few weeks ago, I put that very question to the human rights organization. My question was eventually answered but only after I wrote a column for the weekly paper New Europe criticizing Amnesty for not launching a major campaign in support of Manning.

Nicolas Beger, head of Amnesty's Brussels office, responded by saying that "we are simply not yet in a position to conclude whether Mr Manning should be regarded as a prisoner of conscience, without knowing more about the specific allegations and evidence, his motives, and how his case is prosecuted."

Beger explained that Amnesty will be sending an observer to Manning's trial which is scheduled to begin in June. "It is common practice for Amnesty International to reach a decision in complex cases only once it has examined all the issues at the trial. If a government seeks to punish someone for releasing, in a responsible manner and for reasons of conscience, information that he or she reasonably believed to be evidence of human rights violations that the government was attempting to keep secret, this would typically be grounds for Amnesty International to consider the person a prisoner of conscience."


The explanation is not convincing. Contrary to what Beger suggests, there is nothing complex among Manning's case. The soldier has been imprisoned for three years now because he caused an embarrassment for a superpower.

His motives for doing so were spelled out in a statement that he made at a pre-trial hearing earlier this year. Manning released a trove of documents to WikiLeaks because he was horrified by the "bloodlust" of the US army captured on the Collateral Murder video -- which shows an attack on unarmed civilians in Iraq -- and hoped that the American public would be similarly outraged.

Amnesty's website indicates that it has made a handful of appeals relating to Manning's case. Most of these were issued in 2011 and focused on his conditions of detention. Though Amnesty correctly denounced those conditions as cruel, it did not call for his release.

The argument that Amnesty should wait until Manning's trial before deciding its position has not been invoked in some high-profile cases outside America. After the group Pussy Riot staged a protest in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral last year, Amnesty urged the Russian authorities to free three women arrested in connection with the incident ahead of their trial. Amnesty stated clearly that the members of Pussy Riot were targeted because of their "political opinions."

Different rules

Why is Amnesty applying different rules to the US than to Russia?

My own interest in human rights was sparked by the protests over US foreign policy that occurred when Ronald Reagan visited Ireland in 1984 (I was 13-years-old at the time). I first heard about Amnesty a year or two later and have supported the organization ever since.

So it felt like a betrayal when I heard that Amnesty's American office was headed for most of last year by Suzanne Nossel; before taking up that job she had been a deputy assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton. Under Nossel's leadership, Amnesty whitewashed the invasion of Afghanistan by hosting a conference praising NATO's "progress" in that country. The guest of "honor" at that event was Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state who declared that killing as many as 500,000 children in Iraq by depriving them of essential medicines was a price worth paying.

Bad example

If Amnesty is becoming more obsequious to the powerful, then it may be following a bad example set by its kindred organization Human Rights Watch.

Scott Long, a former member of staff in Human Rights Watch, revealed recently how the group has an absurd policy of "objectivity" on the Middle East. Each time it publishes a report rebuking Israeli aggression, it feels compelled to follow up with a report hostile to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.

The policy misses a salient point: Israel is the largest recipient of aid from the US; it has been given a free pass by the "international community" to subjugate an entire people. A human rights organization should, therefore, be devoting more of its time and resources to exposing Israel's crimes than to striking some kind of spurious balance.

"I deserve it"

In 2010, I interviewed Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch director. When preparing questions to ask him, I read that he was paid $345,000 per year -- almost as much as Barack Obama's salary. I put it to him that it seemed an exorbitant sum for the head of a non-profit organization. Roth agreed that it was "a lot of money" but added: "I think I could make a case that I deserve it."

Roth had just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Perhaps the only reason why a human rights defender should go that confab for a global elite would be to cause trouble. But I didn't get the impression that the business and political leaders in the Alpine resort had been discomfited by Roth's presence.

Human Rights Watch has been even more reticent than Amnesty on Bradley Manning's treatment.

The only statement relating to Manning that I could find on the Human Rights Watch website was issued in March 2011. It did no more than call on the US to "publicly explain" why it was subjecting Manning to "possibly punitive and degrading treatment."

Bradley Manning has performed a tremendous service to humanity. It is not far-fetched to argue that the 2011 uprisings in Arab countries would not have happened without him.

