Thursday, December 10, 2015

Israel lobbyist doubles up as adviser to European Parliament

A pro-Israel lobbyist is playing a direct role in organizing some of the European Parliament's key activities on the Middle East.

Nuno Wahnon Martins, a representative of the European Jewish Congress, describes himself as an adviser to Fulvio Martusciello, the Italian right-wing politician who chairs the Parliament's committee for relations with Israel.

Since assuming that "title" in late 2014, Wahnon has been so prominent during the committee's meetings that he appears to be "running the show," a well-placed source told me on condition of anonymity.

His prominence raises fundamental issues about the independence of the committee (or "delegation," as it is officially known).

The European Jewish Congress routinely puts pressure on the EU to adopt positions favorable to Israel. Has it succeeded in parachuting one of its lobbyists into a post within one of the EU's most powerful institutions?

When I emailed Wahnon with some questions, he offered to meet me. Over coffee, he said that he works as a freelance consultant for the European Jewish Congress, even though he is listed as the organization's director of European affairs

Wahnon claimed he does not draw a salary for his work in the Parliament but that he has twice had expenses of around €100 reimbursed. He admitted that he is acting as an adviser without the approval of the parliament's administration.

The Parliament's rules have no provisions on the recruitment of advisers -- as opposed to research assistants or secretarial staff -- by its elected members. "Officially, these positions [advisers to committee chairpersons] do not exist," he said.


He claimed that there is no conflict of interests involved and that he has been open about his activities. A note on his Twitter account, for example, states that he is an adviser to Martusciello.

"It would be much easier not to say anything," Wahnon added. "But it would be much less transparent."

The Parliament's delegation to Israel recently hosted a visit to Brussels for what it described as "young political leaders, mainly from Israel and Palestine." On the program for that visit, Wahnon was named as an "assistant" to Martusciello.

I asked the Parliament's administration if it regard the hiring of a professional pro-Israel lobbyist by its delegation to Israel as a conflict of interests and if it would investigate the matter. Marjory van den Broeke, a spokesperson for the administration replied: "Mr. Martusciello has no assistant on the payroll of the European Parliament called Nuno Wahnon Martins."

I then informed her that Wahnon's own Twitter account describes him as an adviser to Martusciello and enquired if the parliament pays advisers to chairpersons of its committees. "No, it does not," she replied.


Her dismissive attitude is symptomatic of a wider problem. The European Parliament overlooks how lobbyists with destructive agendas shape many of its policies and activities.

In my book Corporate Europe, I documented how members of the Parliament signed and proposed amendments to financial sector regulations that were drafted for them by banks and hedge funds. As many of these amendments were approved by a parliamentary majority, the effect was that proposals supposedly intended to prevent an economic crisis of the type Europe is still enduring were altered by the gamblers who caused the crisis in the first place.

A similar thing is happening with regard to the parliament's relations with Israel.

Because of his position, Fulvio Martusciello commands respect from the Israeli elite. He uses the platforms afforded to him to express views that are at odds with both public opinion in Europe and, on occasion, with EU policy.

According to The Jerusalem Post, he has argued that an EU decision that goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank be labeled as such amounts to "criminal discrimination" against Israel.

"Europe is loud about Israel, but quiet about 200 other conflicts around the world," Martusciello has also said. The opposite is closer to the truth, by the way: last year the EU imposed an arms embargo on Russia but refused to even entertain the idea of halting its weapons trade with Israel.

In a personal capacity, Martusciello should be free to say whatever he wishes. Yet he is not entitled to invite a pro-Israel lobbyist to effectively hijack part of a public institution.

The European Jewish Congress is not the voice of Jews across this continent, despite how it may give that impression. Rather, it is a highly partisan lobby group. By habitually taking a pro-Israel stance, it does a disservice to the numerous Jews horrified by Israel's belligerence.

