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.