Friday, December 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

“Israel looks to Poland as one of the friendliest countries in the European Union,” the briefing paper – unpublished until now – adds.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

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

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

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

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

Valued client

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When Britain turned Palestine into a "second Ireland"

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You must be ruthless”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Journalists must refuse Israeli junkets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Image manipulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Why is Ireland's prime minister tagging the Israel lobby on Facebook?

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, is regularly seen attending rock concerts or modeling novelty socks as he attempts to cultivate an image of being hip and humorous.

A recent inquiry made by Varadkar via Facebook about whether he resembled the cartoon character on his coffee mug appeared at first glance to be another example of such contrived lightheartedness.

For some reason, though, Varadkar had “tagged” one person in his post. That person, Barry Williams, happens to be Ireland’s most ardent supporter of Israel.

The taoiseach – as Ireland’s prime minister is called – offered no explanation about why the note was addressed to Williams, who runs the group Irish4Israel. And multiple requests for comment to Varadkar and his office went unanswered.

Why the silence? The Irish public is broadly sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight. Any connections that Varadkar has to Williams and Irish4Israel are, therefore, matters of public interest.

If they are simply friends, that is not problematic as such. But if Williams is using that friendship to lobby on behalf of a foreign government – Israel – then the public has a right to know about it.

Varadkar has previously displayed greater sympathy towards Israel than most other politicians in the south of Ireland.


In 2004 – then a member of a local authority for the Dublin area – Varadkar appeared to defend US policies on the Middle East. Writing to The Irish Times, Varadkar described as “overblown” the criticism heaped on George W. Bush, then the US president, who had told Israel that it may retain some colonies it had built in the occupied West Bank as part of a “final peace settlement.”

Following his election to the Oireachtas – Ireland’s parliament – in 2007, Varadkar signaled that he was in favor of greater trade with Israel. When he later became a transport minister in the Dublin government, Varadkar sought parliamentary approval of an EU-Israel aviation deal during 2013 as a matter of “urgency.”

EU diplomats recently credited this “open skies” agreement with facilitating a surge of visits to Israel by tourists from certain European countries.

Varadkar appeared to distance himself from Ireland’s small pro-Israel lobby while Gaza was under attack the following year. In a tweet, he denied belonging to a “friends of Israel” group within the Oireachtas.

But Varadkar has never formally retracted his earlier declarations of support for Israel. And the need for transparency about where he stands is all the more pressing now that Varadkar is taoiseach.

Israel has made clear that it wishes to change what Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, has called Ireland’s “traditional stance” of supporting Palestinians.

Mystery of the mug

Netanyahu was exaggerating the extent of elite support for the Palestinians. Like all other EU governments, Ireland has been hugely accommodating to Israel for a couple of decades at least.

Netanyahu nonetheless wants Ireland to go further. For example, he wants organizations that campaign against Israel’s human rights abuses to be denied financial assistance.

The agenda pursued by Irish4Israel is strongly in line with Netanyahu’s stance. The group frequently tries to portray Palestine solidarity campaigners as extreme and unreasonable.

When Mike Murphy, a veteran Irish broadcaster, recently participated in a trip to the occupied West Bank and wrote about the oppression he witnessed, the group called his article “vile.”

Aggressive tactics of that nature are unlikely to win Irish4Israel too many friends among the public.

But if the group has the prime minister onside, perhaps it feels emboldened. That’s all the more reason why Varadkar must end the mystery surrounding his mug.

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Britain's murky alliance with Israel

The latest comments by Theresa May on Britain’s relations with Israel smack of duplicity.

Both states are “close allies and it is right that we work closely together” provided such work is done “formally and through official channels,” the prime minister has stated.

There are at least two problems with that remark. Constantly cosying up to the oppressor of the Palestinian people is not “right” even if all the required formalities are observed. And secondly, there is ample evidence to suggest that May’s government has accommodated a pro-Israel lobby that keeps the true nature of its activities under wraps.

May was responding to a controversy which led Priti Patel to resign as Britain’s secretary for international development over undisclosed discussions with Israeli politicians.

Those discussions were arranged by Stuart Polak, a lobbyist whose “energy and tenacity” was praised by May less than a year ago.

Since 2015, Polak has sat in the House of Lords. Under a code of conduct for that institution’s members, he should “provide the openness and accountability” necessary to “reinforce public confidence” in his conduct.