Wahnon, a qualified attorney from Portugal, has made a career out of promoting Israel in Brussels. He has previously worked for two other pro-Israel groups, B'nai B'rith and European Friends of Israel.

Wahnon confirmed to me that his access badge for the parliament's buildings categorizes him as an intern. This morning, I phoned Martusciello's office asking to speak to Martusciello himself. Instead, my call was transferred to Wahnon.

I don't believe that he just happened to be in that office. It is much more likely that the pro-Israel lobby is paying him to be there in an effort to buy influence.

This is a squalid case of democracy being undermined by supporters of Israeli apartheid -- and of the powers that be not giving a damn.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 December 2015.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Brussels terror expert has applauded Israel's atrocities

These are busy days for the Brussels-based "terrorism expert" Claude Moniquet. Ever since it emerged that a few men from Belgium took part in the recent attacks on Paris, his "analysis" has been much in demand by the media.

Any time I have seen Moniquet on TV lately, he has always been given softball treatment by his interviewers. As a result, he is presented an earnest figure, who has amassed considerable knowledge on extremism both through his past career with the French external intelligence agency and his subsequent research. Viewers are never told that this "terrorism expert" has applauded atrocities perpetrated by the State of Israel.

In 2004, Moniquet described Israel's assassination of Ahmed Yassin, a founding member of Hamas, as "good news." Yassin was 66-years-old and paralyzed from the waist down.

Seven other Palestinians were killed in the Hellfire missile attack on Yassin. According to Amnesty International, Israel's actions violated international law.

Moniquet has worked closely with some of Israel's most dedicated apologists in Brussels.

He has been a long-standing member of the Atlantis Institute, a "think tank" established by Joël Rubinfeld.

A veteran lobbyist, Rubinfeld has strived to bolster Belgium's relationship with Israel.

That relationship was strained in the early years of this century as Ariel Sharon, then Israel's prime minister, was sued in Belgium over massacres in Palestinian refugee camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Under pressure from Israel and its supporters, Belgium soon diluted its "universal jurisdiction" law to shield Sharon and other war criminals from prosecution.

Parroting propaganda

Moniquet heads the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. One of his former employees at this "terrorism" watchdog is Dimitri Dombret, with whom Moniquet has written a paper on the "threat" posed by Iran.

A former secretary-general with the lobby group European Friends of Israel, Dombret now runs his own consultancy firm. The firm's main client in recent years was Teva, an Israeli drugs-maker.

The website for Moniquet's center lists "lobbying" as one of its activities. While I was undertaking a research project about Israel's supporters in Brussels last year, Moniquet told me that neither the Israeli government nor any Israeli company was paying his center for advice.

Nonetheless, Moniquet has been known to parrot Israeli propaganda.

During Operation Cast Lead -- Israel's bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and 2009 -- he called Palestine solidarity activists "pathetic." In an opinion piece, he accused those who protested against Israel of "selective indignation," asking why they were not so exercised about human rights abuses in Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Congo and Zimbabwe.

Conveniently, he overlooked two salient facts: Israel has much stronger political and commercial ties to the West than the countries he listed and many of the protesters he dubbed "pathetic" were calling out their own governments as accomplices to Israel's crimes.

Defying logic

Moniquet cannot be regarded as an expert on terrorism in any real sense.

A genuine expert would help us understand how Islamic State emerged. He or she would take us through the history of Western meddling in the Middle East that spawned this monstrous organization.

He or she would join the dots between the 1916 Sykes-Picot accord (a secret deal to carve up the Middle East between Britain and France), the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the ongoing civil war in Syria and the deadly machinations of the Saudi elite.

Rather than offering the kind of incisive commentary that is so sorely needed, Moniquet reinforces stereotypes. He has, for example, helped to stigmatize the entire community living in the Brussels district of Molenbeek based on how a small number of extremists have lived there.

In a weekend appearance on France TV, Moniquet distorted the truth. In his warped mind, an effort by the local authority in Molenbeek to make its Muslim inhabitants feel welcome was transformed into a "tacit pact" with "Islamists."

