Monday, September 25, 2017

Fired AIPAC hawk Steven Rosen expands Israel lobby's reach in Europe

Steven Rosen had a reputation for being one of the most effective pro-Israel advocates in Washington. By some accounts, he relished that reputation. According to a New Yorker profile, he once boasted of being able to gather signatures from 70 senators in a 24-hour timeframe.


While Rosen’s two decades with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have been analyzed in the media, other aspects of his work have evaded scrutiny. One little-known fact is that he has helped the Israel lobby to expand beyond the US.


Rosen is among the lobbyists connected to a pro-Israel group with the deceptively bland name of European Leadership Network.


A biographical note prepared for a 2013 Los Angeles conference on financing pro-Israel activities billed him as a “senior strategic adviser” to that organization.


The European Leadership Network is coy about its relationship with Rosen. His name does not seem to feature at all on the group’s website. Neither Rosen nor the European Leadership Network replied to a request for clarification.


Is something being concealed here? One reason why the organization may not wish to broadcast its links to Rosen is that his reputation has been tarnished.


In 2005, he was charged with conspiracy to violate US law on espionage. It was alleged that he had passed on confidential information to a journalist and a foreign diplomat.


The case against Rosen dragged on for a few years before the charges were withdrawn in 2009.


Embarrassing


The case proved embarrassing for AIPAC, which fired Rosen, alleging that his “conduct did not comport” with its standards. Rosen sued his former employer over his sacking. Intriguingly, a judge dismissed Rosen’s lawsuit on the grounds that it was “impossible” to know what standards AIPAC expected of its staff.


Since his fall from grace, Rosen has been recruited by Daniel Pipes, an influential bigot who has recommended the mass incarceration of Muslims.


Rosen joined Pipes’ Middle East Forum, a club dedicated to promoting “American interests” and “Western values.”


The work conducted by Rosen in that capacity suggests he regards American and Israeli interests as synonymous. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Rosen argued repeatedly that the US should back away from demanding an end to Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.


With branches in several cities, the European Leadership Network has conveyed the impression it is a moderate organization. It has jointly hosted events with influential “think tanks” such as the European Policy Centre in Brussels and Berlin’s Federal Academy for Security Policy.


It has held discussions with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. In France, the European Leadership Network has claimed that some of its advisers have become the main foreign policy aides to Emmanuel Macron, the president.


Facile


Arié Bensemhoun, head of the European Leadership Network’s French office, has made a series of ignorant comments. “In France, the Islamists want to kill the Jews,” he tweeted last year. “Like the Palestinians in Israel.”


The French press has suggested that Bensemhoun is more strident than other prominent players in the country’s pro-Israel lobby. Bensemhoun is fond of using terms such as “Islamofascism” and even “Nazi-Islamism.”


Such facile rhetoric echoes the racism of Europe’s far-right, which has portrayed Muslims as a threat to freedom.


The European Leadership Network purports to be interested in “dialogue” and the “pursuit of peace.” Its commitment to those noble ideas is questionable.


At least three of its earliest administrators – Raanan Eliaz, Roz Rothstein and Michael Dickson – are also serving or former board members in StandWithUs.


Headquartered in Los Angeles and bankrolled by the Israeli government, StandWithUs pumps out propaganda for the Israeli military – the same army which subjects Palestinians to a brutal occupation.


The aforementioned Steven Rosen has been named, too, as a “strategic adviser” to StandWithUs on documents filed with the US authorities.


One such document states that StandWithUs applies its “mission of education” through the European Leadership Network. It appears that the European Leadership Network was established, effectively, as a front for StandWithUs before being spun off.


The array of different groups in the Israel lobby can be bewildering. Keeping tabs on them involves wading through an alphabet soup of acronyms.


Though these groups may not be identical, they do have one thing in common. All want to shore up international support for Israel, a nuclear-armed apartheid state. Everything they do should, therefore, be monitored and exposed.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 11 September 2017.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The warped logic of pro-Israel bully Jonathan Hoffman

Should I feel flattered or afraid?


Each time I give a talk in London, there is a strong likelihood that the pro-Israel bully Jonathan Hoffman will attend.


Hoffman turned up at a recent event held to promote my new book Balfour’s Shadow.