Polak is clearly not respecting that rule. In particular, he has failed to clarify his precise links to Israel’s arms industry.

As well as being in the House of Lords, Polak leads a consultancy named TWC Associates (previously The Westminster Connection).

Although Elbit Systems is listed as a client on the consultancy’s website, Polak has not disclosed what work he and his colleagues do for that Israeli firm.

Earlier this week, The Guardian depicted Elbit as relatively innocuous by reporting that it “specialises in defence electronics”.

The full picture is far more sinister. Elbit makes many of the weapons - including white phosphorous munitions and drones - that Israel has used in its major attacks on Gaza.

Along with supplying weapons to the Israeli military, Elbit owns at least five firms in Britain. Ran Kril, a senior Elbit representative, said recently that the firm is treating Britain as “an actual home market” similar to the US and Israel.

Elbit is taking part in a £1.2 billion programme called Watchkeeper, which is aimed at providing drones for the British Army. The firm has also signalled that it wishes to expand its cooperation with Britain’s weapons-producers

Polak has never revealed if he or his business partners have assisted Elbit’s efforts to gain a stronger foothold in the British market. He did not respond to a request for comment.

So far, Polak has withheld details about who paid for him to accompany the aforementioned Patel when she met Israeli politicians in August.

Yet a register of interests for the House of Lords reveals that he travelled to New York and Morocco the following month at the expense of the Israeli firm ISHRA Consulting. ISHRA’s website indicates that it is involved in lobbying for the arms industry and Morocco is known to have bought Israeli-designed drones.

Did Polak try to drum up any business for Israel during his travels? If Polak practises what he preaches, then he probably did.

Earlier this month, he marked the Balfour Declaration’s centenary by signing an article which argued that Britain “must continue to explore avenues for further trade” with Israel.

For more than 25 years, Polak has been a key player in Conservative Friends of Israel. His appointment to the House of Lords was presented as a reward for his pro-Israel advocacy by David Cameron, then the prime minister.

In a real democracy, Polak’s role in such a pressure group would be scrutinised, rather than applauded.

Conservative Friends of Israel is, by its own admission, among the most influential lobbying outfits in the Tory party and British politics more generally.

The group has extremely close relations with the Israeli government. The trips it organises for public representatives to visit the Middle East are jointly financed with the Israeli foreign ministry.

Prominent Tories have enjoyed such junkets. Theresa Villiers took part in one not long after she ceased being the cabinet minister responsible for the north of Ireland. She used the trip to subtly raise criticisms of how Britain last year endorsed a UN Security Council resolution opposing Israel’s settlement activities.

That Conservative Friends of Israel was eager to promote her criticisms raises further questions. Is the group conniving with the Israeli government to try and tone down Britain’s stance on settlements? Such efforts - if successful - would make Theresa May’s government complicit in enabling violations of international law (all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights breach the Fourth Geneva Convention).

Long before the controversy that triggered her resignation, Priti Patel had cultivated strong links with the pro-Israel lobby.

She had visited Washington to take part in a 2013 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group with considerable clout on Capitol Hill. The bill for her trans-Atlantic journey was footed by the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative “think tank” dedicated to American and British imperialism.

The Henry Jackson Society can count on a number of supporters within the British cabinet. Among them are Michael Gove, Britain’s environment secretary, who has been involved both with the society and with Conservative Friends of Israel. Gove has rhapsodised lately about how “Israel is a truly miraculous nation and a light unto the world”.

The choice of words is unfortunate, to put it mildly. The alliance between Israel and Britain is not miraculous. It is murky.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 9 November 2017.

EU representative told to treat Israel softly

An argument trotted out by European Union representatives to “justify” engaging with Israel is that they regularly raise concerns about human rights abuses.

The argument is premised on a fallacy. Far from pushing difficult questions onto the agenda at every available opportunity, the EU dodges topics that are deemed too sensitive for reasons of political expediency – as previously unpublished documents illustrate.

The documents contain talking points prepared for Carlos Moedas, the Union’s science commissioner, ahead of a 2016 visit to the Middle East.

Moedas was advised by officials planning his trip to avoid comments about Israel’s settlement activities when he met Ofir Akunis, Israel’s science minister.

Akunis had earlier alleged that EU guidelines on labeling goods from settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights would “encourage terrorism.” He called such labeling “a dark stain on the moral fabric of Europe, which bears witness to the fact that the lessons of history have not been learned.”

