Thursday, October 30, 2014
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
During 2013, Israel reacted angrily when Brussels officials issued a policy paper stating that the EU would not award funding to firms and institutions based in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Rather than standing up to Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, the EU's top figures tried to downplay the significance of the "guidelines" contained in that paper.
One letter -- not published before now -- shows that some of this downplaying was tantamount to grovelling.
Signed by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU's commissioner for scientific research, in November last year, that letter states that both the Union and Israel "are conscious of the need to find flexible ways of implementing the guidelines."
Such flexibility was required, she argued, to "ensure full respect of the Union's policy in relation to the territories occupied by Israel, while not deterring Israel's association to EU programs."
Don't be fooled
Her attempt to sound balanced and nuanced should not fool anybody. The only possible interpretation of her letter is that although the EU considers Israel's colonization of the West Bank to be illegal, it is willing to compromise on that position for reasons of political expediency.
The construction of Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. They involve the tightening of Israeli control on land it acquired by force.
In other words, they are war crimes.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was advocating a flexible approach to war crimes.
Her letter was written in reply to a complaint about the guidelines from Jim Nicholson, a pro-Israel member of the European Parliament and a stalwart of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Nicholson had claimed that excluding Israeli institutions in the West Bank from EU research would be "unhelpful" to the "sensitive talks" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority then being chaired by John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
I acquired these letters under freedom of information rules, while writing a report on how the Zionist lobby interacts with the European Union (my report will be published by the organization Spinwatch in the near future).
Eager to please
Torpedoing the EU's guidelines has been something of an obsession for Israel and its staunchest allies. The Brussels bureaucracy proved quite eager to please Israel.
Geoghegan-Quinn herself displayed flexibility to Israeli settlements just two weeks before the "guidelines" were published in the summer of 2013. The Irish politician approved an €800,000 ($1 million) research grant for Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics-maker which had its main factory in the West Bank.
Briefing notes prepared for her by EU officials acknowledged that Ahava was located in an illegal settlement but recommended that she go ahead and rubber-stamp the grant.
A separate internal paper from the EU's executive, the European Commission, suggests that such officials were somewhat in awe of Israel's technological prowess.
Israel and Switzerland, both of which were involved in the EU's multi-annual science program, were "among the most research-intensive and innovative countries in the world," the paper states. "European researchers and innovators have much to gain from cooperating (and competing) with the best teams in these countries."
The EU is one of Israel's main sources of research subsidies.
Between 2007 and the end of last year, Israeli firms and institutions signed nearly 1,500 grant agreements with the European Union. The total value of all EU research projects involving Israel in that period was €8.7 billion ($11 billion).
Many recipients of these grants can be linked to activities in the West Bank and Gaza. Whenever she has been challenged about the surrounding issues, Geoghegan-Quinn has tried to defend the allocation of EU grants to the weapons manufacturers Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries.
Dishonestly, she has insisted that the research being funded is "civilian in nature at all times."
Yet those companies have supplied surveillance equipment to the apartheid wall in the West Bank, and equipped the Israeli military with the warplanes used to bomb Gaza's children.
Far from being "civilian in nature at all times," some of the EU-funded schemes involving Israeli partners relate to the development of drones -- inherently military aircraft.
Earlier this month, the EU's foreign policy service issued a statement criticizing Israel's latest settlement activities in apparently robust terms. Any further deepening of the EU's relations with Israel will depend on Israel's "engagement towards a lasting peace," according to that statement.
The statement was partly a reaction to how the settler group Elad had stolen 26 houses from Palestinians in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Elad's larceny was carried out with the assistance of Israeli soldiers.
If Brussels officials are really furious about this crime, then they should advocate that sanctions be swiftly imposed on Israel.
Not only has the Union refused to contemplate punishing Israel, it has given important support to those responsible for ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been working in tandem with Elad to uproot Palestinians from Silwan under the pretext that they wish to build an archaeological park known as the City of David.
The IAA has its headquarters in East Jerusalem. Although the EU never recognized Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, it has subsidized the IAA.
That authority took part in an EU-funded research project aimed at protecting heritage from earthquakes. The project had a total budget worth €3.5 million ($4.4 million) between January 2010 and December 2012.