Such rhetoric closely resembles that of right-wing Belgian politicians who are trying to capitalize on the Paris attacks.

Moniquet has also been known to defy logic. Not long before the Paris attacks, he wrote about how those involved in recent acts of extremist violence in Europe were already known to the police. Yet rather than making the case for greater scrutiny of known extremists, he praised France's introduction of "massive digital surveillance."

Although Moniquet indicated that the new surveillance rules would be used to keep an eye on suspects, their breadth represents a clear erosion of civil liberties.

Despite the patently dubious quality of his analysis, Moniquet is able to charge money for his services. Last year, he told me that his center's annual budget is between €1 million and €1.5 million and its clients include police agencies and foreign ministries.

Will his recent media appearances help him drum up more business? I fear that they might.

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

Columnist Melanie Phillips defends Netanyahu's lie about the Holocaust

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cameron breaks clean politics pledge with honor for Israel lobbyist

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

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

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

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

Polak is not living up to these requirements.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel killed more than 551 children during that attack.

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

Outlawing Israel boycott in Europe revealed as key AIPAC goal

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

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

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

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

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

Outlawing solidarity

AIPAC devoted considerable resources to getting this law approved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TTIP is designed to remove such barriers.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

Game over for Labour Friends of Israel?

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

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

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

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

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

Deceitful and dangerous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smear campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Blatant theft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiting from war crimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tony Blair recruited by cheerleader for Israel's crimes

Scanning the headlines about Tony Blair's latest appointment, I wanted to believe that someone was playing a joke. The war criminal who morphed into a Middle East "peace envoy" will now work pro bono for an Israel lobby group. For that is the most accurate way to describe Blair's new "employer", the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation.

While its name might give the impression that it is a dispassionate intergovernmental body, the ECTR is a project of the Zionist zealot and fertilizer tycoon Moshe Kantor.

As well as being the ECTR's founder, Kantor is the president of the European Jewish Congress. Despite how he claims to represent 2.5 million Jews, Kantor regularly panders to anti-Semites.

By acting as a cheerleader for Israeli aggression, Kantor lends credence to the fallacy that Israel enjoys a universal blessing from Jews. He is completely out of sync with the growing number of his co-religionists who are speaking out against Israeli apartheid.

Kantor's stance is also at odds with that taken by Blair as prime minister. Officially, the UK views the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal under international law. Kantor, on the other hand, has argued that such colonization facilitates the "positive interaction" between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a joint opinion piece with Kantor published yesterday by British newspaper The Times, Blair identifies "creating clearer definitions of what is racist and anti-Semitic" and giving judiciaries greater powers to prosecute "hate speech" as priorities for his work with the ECTR.

Blurring the distinction

Careful scrutiny of Kantor's activities indicates he is not really interested in bringing clarity. Whereas opposition to Zionism is very different from a blanket animosity towards Jews, he is seeking to blur the distinction between these two phenomena.

For example, the ECTR has drafted a convention on "promoting tolerance." Its preamble refers to "the current increase in anti-Semitism in many European countries", alleging that "this increase is also characterized by new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

Kantor's European Jewish Congress has invested much energy into accusing the Palestine solidarity movement of being responsible for "new manifestations of anti-Semitism."

I have obtained a letter sent by the EJC to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency in April 2012. The letter alleges that "the new form of anti-Semitism, which emanates from pro-Palestinians, from Arabo-Muslim extremists [sic], is today considered by European Jews as a real threat, which creates fear and tension among European Jews. Therefore, the definition of anti-Semitism should be clarified: the new form of anti-Semitism emanates from Arabo-Muslim extremists, from pro-Palestinians, being one way importers of the mid-East conflict into Europe."

Such lobbying has proven effective. In response to pleas from the EJC and similar groups, the EU's agency decided to include calls for boycotting Israel -- a key tactic of the Palestine solidarity movement -- as examples of anti-Semitism in a report it issued during 2013.