“We suggest not raising this issue formally unless the Israeli side raises it,” the briefing for Moedas stated.

“Jewel in the crown”

Moedas used his trip to celebrate how Israeli firms and institutions avail of EU research grants. Scientific cooperation is the “jewel in the crown” of the EU’s partnership with Israel, according to his notes.

A few years ago, a controversy erupted over Israel’s participation in the EU’s science program Horizon 2020.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and many of his colleagues protested against how the EU issued guidelines in 2013 stipulating that firms and universities based within Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights would be ineligible for research grants once Horizon 2020 was launched the following year.

Since that row was resolved, the EU has keenly promoted how Israel benefits from such funding. Emanuele Giaufret, the Union’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, tweeted recently about how Israel has pocketed nearly $534 million from Horizon 2020 so far.

During that 2016 trip, Moedas gave helpful suggestions about how Israel may play a bigger role in the EU’s research activities. He was particularly eager that Israel should become more involved in a scheme for low-carbon energy.

His advisers neglected to point out that it is fundamentally unethical to propose energy cooperation with a state that has bombed Gaza’s only power plant and stolen solar panels used by Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Moedas paid a follow-up visit to the Middle East in May this year.

Briefing notes prepared ahead of a meeting arranged between him and Benjamin Netanyahu contained no reference to abuses of Palestinian rights. That was despite how the discussions were held amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza – exacerbated by Israel’s drastic limitations on the supply of electricity to the territory.


Instead, Moedas was urged to inform Netanyahu that Israel had received around $2 billion in EU science funding over the previous 20 years. Moedas was also advised to express pride in the strength of the EU’s cooperation with Israel – the phrase “jewel in the crown” was repeated.

Obtained under freedom of information rules, the briefing notes identify ordinary people as the “biggest challenges” to the EU’s relationship with Israel.

“Public opinion is dramatically shifting towards [a] greater call for accountability” and against subsidizing firms “perceived to be involved in violations of international law,” one briefing paper states.

The terminology here is deceptive. Elbit Systems – a recipient of EU grants named in the document – has not simply been “perceived” as being involved in Israel’s crimes. It has most definitely been involved.

Israel’s biggest weapons producer, Elbit has supplied drones used in attacks on Gaza. It has also provided surveillance equipment for Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank – a project ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The EU continues to shower Elbit with millions of dollars in “research” funding despite the recent revelation that the firm is helping Israel evade an international ban on cluster weapons.

The notes for Moedas offer an especially farcical defense of a controversial EU-funded project named LAW TRAIN.

Focused on interrogation techniques, that project connects various European bodies with Israel’s police – a force headquartered in occupied East Jerusalem and known to systematically torture Palestinian detainees, including children.

Hooking up with the Israeli police force is acceptable – in the view of Moedas’ advisers – as the Union’s representatives “regularly” raise “possible cases of torture and abuse” in discussions with the Netanyahu government.

“The EU considers that cooperation and engagement with Israel, which make such dialogue possible, are more effective than isolation or boycotts,” the briefing paper states.

The facts tell a different story. The number of children locked up by Israel has risen from an average of 192 per month in 2011 to 375 per month last year. Most children detained by Israel experience physical abuse, human rights groups have documented.

If torture and detention of children are on the increase, then the EU’s approach of “engagement” and “dialogue” is clearly not proving effective. The ordinary folk demanding tougher action have evidently got things right.

Why won’t the elite admit the obvious?

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 November 2017.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Why is Britain proud of the Balfour Declaration?

Almost 100 years ago, Britain decided to introduce a system of racial and religious discrimination in Palestine.

Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, signed a pledge to support the key goals of the Zionist movement. As the world’s pre-eminent power, Britain would help establish a ‘Jewish national home’ -- a euphemism for a Jewish state - in Palestine, despite how its population was mostly Arab. Jews the world over were, in effect, treated as a nation. No such status was accorded to Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants.

The Balfour Declaration, as that November 1917 letter became known, was later enshrined in the League of Nations mandate under which Britain ruled Palestine between the two world wars.

During that period, Britain’s administration for Palestine helped entrench a form of ‘economic apartheid’, a term used by Norman Bentwich, its chief legal officer. Incoming settlers were favoured in access to land and employment; Palestinians were frequently dispossessed.

Not surprisingly, the British encountered much resistance.