The demonstrations which ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's rule in Tunisia took place after Manning had shattered some myths about that country's relationship with the US. A diplomatic cable that Manning gave to WikiLeaks stated bluntly that America did not consider Ben Ali an "ally," despite how it had shored up his regime.

Freedom of information was recognized as a basic human right at the inaugural session of the UN's general assembly. Bradley Manning has taken an enormous risk to uphold that right. It is a shame that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are not standing up for him.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 May 2013.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Belgium still calls the shots in Congo

Having lived in Belgium for 18 years, I figured it was time to start learning about the country's colonial past. Or should I say present?

My research is at an early stage but it has lead to an unavoidable conclusion: the Belgian elite still behaves as if it calls the shots in Congo.

The French-language magazine Marianne recently published the names of 10 men implicated in the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first Congolese prime minister after its independence. The list -- compiled by Lumumba's family for a legal investigation opened in Brussels two years ago -- include Etienne Davignon, a former member of the European Commission and chairman of that "gentlemen's club" for global capitalism, the Bilderberg Group. Davignon worked for the Belgian foreign ministry at the time of Lumumba's murder and reportedly drew up a telegram recommending the prime minister's "removal".

Now in his 80s, Davignon remains a high-flying corporate lobbyist. His appearance on the Lumumba list prompted me to check if his commercial activities are in any way connected with Congo. The short answer is "yes, they are".

Davignon's profile on BusinessWeek states that he has held the posts of director and vice-president with Umicore. This mining company was previously known as Union Minière du Haut Katanga and began extracting Congo's rich mineral resources in the early twentieth century. It has good political connections. Jean-Luc Dehaene, a long-serving Belgian prime minister, has served on Umicore's board too.


Patrice Lumumba had the audacity to advocate that "the soil of our country should really benefit its children". That was in June 1960. Fifty-three years after he made that pledge, the soil of Katanga province is being used for the benefit of Umicore.

There is a strong likelihood that my smartphone - or yours, if you have one - contains material from Congo. Umicore regularly buys cobalt from mines and suppliers in Katanga for batteries, computers, chemicals and cars. Umicore brags that it shares 50% of the global market in materials for lithium-ion batteries (a key power source for electronic equipment) with just one other firm.

Corporate Knights - an insert with The Washington Post that promotes "clean capitalism" (an oxymoron if ever there was one) - has put Umicore in its "100 most sustainable companies" table for 2013.

Only someone with a warped sense of humour could praise firms active in Congo's mines for being "sustainable". The International Monetary Fund - not a friend of the downtrodden - has calculated that the value of Congo's mineral and oil exports come to $4.2 billion in 2009. Yet the Kinshasa government collected just $155 million in tax that year - 4% of the value of those sales.

This is in a country where - as the "Africa progress report" published by Kofi Annan recently notes - some of the world's worst malnutrition can be found and seven million children are out of school. Congo is at the bottom of the United Nations "human development index"; it has also been plagued by a war, in which the question of who should control Katanga's mines has played a significant part.

Far from having its reputation damaged by its involvement in Congo, Umicore's advice is much in demand. The European Commission has appointed Umicore representative Christian Hagelüken to an "expert group" on ensuring access to raw materials for entrepreneurs. A 2010 paper drawn up by that group identified cobalt and tantalum from Congo as being among 14 "critical" minerals, underscoring their importance for the electronic industry. The paper urged that action be taken against "trade distortions" - code for measures designed to use resources for the benefit of a nation's children (as Lumumba envisaged), rather than for MP3 players.


Needless to say, the "experts" have made all the right noises about "sustainability" and protecting the environment. If we ignore this spin, however, we will see that the determination of Europeans to control Congo has not changed.

When Belgium conceded in the 1950s that it would have to grant independence to Congo, it resolved to retain a grip on Katanga's mines. It did so by supporting Lumumba's rival, Moise Tshombe, as the province's chief. Belgium tried to encourage Katanga's secession from the rest of Congo.

Davignon's reported call for the removal of Lumumba bears a chilling similarity to a message conveyed by Dwight D Eisenhower, the American president, to Allen Dulles, head of the CIA. In it, Eisenhower pleaded for Lumumba to be "eliminated".