Dodgy dossier

The agency, which has been tasked with monitoring racism and xenophobia across the Union, has failed to acknowledged that the Palestinian-led mobilization for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targets goods, companies and institutions -- not individuals.

Blair's call for a crackdown on "hate speech" should be seen against the backdrop of attempts to smear Palestine solidarity campaigners. The attempts have made an impact. Canada's right-wing government is in trying to criminalize BDS campaigning by categorizing it as "hate speech."

Violence against Jews is a real problem. Just this year, there have been attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris and a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen.

To tackle the hatred behind such incidents, it is necessary to remain focused. Smearing Palestine solidarity activists with bogus accusations is a distraction.

It would be comforting if Blair and Kantor could be dismissed as yesterday's men. Sadly, both are influential.

Kantor even has a center called after him in Tel Aviv University. It publishes annual reports that pretend to give a global overview of anti-Semitism. According to the latest such report, Israeli soldiers were blamed for "every evil on earth" at demonstrations sparked by Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza.

No evidence is provided to back up that wild assertion. But such sloppiness does not seem to worry Blair and Kantor, who refer to the report in their aforementioned opinion piece.

Come to think of it, this isn't the first dodgy dossier that Blair has endorsed. Didn't he invade Iraq to search for weapons that did not exist?

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arms dealer Airbus adapts Israeli drone for refugee boat surveillance

The weapons-maker Airbus is promoting an Israeli-designed drone as suitable for tracking boats used by refugees.

A new brochure from Airbus Defence and Space lists "border surveillance" and "anti-smuggling" as potential applications for the Harfang. That drone was developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries and the Franco-German arms giant EADS, now owned by Airbus.

The possibility that such warplanes could be used in attacks that result in refugees being killed is far from academic. WikiLeaks has just published a classified EU plan for military action against boats in Libya which transport refugees to Europe.

According to the plan, this action should draw on the "full range" of surveillance equipment and knowhow available to EU governments.

The Harfang is among such equipment as it has been deployed by France while bombing Mali and Libya over the past few years and as part of the French contribution to NATO's war in Afghanistan.

Gaza "debut"

Not only has the Harfang been developed in tandem with IAI, it is modeled on an Israeli drone known as the Heron TP. DefenseNews, a publication popular with arms dealers, has noted that the Heron TP received its "operational debut" during Israel's three-week bombardment of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during that offensive.

Last week I took part in a debate with Chris Henny, a representative of Airbus, at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.

I am forbidden from disclosing what Henny said on that occasion. The debate was subject to the "Chatham House rule", protocol drawn up by a British think tank which prevents those who attend its discussions from attributing comments to the person who made them.

However, I subsequently asked Henny to comment on the record about why Airbus was suggesting that a drone tested in Gaza would be helpful in tracking refugees trying to reach Europe. He sent me a snide reply by email: "The topic for discussion during the debate at the Institute of European Studies was 'securing Europe’s border.' Israel and Palestine are not part of Europe as far as I am aware. "

"Airbus is working with many legally constituted and sovereign states and state enterprises around the world to help them control their borders through the use of technology, some of which we help to develop ourselves, and other technologies which we buy in, or license to others." he added. "What those technology partners choose to do with their own developments, in their own countries, is, of course, their business."


That attempt to put some distance between his firm and Israel should not go unchallenged. While Henny insinuates that Israel has nothing to do with him, his Airbus colleagues use their Israel connections as a selling point. Last year, Airbus issued a statement celebrating how the Harfang was based on an Israeli drone which was "combat proven."

That terminology is identical to that of Israel's arms industry. "Combat-proven" is a polite way of saying that the weapons have been tested out on Palestinians.

Henny's cavalier attitude is in keeping with the dodgy history of Airbus and EADS. Their record betrays a willingness to engage in pretty much any activity that will turn a profit.