Another internal EU paper says that the IAA gave a post-office box address inside present-day Israel when applying to take part in that project.
This is a very serious matter: it implies that an organ of the Israeli state resorted to deception in order to obtain EU funding.
That fraud provides the EU with all the reasons it needs to stop subsidizing Israel. But instead of taking action, the EU has signed an agreement enabling Israel to take part in Horizon 2020, the Union's latest research program.
Geoghegan-Quinn will soon be stepping down as an EU commissioner. As a farewell gift, she has been awarded the Légion d'Honneur.
That is France's highest accolade, The Irish Times informed its readers. Geoghegan-Quinn bagged the medal for her efforts to maintain a high level of research funding in challenging economic times.
No doubt, a few Irish people felt a sense of pride when they heard about this honor. I wasn't one of them.
By displaying flexibility towards Israel's crimes, Geoghegan-Quinn has disgraced her nation.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 15 October 2014.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Friday, September 26, 2014
Serving lobster, foie gras and roast pigeon behind a gilded façade, La Maison du Cygne is reputed to be one of Brussels' finest restaurants. Karl Marx visited it when he was writing The Communist Manifesto, a tract focused on class struggle. Ironically, it has more recently hosted deliberations about how the power of the ultra-wealthy can be increased.
On 24 March 2011, Karel de Gucht, the EU's trade commissioner, dined there with around 40 representatives of a corporate club called the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue.
An internal European Commission report of the encounter indicates that de Gucht committed himself to pursuing objectives that harmed ordinary people and the world's poor.
Among the topics discussed at this secret nosh-up were ensuring that global health and environmental initiatives did not endanger the monopolies enjoyed by big business. Such monopolies have become known as "intellectual property rights" (IPR) - an anti-democratic concept whereby ideas and knowledge can be privately "owned".
After the electronics firm Siemens commended the EU's trade officials for their work "in a difficult area", De Gucht acknowledged that their policies on "intellectual property" were "not supported by public opinion".
De Gucht expanded on this theme in a letter he sent to the TABD, also during 2011. In it, de Gucht referred to an "impression that IPRs may hinder innovation, as well as access to essential goods such as medicines or 'green' technologies." He added: "the public debate around IPR risks putting rightholders on the defensive and it is necessary to reflect on how to change the terms of the public debate".
The same letter illustrates - perhaps inadvertently - why the public is correct.
De Gucht claimed that EU officials "prevented the inclusion" of IPR issues on the agenda for a major UN climate change conference in Durban that year, arguing that was "a very positive outcome".
He bragged, too, of putting pressure on the World Health Organisation not to bother itself with intellectual property.
Telling climate change negotiators they may not address intellectual property may be a "positive outcome" for big business. Not so for the rest of humanity.
African, Asian and Latin American governments had sought an arrangement whereby they would be able to override patents on solar panels, wind turbines and other technology for generating renewable electricity. This was an entirely reasonable request, aimed at making energy clean and affordable.
Yet de Gucht was more eager to help energy firms reap in profits than to avert ecological catastrophes.
His attitude to pharmaceutical patents is equally despicable. De Gucht wanted to ensure that discussions on intellectual property are confined to pro-corporate bodies like the World Trade Organisation, rather than being extended to UN agencies with a mandate to protect public health or fight poverty.
De Gucht and officials working under him have been saying different things in public than in private.
In January this year, de Gucht expressed some understanding over why there is disquiet about the planned EU-US trade and investment agreement and especially the proposal that it allow corporations to challenge laws and policies they do not like. He identified as problematic the tobacco industry's record of invoking similar clauses in previous trade accords to litigate against anti-smoking initiatives.
Yet tobacco firms have been active in seeking that such provisions - known to policy wonks as investor-state dispute settlement - be inserted in the EU-US deal. British American Tobacco and Philip Morris are members of the Trans-Atlantic Business Council (as the TABD is now called). It has been formally tasked by the American and European authorities with advising on how trans-Atlantic economic links can be bolstered and has prepared the groundwork for the current trade talks.