In 1884, America was the first country to recognise Belgium's claim to the Congo. This set in train a process which wiped out at least half of the Congolese population by 1920, according to Jan Vansina, an anthropologist who specialises in Central Africa. This could mean that 10 million lives were destroyed during the reign of Leopold II - the Belgian king who colonised the Congo - and the 10 years after his death.

David Van Reybrouck's recently published history of Congo traces how the agri-food giant Unilever had its origins in the exploitation of Congolese palm oil. Vast fortunes have been amassed for wily businessmen at the expense of the Congolese people. Despite apologising for its role in Lumumba's murder a decade ago, Belgium has never atoned for the suffering it inflicted on the Congolese. One explanation for why it has never atoned is that some affluent Belgians are doing nicely from the ongoing pillage of Congo's resources.

•First published by New Europe, 26 May - 1 June 2013.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Climate policies must break free from Big Oil

It seems an odd time for environment policy wonks to throw a party. The level of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere is higher than it has been in three million years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US.

That sobering news hasn't stopped the organisers of Carbon Expo in Barcelona from promising a celebration when the annual event is held for the tenth time at the end of this month. Ardent defenders of the polar ice caps like Shell and Statoil will spend the day gazing at mathematical models about the ideal price of pollution. After all those cerebral chinwags, they will surely have worked up an appetite for tapas and sangria.

On second thoughts, maybe it is apt for the oil industry and its chums in the world of finance to kick up the high life as the climate breaks down. For they have been dexterous enough both to cause that breakdown and to present themselves as the cure to it.

Trading pollution

The big "green" story here in Brussels lately hasn't been the perilous state of the planet but the problems befalling the EU's emissions trading scheme. Although the scheme has proven to be disastrous in terms of mitigating climate change, it has helped entrench the idea that heat-trapping gases should be considered as a tradable commodity. Because there are people out there who stand to make millions from carbon transactions, it's not surprising that they want to salvage the Union's scheme.

The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) is arguing that the scheme "should remain the EU's central climate policy instrument." In fact, it's so gung-ho in its support for this market-based mechanism that it is advocating that similar systems should be established as a result of global talks.

Among IETA's members are Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Shell, BP and Total. I seem to recall that the first two villains helped to cause a global financial crisis and that the latter three sell fossil fuels, the principal source of carbon dioxide in our skies. Are they really in a strong position to decide what should be the "central" policies on climate change?

Unfortunately, they are. The prototype of the EU's emissions trading scheme, as it happens, was developed by BP. While he was still chairman of that firm, Peter Sutherland, was hired as an adviser on climate on energy to the European Commission's chief José Manuel Barroso during the early stages of the scheme's implementation. It is an "instrument" both designed by fat-cats and played with the intention of pleasing them.


The agenda for the Carbon Expo boasts a session titled "learning from the legends." The "legends" referred to here are emissions trading and the international Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that it supports.

Is this supposed to be a joke?

One of the most disgusting aspects of the EU's climate change policies is that they rely largely on "offsetting." Under this dubious concept, it is fine for power plants on this continent to belch out as much pollution as they want, provided some money is given to environmentally-friendly projects in poorer countries. This is akin to buying a nice present for your friend who has given up smoking instead of you.

Rules applying to the EU's scheme allow for up to half of all emission "cuts" financed by it to be achieved via the CDM. Newly published data from the European Commission indicates that this form of offsetting is on the increase. In 2012, offsets accounted for one-third of the "compliance commitments" made by firms taking part in the trading scheme, compared to 13% the previous year.

Many of the projects being funded are anything but clean. A "high-level panel" overseeing the CDM - which includes a European Commission representative, as well as ministers from Japan and South Africa - published an assessment on its performance last year. The report warned that the CDM could lead to a "net increase" in global emissions of greenhouse gases. It suggested that the mechanism is being widely used to support coal-fired projects, particularly in India and China. Energy efficiency has been "almost entirely left out" of the CDM, the report added.

Salutary lesson

In a few weeks time, members of the European Parliament will decide whether or not they should endorse the continuation of the emissions trading scheme. The best thing our elected representatives could do is to bury the scheme. Trying to revive it would be irresponsible.

There is a salutary lesson here. Saving the planet requires what Americans call "big government," not a dodgy market mechanism.

There is an urgent need to go back to the drawing board, not to tinker with a system fashioned by BP.