EADS was part of a consortium known as MBDA which helped arm Muammar Gadaffi's regime in Libya. The very same consortium later benefited from NATO's 2011 assault on Libya, an "intervention" with ruinous consequences for ordinary people across several countries.

Airbus' border management activities have, to put it mildly, proven controversial. The firm is under investigation in both the UK and Germany for allegedly paying bribes to the Saudi dictatorship. The probes relate to Airbus' role in building a fence along Saudi Arabia's borders.

With its start-of-the-art surveillance equipment, the fence has been presented as necessary to defend Saudi Arabia against ISIS. Yet because the fence was planned before ISIS emerged as a serious threat, it would appear that its real purpose is to keep Iraqi refugees out of Saudi Arabia.

Another thing I noticed is that Airbus' brochure points to the Harfang's use in "regular national homeland security missions on French territory since the end of 2008." I can't imagine that everyone in France would be happy to know their law enforcement authorities are undertaking surveillance with Israeli-designed drones.

But I'm sure Airbus representatives have a ready-made response for any complaints: what clients do is, of course, their business.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 2 June 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are property speculators bankrolling European Friends of Israel?

An investor in "distressed" Spanish real estate is among the wealthy supporters of the most prominent Israel lobby group in Brussels.

Dan Meyer, founder of the firm REInvest Capital, is a board member with European Friends of Israel (EFI), according to papers filed recently with the Belgian authorities.

For the past few years, REInvest has been trying to turn Spain's economic woes to its advantage. The firm's website says it is focused on "distressed Spanish opportunities", particularly in "prime city center" locations and on the coast.

Meyer, who previously worked for the banking titan Goldman Sachs, has more than two decades experience in the real estate market. His firm claims to have invested in property worth around €11 billion ($12.3 billion) since the mid-1990s.

He was one of several business people to sit on the EFI board last year.

Another was Davina Bruckner, chairperson of the Luxembourg-based firm Eastbridge and with Belgium's largest insurer Ageas.

Eastbridge has gone from importing branded consumer goods like Nestlé and L'Oreal into central and Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s to snapping up skyscrapers in Manhattan. In 2011, it bought 70 Pine Street, formerly the American International Building, in New York's financial district.

Reportedly managing more than €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in assets, Eastbridge has strong connections to EFI. Davina's father Yaron Bruckner, who set up Eastbridge and remained active in it until his death in August 2013, was one of EFI's founders.

Marc Grosman, owner of the men's clothing retailer Celio, has also been a board member of Eastbridge. Grosman, too, sat on the EFI board last year.


On several occassions, I have asked EFI for details about who finances its activities. While the group has always refused to divulge those details, there are good reasons to believe that it relies on its board members for a significant proportion of its funding. Papers lodged with the Belgian authorities indicate that its board members pay annual subscriptions of up to €5 million ($5.7 million).

EFI's influence could be seen in the European Parliament's official response to Israel's attack on Gaza last summer.

In July 2014, the parliament approved a resolution which essentially copied and pasted talking points provided by EFI. That motion referred to a "ceasefire plan" that was "so far only accepted by Israel."

Not only did the parliament lend credence to the fallacy that Israel coveted peace, it neglected to mention that Hamas had not even been consulted about the "truce" offer in question.

Lately, EFI has been promoting fundraising appeals for the Israeli military, despite how it stands accused of committing war crimes.

EFI seems to have disappeared from a register of lobbyists administered by the European Commission. Although groups seeking to shape EU policies are not legally obliged to sign up to that register, they are required to do so if they want access badges for the European Parliament.

EFI did not reply when I asked why it can no longer be found in the register. The group had registered for 2014 and was required to update its details by the end of April this year. Its previous entries to the register have been skimpy. For example, the group reported that its overall budget for 2012 came to €400,000 ($453,000), all of which came from donations.