Faced with unrest in the early 1920s, Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, recommended that a ‘picked force of white gendarmerie’ should be formed. It would be comprised of men who had previously served in the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries -- crown forces based in Ireland.

The Black and Tans and Auxiliaries had resorted to large scale arson during Ireland’s war of independence, as well as sometimes operating as death squads. Their members and other British forces behaved with similar ruthlessness in Palestine.

In the 1930s, the civil administration in Jerusalem effectively put the military in charge of suppressing a Palestinian revolt against Britain and its support for Zionist colonisation.

Among the tactics Britain employed were the imposition of collective penalties on towns and villages that refused to obey their oppressors, the demolition of entire neighbourhoods and erecting a huge barbed-wire fence, complete with the most advanced surveillance technology of that era, along part of Palestine’s frontier.

State archives even refer to how Britain established a concentration camp -- the precise term used -- near Sarafand al-Amar, a village on Palestine’s coastal plain. The camp was used for the mass incarceration of those alleged to have taken part in the rebellion.

As part of efforts to crush that revolt, Britain knowingly recruited members of the Haganah, the largest Zionist militia in Palestine and a forerunner of today’s Israeli army. The result was that many of the forces who drove around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes a decade later had received British training. Britain had, therefore, prepared the groundwork for the Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic) -- the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Relations between Britain and the Zionist movement have sometimes been fractious. Two armed Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Lehi, came to regard Britain as a bitter foe. They waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against Britain in the 1940s.

Britain has nonetheless continued to embrace the Zionist project. A number of British politicians have argued that they are duty-bound to support Israel, given that the Balfour Declaration led to that state’s inception. That does not mean they romanticize Israel. On the contrary, British governments have tended to view Israel as a vehicle for advancing their interests in the Middle East, even to do their dirty work.

That was dramatically so in 1956, when Britain and France persuaded Israel to attack Egypt over how Gamal Abdel Nasser, a staunch opponent of Western imperialism, had nationalised the Suez Canal. The offensive involved Israeli massacres in Gaza that have been omitted from many books on the Suez affair.

Israel was to declare war against Egypt once more in 1967. It did so by making heavy use of British weapons, notably battle tanks. The British embassy in Tel Aviv was pleased at feedback from Israeli generals about how those tanks had performed much better than was expected.

The June 1967 war ushered in a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights that persists to this day. Marking the 50th anniversary of that occupation earlier this year, the London media was mostly silent about how Britain enabled it.

Britain’s policies on the Middle East have become increasingly shaped by the US in recent decades. Ronald Reagan resorted to the kind of duplicity that subsequent American presidents have replicated. He boosted military aid to Israel, while portraying Palestinians as the obstacle to peace. Margaret Thatcher echoed him by branding all armed opposition to Israel as terrorism.

Tony Blair has been demonstrably worse. Despite harping on about justice and statehood for Palestinians, Blair has proven to be a hardcore apologist for Israel.

While in Downing Street, Blair vigorously promoted ‘security cooperation’ between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One effect of this cooperation is that the Palestinian Authority now boasts of locking up young Palestinians without charge or trial - in order to keep Israel happy.

Blair’s endorsement of Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon caused great anger within the Labour Party and the wider public. Yet it did not prevent him from being appointed as what British newspapers called a ‘peace envoy’ for the Middle East on the same day that he stepped down as prime minister. Blair used that position to sanitise the medieval siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza.

Largely unnoticed by the media, the bonds between the arms industries of Britain and Israel have been bolstered in recent times.

The British Army used Israeli cluster bombs during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The army has flown Israeli drones over both Iraq and Afghanistan, too.

The British embassy in Tel Aviv has even set up a technology centre staffed by Israeli weapons innovators. Along with trying to increase business with Israel, Britain has sought to smear Palestine solidarity activists. Theresa May’s government has invoked a contentious definition of anti-Semitism to muzzle some of Israel’s critics in British universities.

Earlier this year, May signalled that clinching a free trade deal with Israel would be a priority once Britain leaves the European Union. She has identified the right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu as a key ally.

May has praised the Balfour Declaration as ‘one of the most important letters in history’ and pledged to mark its centenary with ‘pride’. She appears unfazed by how Britain set in train a process that would deny Palestinians their basic rights. One hundred years later, Britain is trying to perpetuate the injustice it has caused.

•First published on the Pluto Press blog, November 2017.