Fortunately, there are sensible policies being followed in parts of Europe. Germany has increased the share of renewables in its energy mix from 6% to 25% over a decade. A law guaranteeing priority to the grid for renewable energy has provided the incentive for this rise. Local communities have been able to break free from relying on oil giants.

This breakthrough means that emission cuts can be achieved on European soil, rather than exporting our pollution control problems to somewhere else. It is telling that this breakthrough has had nothing to do with emissions trading.

If the EU keeps doing the same thing, it will keep getting the same results. This approach might prove fruitful for Goldman Sachs and BP. But it won't stop the earth burning.

•First published by New Europe, 19-25 May 2013.

Friday, May 17, 2013

France follows Israel's script

Welcome to Toulouse, a city that supports Israeli apartheid.

Admittedly, I didn't see this slogan on any billboards when I arrived in this splendid part of France earlier this week. The slogan nonetheless reflects reality.

Toulouse's importance as a hub for the aerospace industry has been bolstered by a recent announcement that EADS, one of Europe's top three weapons producers, is to move its headquarters here from Paris and Munich. There is a strong likelihood that the relocation will increase the already considerable level of contact between Toulouse and Israel.

Airbus, an EADS subsidiary, is based in Toulouse. In 2011, it signed a contract with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to develop a new "early warning system" for warplanes.

IAI is a key supplier of drones to the Israeli military and has benefited directly from the attacks on Gaza in November last year and during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009. (It is true that work on this system is being handled by Airbus Military in Spain but that doesn't absolve its parent company in Toulouse of responsibility).

Partners in war crimes

IAI has also been cooperating with Airbus on developing a "semi-robotic pilot controlled vehicle" called TaxiBot. And the two firms have teamed up for several EU-funded scientific research projects.

One such project -- known as SARISTU (Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures) -- aims to help make planes lighter. It is conceivable that the €51 million ($65 million) scheme will contribute towards developing the weapons of the future, even if it is currently decked out in civilian attire.

While in Toulouse, I learned that the authority for the Midi-Pyrénées has teamed up with the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce in order to provide local entrepreneurs with expenses-paid trips to the Middle East over the past few years. And about 10 Israeli firms were scheduled to participate in Aéromart, a fair for the aerospace industry, held in Toulouse last December. Organizers of the event announced, however, that Israel Aerospace Industries and fellow drones-maker Elbit withdrew at short notice.

Last year six people were murdered in a despicable attack on Ozar Hatorah, a Jewish school in Toulouse. In November, Benjamin Netanyahu turned up at the scene of that crime.


François Hollande, the French president, was reportedly disgusted that Netanyahu exploited the suffering of children for a photo opportunity at a time the Israeli prime minister was campaigning for re-election. But that didn't stop Hollande from accompanying Netanyahu on his visit.

Less than two weeks later, Netanyahu approved a considerably more lethal assault against Gaza. Hollande refused to condemn Israel's aggression, even though it, too, involved the deaths of children and violence directed at schools.

Hollande's cowardice was in keeping with how he has courted the Zionist lobby in France. Shortly before he became president in 2012, Hollande contended that it was illegal to advocate a boycott of Israel.

The president's stance is that of an extremist. To the best of my knowledge, no other Western leader has tried to muzzle Palestine solidarity campaigners so blatantly.

Courting the lobby

As it happens, Hollande's understanding of the law was flawed. A number of French judges have upheld the right of activists to call for boycotts.

Hollande has quite literally been following a script prepared by the pro-Israel lobby. His speechwriter Paul Bernard is an executive committee member of CRIF, the country's most powerful Zionist group. This may explain why Hollande emphasized that he disagreed with Stéphane Hessel's work on Palestine, when paying tribute to that courageous human rights defender and former ambassador, who died in February.

Hessel was a Jew, who survived the Nazi extermination camps. In his 2011 pamphlet, Indignez- vous! (Time for Outrage), Hessel wrote: "Today, my main source of anger is Palestine: Gaza, the West Bank...It is intolerable that Jews can themselves perpetrate war crimes."

Colonial mentality

Why is the French elite -- not its ordinary citizens, I hasten to add -- so determined to please Israel?

The most plausible explanation is that a colonial mentality persists in Paris.

In 1916, France and Britain reached a secret deal -- the Sykes-Picot agreement -- on carving up the Middle East between them. The following year, Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to the Zionist movement, effectively giving it Britain's blessing to colonize Palestine.