No scruples

As well as its management board, EFI has a political board, comprised of a cross-party alliance in the European Parliament.

Before last year's election to the Parliament, that board was chaired by a Polish politician Marek Siwiec. A biographical note posted on Siwiec's Facebook page indicate that he is now the EFI's president, even though he no longer has a seat in the European Parliament.

He has continued to visit the parliament's headquarters and can be seen in a program filmed there by Revelation TV, a pro-Israel channel, in December last.

I contacted Siwiec asking him if he is indeed EFI's president and if he is receiving money from the organization or its supporters. He did not reply.

Siwiec has combined being an elected representative with working as a corporate lobbyist. During his decade in the European Parliament, he found time to advise Yalta European Strategy.

Run by one of Ukraine's richest men, Viktor Pinchuk, YES has been pushing for closer bonds between Ukraine and the EU. The stronger trading links advocated by YES would almost certainly benefit Pinchuk directly. As Siwiec was active on foreign policy issues in the European Parliament, his involvement with YES was surely a conflict of interests.

I doubt that caused him too many pangs of conscience, however. Supporters of war crimes do not tend to have scruples. With public opinion increasingly critical of Israel, their future depends on groveling to the rich and powerful.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 May 2015.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Head of new pro-Israel group makes series of racist comments

A leading pro-Israel lobbyist in Brussels has made a series of racist comments about Muslims.

Alex Benjamin has been the director with both European Friends of Israel (EFI) and the newly-formed Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) over the past six months. While speaking on behalf of each of those organizations, he has displayed an anti-Islam bias.

In December last year, Benjamin contended that one explanation for the willingess of some EU governments to recognize Palestine as a state was that "the demographics in Europe are changing."

"There is huge populations of Muslims in France, in Germany, all over the place," he says. "And politicians are finding, rightly or wrongly, that in order to get their votes they have to pander to certain stereotypes."

Those remarks were delivered during a program broadcast by Revelation TV, a channel identifying itself as Christian. Benjamin appeared on the same show in late February, by which time he had taken up his post with EIPA.

During that second appearance, he again infers that Muslims should be perceived as a hostile presence in Europe.

"Hornets' nest"

In a discussion prompted by the killing of a Jewish security guard at a bar mitzvah in Copenhagen earlier that month, Benjamin implies that Muslims in general are to blame for anti-Semitic crimes.

"I see anti-Semitism and the rise of fundamental Islam and the changing demographics in Europe as inexticably linked. It's a bit -- if I could use a rather crude analogy -- it's a bit like having a hornets' nest at the end of your garden."

He argues that the rise in anti-Semitism he perceives "can't just be because of Israeli actions." Then he says: "There's something more fundamental behind it. And it's not a very pleasant thing to do but sometimes you need to lift up the carpet and look at the horrible things underneath it."

Referring to new security measures taken in EU buildings following the January attacks on the French satiricial magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, he says:

I use the analogy deliberately about the hornets' nest at the end of the garden and I would say that either you protect your house and you stop the hornets from flying in -- like we have outside the [European] Commission; like we have outside the [European] Parliament. That is a short-term solution. The hornets are still going to be there. So do you go down to the end of the garden and you try to deal with the nest or do you just try and protect yourself in the house and say "well listen, I'm too scared to go down there, I might get stung. I don't know what's going to happen. All I can do is stop them from getting in the house."

Inciting hatred

Comparing Muslims to hornets closely resembles the terminology by influential Israeli politicians when inciting hatred against Palestinians.

The late Rafael Eitan, who served as both chief of staff in the Israeli military and as a minister in several governments, once called Palestinians "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." Ayelet Shaked, Israel's new justice minister, has described Palestinian children as "little snakes."

Benjamin's repeated references to population issues also echoes how the Israeli elite considers Palestinian babies as a "demographic threat."

Arnon Soffer, an academic who has undertaken research for the Israeli military, said in 2004 that once Gaza's population reached 2.5 million "those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam." Soffer's recommendation for Israel was to "kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."