Last year, I asked Leopoldo Rubinacci, a leading EU trade negotiator, about why cigarette-makers were shaping the agenda. "I'm not aware of any specific participation or influence of the tobacco industry in this debate," he replied.
Contrary to what he implied, De Gucht's team has been in contact with individual tobacco companies, as well as umbrella groups to which they belong. In June 2012, his adviser Damien Levie met a representative of British American Tobacco.
Australia's moves to require that all cigarettes be sold in plain packaging - something that the tobacco industry is challenging under another free trade agreement - was discussed. Levie has more recently been working alongside Rubinacci as a negotiator with the US.
Unless she performs badly at her "confirmation hearing" in the European Parliament next week, Cecilia Malmström will soon replace de Gucht as the Union's trade chief.
Pandering to villains
The handover is unlikely to make much difference. Both of these politicians adhere to liberalism, an ideology dedicated to widening inequality.
In her previous role as the EU's home affairs commissioner, Malmström has approved efforts to train warplanes on asylum-seekers. Having sniffed out new opportunities for the weapons industry, she should have no difficulty pandering to Big Tobacco and other villains.
The wealthy will continue to be favoured.
•First published by EUobserver, 25 September 2014.
Friday, September 5, 2014
The European Union has been cooperating furtively with Israel's nuclear industry for at least six years.
An internal document that I recently obtained states that an accord on "joint and cooperative initiatives relevant for the peaceful use of nuclear energy" was signed between the EU and Israel in 2008. "This is a discreet agreement that has not been given publicity," the paper adds.
It is not hard to understand why the Union wishes to keep this cooperation "discreet." The agreement was reached with Israel's Atomic Energy Commission -- the body that runs the Dimona reactor, where Israel's nuclear weapons were developed.
Israel introduced nuclear weapons to the Middle East and has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It has refused to permit international inspection of all its nuclear activities.
In 2006, Ehud Olmert, then Israel's prime minister, acknowledged that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. The US Defence Intelligence Agency estimated in 1999 that Israel had between 60 and 80 nuclear warheads.
These facts put Israel in a very different category to Iran, supposedly a major threat to world peace.
Unlike Israel, Iran has no nuclear weapons. The National Intelligence Council -- a group advising the US president -- expressed "high confidence" in 2007 that Iran had halted its weapons development program a few years earlier.
Despite that explicit statement, both the EU and the US have slapped punitive sanctions on Iran (after some sanctions had been relaxed, America imposed new restrictions on business with Iran last week). The official narrative behind these sanctions is that everything must be done to stop Iran acquiring the bomb.
Yet the European Union is happy to cooperate, with Israel, a nation that actually has the bomb. Is it any wonder that Brussels officials don't want attention drawn to this hypocrisy?
I asked the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) - which is tasked with implementing the "discreet" agreement, why it is cooperating with Israel, a known threat to world peace. A JRC spokesperson tried to present the "scientific collaboration" involved here as benign.
The research with Israel concerns the "medical application of radionuclides, radiation protection, as well as nuclear security related to the detection and identification of nuclear and radioactive materials," according to the spokesperson. "It does not cover any activities related to reprocessing and enrichment."
I asked the spokesperson if any guarantees have been provided that Israel will not use the fruits of its research with the Union for military purposes. Not surprisingly, I didn't receive a reply to that question.
When I asked how much had been spent on nuclear cooperation with Israel, the JRC would only say that the research in question is "not jointly funded as each institution covers its related activities."
As well as overseeing the development of nuclear weapons, Israel's Atomic Energy Commission has strong links to the conventional arms industry.
Apart from Dimona, the commission also runs the Soreq research center. Soreq's own website says that it develops equipment with "homeland security" applications -- a euphemism for surveillance technology and weaponry. When journalists have been given guided tours of that center, its scientists have bragged of inventing lasers to assist snipers.
The JRC -- the European Commission's in-house science service -- has been cooperating more directly with Israel's weapons industry, too.
In December 2010, it teamed up with Elbit, the Israeli arms company, for what it called a "small boat detection campaign" in Haifa. The purpose of this exercise was to see how drones can be used for maritime surveillance, principally to stop asylum-seekers from entering Europe.