Almost a century later, Zionists are continuing to colonize Palestine -- with the support of Britain and France.

Plus ça change.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The caring facade of French imperialism

The "public relations" accompanying wars has become wearily predictable. Whenever one of its governments or allies conducts a military action, there is a near certainty that the European Union will host or participate in a "donors' conference".

One of these grotesque events has been dedicated to Afghanistan each year since it was invaded by the US in 2001. After Gaza was bombed for three weeks in late 2008 and early 2009, the EU rushed to foot the bill for damage caused by Israel (often to infrastructure previously built or equipped with Western aid). And now the European taxpayer is expected to pick up the tab for destruction wrought by France during its military expedition in Mali.

Let me be absolutely clear: I'm fully in favour of increasing aid to healthcare and education in Mali, one of the world's poorest countries. Yet this Wednesday's donors' conference - jointly organised by France and the EU - is not really designed to reduce hardship in Africa. Rather, its purpose is to cover French imperialism with a veneer of benevolence.


At this juncture, there can be no doubt that France's "intervention" was motivated primarily by its determination to control natural resources in Mali and Niger. An analysis published in February by in-house researchers at the defence ministry in Paris points out that these two neighbouring countries possess 60% of global uranium reserves. While exploitation of these reserves by Areva, the French nuclear firm, is "certain," according to the researchers, "instability in the Sahel has an impact on economic projects in the whole region".

Less than a month after he was sworn in as president last year, François Hollande hinted that he regarded this uranium as effectively Areva's property. Following talks with Mahamadou Issoufou, his counterpart from Niger, Hollande said that Areva must be allowed to extract uranium from the giant mine of Imouraren at the earliest possible date.

As the former colonial power, it was France which set the border between Mali and Niger. The Touareg people who straddle this artificial frontier have been striving for autonomy since the 1960s. Hollande has been eager to quell the recent resurgence in the Touareg struggle and to bolster the Malian authorities.


His efforts have been sold as being part of a fight against "terrorism". A more plausible explanation is that he wishes to make sure that the uranium in this area doesn't fall into the "wrong" hands. It is no accident that French troops were deployed earlier this year in both Mali and around the Arlit mine - a key source of uranium for Areva - in Niger.

There is a fundamental dishonesty behind this week's donors' conference. Briefing material prepared by its organisers gives the impression that it is part of the EU's overall development aid activities. The objective of development aid is defined in the EU's Lisbon treaty as reducing and eventually eliminating poverty (indeed, the inclusion of this principle is one of the few positive things in a treaty that has a right-wing ideological orientation). Raiding the aid budget to help a resource grab in Mali runs counter to that objective. It can, therefore, be considered as illegal.

This is not the first time that the EU is violating its own law. A 2011 EU strategy paper on the Sahel blurs the distinction between military and development aid.

The pretext cited is that security is a prerequisite for progress. This ignores how it is poverty and oppression that beget conflict.

With some rare exceptions, the EU's governments have reneged on a decades-old commitment to earmark at least 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) for tackling global poverty. Diverting some of the already inadequate development aid budgets to military training exercises is tantamount to blowing raspberries at the hungry.


Apart from tiny Luxembourg, all of the EU's governments spend a higher proportion of GDP on the military than on international development. Not content with that manifest injustice, corporate-funded think tanks have pounced on the French intervention in Mali to advocate that Europe's military expenditure should be even higher.

Nick Witney, the first head of the European Defence Agency - a body tasked with boosting military cooperation between both private firms and nations - has written an especially opportunistic tract for his current employer, the European Council on Foreign Relations. Witney laments that the "crisis in Mali once again exposed the hollowness of Europe's military pretensions". France was "left to do the job alone," he writes, because of the lack of a "shared strategic culture in Europe".

His proposed solution is to have a similar level of scrutiny for the military spending of EU governments as that introduced for other types of expenditure over the past few years. This is despicable: the scrutiny to which he refers enables the Brussels bureaucracy to insist that countries eviscerate their schools and hospitals in the name of deficit reduction. Witney advocates that the same bureaucracy can simultaneously demand greater expenditure on drones.