Not content with heckling on the evening, he subsequently posted a review on the Amazon website accusing me of “glaring mistakes.”


Yet he failed to provide an example of even a minor error in the book.


Earlier this year, Hoffman was removed by police from a meeting at which I spoke in the British Parliament.


He followed that episode by complaining that I have written for Spinwatch – “that strange organization which seems obsessed with ‘Jewish power.’”


Hoffman failed to substantiate that smear for obvious reasons: there is no basis to it. Spinwatch has cogently rejected the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Hoffman suggests it is peddling.


Brazenly offensive


Perversely, Hoffman has leapt to the defense of a journalist who made brazenly offensive comments about Jews.


Kevin Myers was recently fired by The Sunday Times over a column which implied there was a link between the Jewish religion of two presenters at the BBC and how they were among the best paid women working for the broadcaster.


Myers had recycled an age-old anti-Semitic trope. Yet Hoffman argued that Myers was really paying Jews a compliment.


A careful reading of Hoffman’s articles leads to the conclusion that he is not interested in fighting anti-Semitism per se. Instead, he sees allegations of anti-Semitism as a weapon to be used selectively. Myers – a right-wing pundit who has previously disparaged Africans and single mothers – is permitted to insult Jews for being Jews.


Hoffman’s indulgence of such anti-Jewish bigotry is undoubtedly related to Myers’ history of defending Israel and attacking supporters of Palestinian rights.


Critics of Israel are, by contrast, vilified by Hoffman.


He has, for example, alleged that Jackie Walker, a socialist Jew, is anti-Semitic because she has described Israel as a racist state.


No doubt inadvertently, Hoffman then proved her right by alluding to how Israel prohibits Palestinians from using what are effectively Jewish-only roads in the occupied West Bank.


By his own warped logic, he himself is an anti-Semite for acknowledging the existence of that state-sponsored racism.


Vitriolic


Hoffman has been even more vitriolic towards Hajo Meyer, an Auschwitz survivor who died three years ago.


Meyer poignantly spoke out against how Israel was dehumanizing the Palestinians as the Nazis tried to dehumanize Jews.


For drawing a parallel between his own suffering and that of the Palestinians, Meyer got labeled an “amazing dancing bear” by Hoffman.


It was by no means the only time Hoffman has displayed callousness. In March, he made fun of how a politician known to be sympathetic towards Palestinians suffered a heart attack.


And Hoffman has previously insinuated that a campaigner who uses a wheelchair had exaggerated his disability.


Hoffman’s penchant for disrupting Palestine solidarity events appears to be appreciated by the pro-Israel lobby. The Reut Institute, a “think tank” founded by a former adviser to the Israeli government, is known to have consulted him.


In 2011, Hoffman took part in a conference organized with that institute on countering Israel’s “delegitimization” – code for robust criticism of Israel and the state’s ideology Zionism.


That event took place more than a year after Hoffman had been photographed attending a demonstration to support Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank organized by the far-right English Defence League.


He was again seen flanked by extreme right activists at an anti-Palestinian protest last month.


His willingness to embrace overt fascists may have lost Hoffman some friends. In 2012, he failed to secure re-election as a vice-president with the Zionist Federation, one of the oldest pro-Israel lobby groups in London.


That does not mean he has been shunned by fellow lobbyists. On the contrary, some of those who seek to cultivate a respectable image for Israel have remained happy to work with him.


Ahead of the 2016 referendum on Britain’s European Union membership he signed a joint article with Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel pressure group within Britain’s main opposition party.


Perhaps I should consider myself lucky. Though Hoffman has been rude towards me, I have not been subjected to his full boorishness.


During a presentation by Thomas Suárez, whose book State of Terror chronicles the role played by Zionist armed groups in the establishment of Israel, Hoffman shouted “answer my question, you bastards.”


Hoffman also tried to dismiss the book’s findings on the comically absurd basis that Suárez is a violinist, rather than a historian (in fact, Suárez is both).


Hoffman is undoubtedly a bully but nobody should allow themselves to be intimidated by him or by similar lobbyists. Their belligerence illustrates that Israel feels discomfited by Palestine solidarity activists.


They don’t like the message, so they slander the messengers.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

EU spreads lies about Israel boycott

A senior European Union representative has been advised to malign Palestine solidarity campaigners.