Elbit is one of the leading suppliers of warplanes to the Israeli military. This means that it is providing some of the key tools that Israel used to inflict death and destruction on Gaza this summer (and in previous attacks). By hosting the "boat detection" exercise, the EU indicated its eagerness to deploy Israel's tools of mass murder against refugees.
Although the EU has tried to keep the nuclear research "discreet", it has openly celebrated more palatable forms of engagement with Israel.
José Manuel Barroso, the outgoing European Commission chief, posed for photos with Benjamin Netanyahu, when the two men approved an energy and water cooperation agreement in 2012. The JRC tried to sell that accord as ecologically sound by stressing that it concerned renewable energy and resource conversation.
Environmental campaigners have a name for tactics designed to rebrand a villain as a tree-hugger: "greenwashing."
Cooperation on "clean" energy provides scant comfort to Gaza's people, whose only power plant was bombed by Israel this summer. Nor should it be forgotten that Israel attacked a center for autistic children that had solar panels on its roof. So much for Israel's commitment to renewable energy.
Israel is a nuclear-armed rogue state. I'm sure that many decent people would be horrified to learn that the EU is liaising with the very agencies that developed Israel's nuclear weapons -- even if this cooperation is "discreet."
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 September 2014.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Earlier this year Angela Merkel was awarded Israel's "presidential medal of distinction." The German chancellor merited this honor, some journalists dutifully reported, because of her "unwavering commitment to Israel's security."
That "unwavering commitment" might help explain why Merkel does not appear perturbed by what happened to Ibrahim al-Kilani. He had spent twenty years in Germany, qualifying there as a civil engineer, before returning to Gaza in 2001, where he had married and started raising a family. On Monday, Ibrahim, his wife Taghreed and their five children were wiped out in an Israeli attack.
Ilias, the youngest of the children, was only four. His sister Yasmin was six. The other siblings -- Yassir, Sawsan, and Rim -- were aged between eight and twelve. It should not be necessary to spell out that they were entirely innocent of any crime.
One day after this family was wiped out, Germany and all European Union governments issued a statement on the events in Gaza. As the Union's foreign ministers were meeting that day, they had every opportunity to demand an explanation from Israel as to why it had just killed a family of EU citizens.
Yet the EU's statement did not even mention the al-Kilanis. Rather, the foreign ministers stressed that they recognized "Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks."
Israel was politely asked to make sure its military action was "proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law."
It is hard to remain calm when reading those carefully chosen words -- of abject cowardice. Not for the first time, the EU was blaming Palestinians for the atrocities visited upon them by a brutal occupation. The truth was turned upside down.
Many of us have long suspected that the European Union doesn't really care when Palestinians are killed by Israel. Now we can say for certain it doesn't care even when Israel bombs EU citizens.
Ahmad al-Kilani, Ibrahim's cousin, made this point in an interview with a Turkish news agency: “No German or American nationality stops Israel from murdering us. Israel is like a monster that destroys everything it encounters. This is genocide.”
Eventually, the German foreign ministry announced yesterday that it was seeking "clarification" from Israel about why it killed the al-Kilani family.
That is a hollow gesture, when you recall that Merkel explicitly stated last week that "we stand by the side of Israel, when it comes to self-defense." She has not withdrawn that remark, despite the abundant evidence that the al-Kilani family and the people of Gaza more generally have not been bombed for reasons of "self-defense" but in grotesque acts of aggression.
The al-Kilani family had already suffered enormously from Israel's latest attack on Gaza. They had fled their home in Beit Lahia, an area in northern Gaza that Israel has shelled continuously.
Stand by Palestine
They tried to escape once more, finding an apartment in Rimal, supposedly a safer part of Gaza City. It has been reported that Taghreed al-Kilani was preparing an iftar, the meal that ends a day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, when Israel shelled them.
More than 700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the current Israeli offensive.
Insipid requests from the European Union for Israel to behave in a "proportionate" manner won't stop the slaughter. It, therefore, falls to ordinary people of conscience around the world to take action.
We know what we have to do: intensify our campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. If Angela Merkel and other Western leaders are so determined to side with Israel, the rest of us must stand by the Palestinians.
Thanks to Shahd Abusalama for help with research and translation.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 July 2014.