Meanwhile, a pamphlet by Notre Europe - an institute headed by one-time European Commission chief Jacques Delors - labels many of the EU states as "free-riders" because they did not deploy fighter jets in Libya during 2011 or help France in Mali this year.

These pamphlets have been produced as part of a concerted effort to step up the pace of the EU's militarisation. You can be sure that they won't be allowed gather dust.

•First published by New Europe, 12-19 May 2013.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Warren Buffett signs $2 billion check in support of Israeli apartheid

I gave up drinking the day after the Live8 concert in 2005. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Apart from the obvious health benefits, it helped me figure out things that I had avoided trying to understand.

My decision to shun the bottle was a sudden one. But it now seems apt that it was made following an extravaganza where Bill Gates took the stage to feign concern for the poor. Today, I become apoplectic when I see the ultra-wealthy posing as friends of the downtrodden.

The latest billionaires' list compiled by Forbes magazine names Gates and his pal Warren Buffett as the world's second and fourth richest men. Between them, the pair have a "net worth" of $120.5 billion.

Fawning news features tell us we should admire the duo because of their philanthropy. Yet a newly-concluded business deal demonstrates where the sympathies of the 1% really lie.

"Message of faith"

Buffett has just spent a cool $2 billion to take full control of the Israeli company Iscar Metalworking (he had already bought most of the firm in 2006). Eitan Wertheimer, Iscar's president, described the transaction as a "message of faith" in the Israeli economy and "a type of Balfour declaration."

At first glance, Wertheimer seems to be resorting to hyperbole. But Buffett's act is arguably more significant than the letter of support to the Zionist movement that Arthur James Balfour, then Britain's foreign secretary, sent in 1917. The Balfour declaration was aspirational; Buffett, on the other hand, has signed an enormous check in support of Israeli apartheid.

Buffett's investment is an insult to the Palestinian-led call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. I'm a supporter of the BDS movement, not a strategist for it. Yet I think there is a clear case now for Palestine solidarity activists to urge a boycott of products made by firms in which Buffett has a major stake. They include Coca-Cola and Heinz.

Class war

It is noteworthy that Wertheimer's remarks were reported in Israel Hayom, a newspaper owned by the gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson. As well as holding racist views towards Palestinians in particular, Adelson generally holds the underprivileged with contempt. He has emphasized his staunch opposition to the redistribution of wealth.

Buffett may be less obnoxious than Adelson -- the former has, for example, urged Barack Obama to increase taxes on the wealthy. Yet they are both fighting a class war with the objective of widening inequality. Buffett has correctly observed that his class is winning that war.

The super-rich can never be trusted. Even when they lavish money on charities, there is invariably a flipside. Bill Gates' work against malaria is severely compromised by how his foundation has invested almost $1 billion in BP and ExxonMobil. Malarial mosquitoes thrive when temperatures soar -- something that is happening now in Africa and beyond thanks to the global warming that the oil industry has forced on the planet.

Warmongers hug trees

The effrontery of corporations knows few bounds. Lockheed Martin, the arms giant, recently published its annual "sustainability report." Two gems jumped out from its pages: Lockheed is striving to achieve a "zero-accident workplace" and to cut down pollution from transport by buying one-quarter of components from suppliers "within 30 miles of our significant sites of operation."

For a second, I was so in awe of Lockheed's commitment to tree-hugging and ergonomics that I forgot it is the single biggest beneficiary of US military aid to Israel. As Shir Hever, the left-wing Israeli economist, pointed out recently, this military aid is in the form of vouchers. Israel is required to exchange the vouchers for American weaponry, principally that manufactured by Lockheed.

Israel's attacks on Syria will surely be a boon for Lockheed if they continue -- or even if they don't. The attacks have been conducted with the aid of Lockheed's F-16 Fighting Falcon jets.

Of course, Lockheed's armaments are routinely used as tools of oppression against Palestinians. Are our Palestinian brothers and sisters supposed to be comforted by Lockheed's policies on local sourcing and safety at work?

The "public relations" industry is forever tying big green ribbons around corporations and the super-rich. These ribbons cannot conceal the toxic truth that the super-rich look out only for themselves. They will happily trample over Palestinians or any other people if doing so can make them even richer.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 6 May 2013.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Breaking Europe's silence over Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning is a hero.