Vera Jourova, the EU’s justice commissioner, was given a briefing paper earlier this year about how to handle various topics in a discussion with the pro-Israel lobby.


Drawn up by Brussels officials, the paper provides some talking points about the EU’s “position” on the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. It alleges that “the encouragement of boycotts against cultural and academic institutions or artists” contradicts the “EU’s stand on non-discrimination and freedom of expression.”


That paints a false picture of the BDS movement. Its activities are subject to guidelines, which make clear that the cultural boycott does not target Israeli artists as individuals.


The cultural boycott is, instead, applied to artists who represent the Israeli state or institutions complicit in Israeli crimes or take part in branding exercises intended to divert attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.


Jourova’s briefing paper - obtained under freedom of information rules - was prepared ahead of a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in January this year.


The ceremony was hosted by Israel’s embassy to the EU and the American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel advocacy group.


The officials who drew up the paper recycle almost verbatim accusations made in 2016 by Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator. Von Schnurbein had claimed that “anti-Semitic incidents rise after BDS activities” in Europe’s universities. She was unable to provide specific examples of such incidents when asked.


Jourova’s office did not respond to requests for comment.


“Appalled”


The BDS National Committee, a Palestinian umbrella group that coordinates boycott activities, stated that it was “appalled” by Jourova’s briefing paper. The document “defamed the BDS movement as anti-Semitic,” Ingrid Jaradat, a legal adviser to the committee, stated.


A crucial detail omitted from the briefing paper is that the BDS movement has consistently denounced anti-Jewish bigotry.


Jourova’s briefing paper is at odds with previous comments made by other EU representatives.


The Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated last year that the EU “stands firm in protecting freedom of expression.” Although she opposed the boycott of Israel, Mogherini recognized that activists have a right to advocate BDS tactics. That right is protected by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.


Despite the clarity of that statement, some of the EU’s institutions and governments have continued to cast aspersions against the Palestine solidarity movement.


Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has conflated opposition to Israel’s state ideology Zionism with hatred of Jews. On Sunday, Macron called anti-Zionism “a mere re-invention of anti-Semitism.”


Dishonesty


Macron’s comments echo a decades-long effort by Israel and its supporters to imply that Palestine solidarity activists have ulterior motives. The efforts have been undertaken since at least 1973, when Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, labeled anti-Zionism as the “new anti-Semitism.”


That deliberate dishonesty has been reflected by a dubious definition of anti-Semitism approved last year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body.


That definition is virtually identical to one which was proposed by pro-Israel lobby groups more than a decade earlier. It recommends that strong criticism of Israel – such as describing that state’s foundation as a “racist endeavor” – should be seen as anti-Semitic.


Even the definition’s lead author, formerly a senior figure in the American Jewish Committee, has strongly criticized efforts to use it to stifle speech critical of Israel.


Yet the German government has been particularly supportive of the definition. In late 2016, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then the German foreign minister, contacted senior EU officials to argue that the definition was a “very useful instrument for combating anti-Semitism – both for the police and in science and education.”


The definition is not legally binding. Yet 24 of the EU’s 28 governments have endorsed it. According to internal documents, police services in a number of the Union’s countries are already using the definition for training purposes.


During a visit to Israel last month, Jourova issued a joint statement with her hosts applauding the European Parliament for endorsing the definition. She encouraged governments to use it while monitoring their citizens’ activities.


Not for the first time, the European Union’s representatives are sending out mixed signals. Supposed champions of free speech are trying to muzzle dissent. Solidarity is being smeared to placate an increasingly belligerent Israeli government.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 July 2017.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When Haaretz explains Israel's crimes

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


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


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


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


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


Downplaying a disaster


Take his coverage of the energy crisis in Gaza.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Hero worship


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


This is the kind of garbage that Haaretz publishes regularly.


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


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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Britain brought waterboarding to Palestine?

Were the Palestinians dispossessed by a sadistic lawyer?


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


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


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


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


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


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


No excuse


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Celebrated?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Do European Parliament staff work for Israel?

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


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


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


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


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


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


“Second homeland”


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


Belder may have flouted the European Parliament’s rules.


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


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


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


Cowards


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Britain's great deception in Palestine

Consistency has never been Boris Johnson’s strongpoint.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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