I contacted Benjamin on Thursday, asking him to clarify some of his comments. He did not reply to my email messages. When I phoned the EIPA office, I was told that he was away from Brussels.

Before he became a full-time Israel lobbyist, Benjamin worked as a press officer for British Conservative members of the European Parliament. His résumé includes, too, a stint as communications director with the Ulster Unionist Party in Belfast.

EIPA is one of several lobby groups trying to promote a positive image of Israel. In an attempt to distract from the crimes committed against the Palestinians, it has been using Facebook to highlight the aid which Israel provided to Nepal's earthquake victims and to celebrate innovations by Israeli scientists.

It is an offshoot of the similarly-named Europe Israel Press Association. Among the propaganda events that association has hosted was a talk given last year by Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic who has advocated that Israeli soldiers should rape Palestinian women.

Benjamin seems to be settling in nicely to his job. His racist remarks are perfectly in sync with the Israel lobby's toxic worldview.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 8 May 2015.

Why I helped "shut down" Europe's weapons lobby

Today, I took part in the "shutting down" of a lobby group representing some of the world's top weapons exporters.

At lunch-time more than a dozen of us entered the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) headquarters in Brussels, announcing that we were taking it over. We distributed letters of dismissal to its staff, covered its reception area in white sheets and posted notices saying "arms dealers evicted."

Our action drew a hostile response from Kyle Martin, an ASD manager. He began scrunching up our papers and tearing down our notices, telling us that we were trespassing on private property.

His attachment to private property is a little bizarre, given that the ASD wants the arms industry to be heavily subsidized from the public purse. A recent ASD paper on weapons innovation states that "100 percent funding to [the arms] industry should be considered the norm."

ASD includes five of the planet's fifteen leading arms companies: BAE Systems, Airbus, Thales, Finmeccanica and Rolls-Royce. All of these firms have major links to Israel.

Finmeccanica is supplying jet trainer aircraft to the Israeli military as part of a $1 billion deal. BAE Systems provides electronic equipment to the Israeli military.

Thales has teamed up with Israel's Elbit to make drones for the British army.

Airbus is developing an "early warning system" for warplanes along with Israel Aerospace Industries. And Rolls-Royce's engines can be found in many aircraft used by the Israeli military.

Benefits to Israel

ASD is also involved in lobbying activities which have proven beneficial for Israel's merchants of death.

For many years, ASD has been urging the EU to allocate a greater proportion of its scientific research program to military technology. In response, the Union has established a "security research" scheme.

Israel's weapons firms have been participating on an equal basis to European companies and institutions in that scheme ever since its inception. As a result, the manufacturers of drones used to kill children in Gaza and of surveillance equipment installed in Israel's wall in the occupied West Bank have benefited handsomely from European subsidies.

Our action at ASD's headquarters led to an impromptu "teach-in." I was asked to give a briefing about how the weapons industry has been influencing EU policy. Jan Pie, ASD's urbane and apparently unruffled secretary-general, listened to me, interrupting to claim that all of the Union's research activities are of a civilian nature.

That was a lie.

As I documented in my book Corporate Europe, ASD has been pushing the EU to bankroll research into technology with both civilian and military applications. The group has enjoyed considerable success; quite a few of the EU's science projects relate to drones, inherently military aircraft pioneered by Israel.

ASD is trying to promote drones as beneficial to Europe's economy. In March, Jan Pie predicted that drones could contribute to 150,000 "direct jobs" in 2050.

Not possessing a crystal ball, I have no way of gauging whether such forecasts will come to fruition. But even if they do, the strategy Pie wants Europe to pursue is at odds with the interests and desires of its people.


Gaza has been the world's main laboratory for drones in recent times. Do we really Europe's economic policies to be inspired by a cruel experiment against a besieged people?