Nobody else has put so much classified evidence about the reality of America's wars in the public domain. The "Collateral Murder" video which he released to WikiLeaks should be shown at the beginning of every academic course on international relations. It captures the nonchalance with which the world's most powerful army kills and maims civilians.

Once the soldiers recorded in it notice that they have injured a child, they react as if they have done nothing more sinister than step on someone's toes. "Well, it's their own fault for bringing their kids into a battle," one voice says. The line encapsulates the amoral nature of US aggression. Victims of state-sponsored violence are treated as if they had it coming.

Only the naive could expect the US authorities to treat Manning leniently. But what about here in Europe? Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, is a fearless defender of human rights - when it suits her. Happy to champion political prisoners in Iran and Ukraine, she is prepared to overlook persecution when it is carried out with the approval of her bosom buddies in Washington.

A search on Ashton's website indicates that she has not issued a single statement on Manning's incarceration. I asked her spokesman to explain this silence; he did not respond. MEPs who have tried to solicit her views on this matter haven't fared much better. Last year, Ashton answered a parliamentary question about an investigation by Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, which concluded that the treatment of Manning was "cruel and inhuman". Ashton noted that the Méndez report highlighted "potential violations of rights" before making a vague commitment that the EU would "seek clarification" from the US authorities on "what measures they intend to take".


Her stance was both misleading and cowardly. Méndez stated clearly that "imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity, as well as of his presumption of innocence". The solitary confinement forced on Manning, therefore, involved a definite abuse of his rights - not a "potential" abuse as Ashton hinted.

Manning has been in detention for three years now, without having been convicted of any crime. It is almost impossible to foresee his trial - scheduled to begin next month - being in any way fair. Barack Obama has already declared him guilty by saying on video that "he broke the law" and implying that he deserves to be punished.

In a personal statement delivered at a pre-trial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland, earlier this year, Manning said that he gave a trove of documents to WikiLeaks because he wished to "spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general". Manning confessed to being alarmed by the "bloodlust" of the aerial weapons team on the "Collateral Murder" video and expressed his hope that the public would be just as disgusted.

There is little doubt that Manning has been imprisoned because of his sincerely-held political beliefs. So it is baffling that Amnesty International has so far declined to consider him a prisoner of conscience and to undertake a major campaign for his release.

Right to information

Amnesty has told the Canadian blogger Joe Emersberger that it cannot deem Manning to be a prisoner of conscience until it has verified if he released the information in a "responsible manner". I contacted Amnesty to check if Emersberger had accurately reflected its position but received no reply. Assuming that Emersberger is correct - and I've no reason to suspect he is not - Amnesty should specify what it means by "responsible".

By the standards of the US authorities, Manning did not behave responsibly. But Amnesty is supposed to be an independent watchdog, not a mouthpiece for the US military. The very first session of the UN's General Assembly in 1949 formally recognised that "freedom of information is a fundamental human right and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated". Manning took a great risk to uphold that freedom. Amnesty should be supporting him by every means possible, not quibbling over whether he has respected the terms of his employment contract.

I have been involved with Amnesty since I was 15-years-old. Until recently, I've been convinced that it fights oppression regardless of where it occurs or who is involved. Sadly, an event held to coincide with NATO's 2012 summit in Chicago made me have second thoughts.

Feminist war?

Promotional material for an Amnesty conference on the situation of women in Afghanistan bore the slogan "NATO: Keep the Progress Going". The inference that the alliance was waging a feminist war must have delighted NATO's spindoctors.

For most of last year, Amnesty's US office was headed by Suzanne Nossel, who had just finished serving as a deputy assistant secretary of state under Hillary Clinton. It is unthinkable that Amnesty would chose a senior aide to Robert Mugabe as director of its Zimbabwe team - unless that aide had renounced Mugabe first. Nossel, to the best of my knowledge, didn't speak out against how Clinton had cosied up to dictators in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Why on earth did Amnesty hire her?

Bradley Manning has been let down by those who claim to defend human rights. The silence over his treatment must be broken.

•First published by New Europe, 5-11 May 2013.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Keeping the Israel lobby on its toes

Does the pro-Israel lobby have to be embarrassed into playing by the rules?

Yesterday, I contacted Dimitri Dombret, former secretary-general with European Friends of Israel (EFI), about his entry in a "transparency register" for groups seeking to influence the EU's policies. When I asked Dombret why the financial information presented for his "public relations" firm D&D Consulting Services related to the year 2010 and that no details had been provided for the past two years, he replied swiftly. "Thanks for reminding me to update my details," he wrote in an email message. "It's just been done."

I immediately felt a sense of déjà-vu.

On 11 August 2011, I wrote a blog post noting that the EFI had not signed up to the EU's "transparency register" and was secretive about how it is financed. The EFI rectified this omission a few hours after my post was published. Within less than a week the European Jewish Congress, another pro-Israel lobby group, had also signed up to the register.

Unlike a similar system for lobbyists in Washington, the EU has decided against introducing a mandatory register for pressure groups in Brussels. Yet it has provided incentives to sign up to its voluntary register: securing an access badge to the European Parliament and taking part in certain "expert" committees that effectively set policies for the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, are conditional on signing up.

Grounds for complaint

Moreover, a code of conduct for the register's participants requires them to make sure that the information provided is up-to-date. If Dombret did not add fresh data when I prompted him, I would have had grounds to file an official complaint with the register's administrators.

Updated or not, Dombret's entry does not tell us a great deal about his activities.

According to it, the only client he represented in his dealings with the EU bureaucracy in 2012 was Teva, the Israeli pharmaceutical firm. Teva, he said, generated a turnover for his firm of between €50,000 and €100,000 that year. (If memory serves me correct, his entry for the year 2010 was identical).

Because Teva is a manufacturer of generic medicines, it has been trying to present itself as more compassionate than corporations selling branded drugs -- at sometimes extortionate prices. As its man in Brussels, Dombret has been spotted attending events organized by the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières on improving access to healthcare for the world's poor.

The Palestinians, as it happens, do not benefit from Teva's generosity. Prevented by Israel from developing a pharmaceutical industry of their own, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza pay the same prices for medicines as citizens of Israel do. This is despite how the rates of poverty and unemployment are higher in the West Bank and Gaza than in present-day Israel. In 2009, the World Bank -- not a revolutionary institution -- stated that the lowest priced generic product available in the public healthcare system in the West Bank and Gaza was on average 4.5 times that of the same product in Syria.

"Messages that work"

Dombret's website also lists The Israel Project as one of his clients. An endorsement from Laura Kam of The Israel Project credits Dombret with "getting messages that work in the media and our speakers in front of European policy-makers."

Headquartered in Washington, The Israel Project has undertaken a few "missions" to Europe in recent years. In 2011, for example, it arranged for Oded Eran -- previously the EU envoy for Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon -- to visit Strasbourg (a French city, where the European Parliament holds monthly sessions) and Paris. The magazine Le Nouvel Observateur helped out the Zionist lobby on that occasion by publishing a softball interview with Eran.

When I asked Dombret about the precise nature of his work for The Israel Project, he claimed that it is no longer on his roster.

Still, it is possible to discern a trend whereby pro-Israel lobbyists with deep pockets are turning to "public relations" professionals for help on particular projects. Laura Kam has herself formed a Jerusalem-based firm -- Kam Global Strategies, which offers businesspeople and governments the change to "place your stories" in the media.

Courting elites

Now that public opinion has turned decisively against Israel in Europe, that state and its sympathisers are doing what they can to court elites. In late 2011, Israel's embassy in Brussels awarded a contract to Kreab Gavin Anderson. This consultancy assisted Israel in honing propaganda efforts aimed at convincing members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to approve an agreement designed to boost Israel's drug exports.

Karl Isaksson, head of Kreab's Brussels office, made good use of his contacts in the Parliament, where he had previous worked as an adviser to MEPs with Sweden's Conservative party. One MEP with that party, Christoffer Fjellner, fought especially hard for Israel's pharmaceutical industry. He signed an opinion piece -- almost certainly written in conjunction with Kreab -- arguing that the accord would be beneficial to healthcare in Europe. Sadly, this chicanery worked and the accord was endorsed by the Parliament, albeit by a slim majority.

Kreab's entry to the EU's transparency register states that the contract with Israel was worth less than €50,000. This week I asked Isaksson if his office was undertaking further work for Israel but he told me that the contract had not been extended.

It is unlikely, however, that it is the last time that Israel will seek professional help in pursuing its pernicious agenda.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 3 May 2013.