The staff we met at ASD didn't want to admit they are causing harm in the real world. Kyle Martin tried to dismiss my complaints about how Saudi Arabia is the number one client for some of ASD's members as irrelevant. Saudi Arabia has, of course, been busy bombing Yemen lately with the aid of Western weapons.

ASD called the police. We refused to leave when the cops arrived, so they removed us from the building. The cops requested our identity cards and wrote down our names.

Several police cars turned up outside the building where ASD is based but we weren't taken into custody.

The arms lobbyists of Brussels are usually insulated from reality. Today was an exception.

We confronted them with the consequences of their pernicious activities.

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

With Israel's help, EU seeks new ways of being cruel to refugees

European Union leaders have responded in a callous manner to the mass drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean.

Rather than investing in a system that would save lives and guarantee protection to people fleeing oppression and poverty, the EU's governments have put themselves on a war footing. Their proposals to attack boats used to transport asylum-seekers look eerily similar to what far-right parties and tabloid pundits have been advocating.

Such plans have not emerged out of nowhere. For some time, the EU has been discussing migration as if it is a military threat. One recurring theme is the possibility that drones could be deployed in border surveillance operations.

Israel's arms industry -- a top exporter of drones -- has participated in some of the key discussions.

In 2013, an EU "steering group" on "remotely piloted aircraft systems" -- a synonym for drones -- issued recommendations for how these warplanes can be increasingly flown in civilian airspace over a 15-year period. Frontex, the Union's border management agency, was identified as a likely user of drones.

The group's members included Unmanned Vehicle Systems - International, a trade association for drone-makers. Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries, the two main suppliers of drones repeatedly used to attack Gaza, are both represented on UVS - International.

"Great interest"

Last year UVS-International noted that Frontex has "manifested great interest" in drones. The interest has been so great that Frontex has explored deploying the Hermes-900 drone while tracking refugees.

Developed by Elbit, the Hermes-900 received what war analysts called its "combat debut" in Gaza last summer. Almost certainly, this cutting-edge weapon killed and seriously maimed civilians.

Another member of the EU's steering group was the European Association for Civil Aviation Equipment (EUROCAE).

Don't be fooled by the "civil aviation" part of its name. EUROCAE has an "active" committee dedicated to drones, which contributed to the EU steering group's work.

Israel Aerospace Industries -- "the largest government owned defense and aerospace company" in Israel, according to its website -- is part of EUROCAE's drone committee. Michael Allouche from Israel Aerospace Industries brags of being that committee's "airworthiness leader."

Are we supposed to find that reassuring?

Exception for Israel

As things stand, it is generally forbidden for drones to enter European civil airspace. Yet an exception has been made for Israel Aerospace Industries.

In April 2013, one of its drones, the Heron, flew over both a military base and civilian airspace in Spain during an EU-funded maritime surveillance exercise. That might have been something of a novelty for the Heron's operators, who are more accustomed to dropping bombs on Gaza.

Barack Obama expressed regret yesterday for how US drones killed two hostages of al-Qaeda in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year.

Some press reports inferred it is unusal for innocent people to die as a result of drones. That is bunkum.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has documented how as many as 962 civilians may have been killed by America's drones in Pakistan between 2004 and 2015.

The Obama administration gave its fulsome support to Israel's war crimes last summer. Defence for Children International - Palestine has just published the results of its research into those crimes. It found that 164 children were directly targeted and unlawfully killed in drone strikes.

Is there anything more obscene than the deliberate slaughter of children? I can think of one thing: the way arms companies exploit such slaughter for marketing purposes. Israel Aerospace Industries gloats of how its products were "proven in battle" last summer.

Most of Gaza's inhabitants are refugees, uprooted by the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel's foundation. Knowing full well that Israel has tested its drones on Palestinian refugees, the European Union is considering testing these drones on refugees from other parts of the world.

The arms industry and its lackeys constantly talk of innovation. What they really mean by this innovation is finding new ways of being cruel.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 April 2015.