David Cronin provides an indispensable account of Europe’s complicity with Israeli crimes in the occupied territories.
David Cronin, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto Press 2011), 200pp.
On 18th January 2009, a day after Israel had called a ‘unilateral ceasefire’ in its offensive against Gaza, the leaders of six major European nations, including Britain, France, and Italy arrived in Jerusalem for a gala dinner hosted by the then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert. After 22 days of bombing during which an estimated 1,417 Palestinians died (313 were children) these leaders expressed their solidarity with Israel and their fight for security, and pledged to stop the flow of arms to Hamas who they accused of starting the conflict.
Such a skewed view held unanimously by the leaders of the European Union’s most powerful nations should not strike us as strange. Indeed, as David Cronin goes on to show through detailed analysis, a web of financial and political interests has developed over the years in stark contradiction to the EU’s official line on human rights. This has subordinated the interests of Palestinians with whose suffering the EU is now fully complicit.
In the Holocaust Industry (Verso 2003), Norman Finkelstein demonstrated through analysis of legal and financial documents how organisations such as the World Jewish Congress amassed billons of dollars through a shake-down of European institutions. Under the guise of ‘Holocaust reparations’ this money has often been used to fund the pet projects of its leaders. David Cronin adopts a similarly factual rather than narrative account in his book. While at times making it less than punchy, the steady stream of facts revealing shady business links, political duplicity, and the overwhelming self-interest of the EU bureaucracy, makes up for the starkness of prose.
Of particular interest to this reviewer was his criticism of the role of EU quangos in the management of the two sides’ business relations. The status of scientific research funding is a particularly alarming case in point. As Cronin states: the EU is the largest non-Israeli contributor to scientific R&D in Israel (p.86). So important is that contribution that a quango with the title of The Israel-Europe R&D Directorate (ISERD) was set up to manage it. Despite assertions that the research is into purely civilian projects, such a distinction is almost impossible to maintain in a country where militarization encroaches into almost every part of the economy. Indeed, that the European Commission considers ‘security’ technologies to fall within the remit of civilian projects indicates the inadequacy of their oversight. A paper authored by the Commission in 2009 even goes so far as to state that funding so called ‘dual-use’ technologies, that is those that could have both civilian and defence applications, would be ‘desirable’ (p.89).
Cronin points out that such a statement cannot but be read in the context of Israel’s massive arms industry, which includes EU countries as some of its major clients. He also cites the case of Israel Aerospace Industries, a company receiving funding through the EU’s Clean Sky Project. While the project itself aims at developing aircraft that produce lower greenhouse gas emissions, the fact remains that the EU is directly funding a company that provides services to the Israeli Defence Forces, including the upgrading of systems in fighter jets used throughout the occupied territories (p.93).
As America made plans for its ‘War on Terror’ after the September 11th attacks, it seems that a great many among Israel’s business elite were rubbing their hands in anticipation. Business has indeed been booming for Israeli arms firms since the attacks as the EU budget on ‘security’ spending has increased considerably, and the number of contracts awarded to Israeli firms has followed suit.
The sheer number of EU/Israel joint projects (along with their bewildering array of acronyms) is a point stressed through the book. According to Cronin, Israel Aerospace Industries alone has taken part in over 50 EU financed projects (p.96). One of particular note is CAPECON, a project purported to involve the development of military drones for civilian uses. These are same drones that British judge Thomas Bingham described in 2009 as being ‘beyond the pale of human tolerance’ (p.96).
Along with the despicable practice of funding the development of technologies that could well be used to commit human rights abuses, the near non-existent oversight of grant allocation has inevitably led to money being handed out to companies and organisations based on occupied Palestinian territory. The EU repeatedly condemns settlement activity and yet, as Cronin reports, in 2008 French president Sarkozy spoke in Jerusalem of ‘forging co-operation in the business realm, as well as with Israeli universities’ (p.127). This at a time when French companies Veolia and Alstom are busy constructing a railway that will link Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem with those in the occupied West Bank, cementing their hold over the region. This is just one example of the flagrant hypocrisy of EU leaders highlighted by Cronin. Leaders in the media’s glare speak of upholding human rights and international law but in back rooms with the business elite, promise all the assistance they need to profit from Palestine’s pain.
It is a measure of this hypocrisy that after Hamas won the 2006 election to the Palestinian Legislative Council, America (followed by its European counterparts) refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Hamas to form a government of national unity. This stance was made all the more ludicrous after British MEP Edward McMillan Scott had hailed the election as ‘a model for the wider Arab region’(p.58).
Along with detailing the litany of business deals and co-operative ventures between the EU and Israel, Cronin also addresses the Israeli propaganda machine in Europe; the so-called Israel Lobby. Two lobby groups, The European Friends of Israel (EFI) and The Transatlantic Institute are of particular concern. Both deploy a combination of hospitality and propaganda campaigns to defend Israel against criticism and to promote its interests in Europe. One of the EFI’s professed motives is to counter the ‘black propaganda’ circulated by opponents of Israel. A statement that appears absurd given the EFI’s role in disseminating so called ‘fact sheets’ during the 2009 attack on Gaza. One of these included such groundless claims as that the Hamas leadership were hiding in a bunker beneath the Shifa hospital, and that the bombing of a UN school in Gaza was justified, as Hamas were using civilians as human shields to launch attacks from such schools in the strip (p.139).
The Transatlantic Institute is an offshoot of the notoriously hawkish American Jewish Committee. The AJC is an organisation that has often deployed accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s opponents, including celebrated Jewish Canadian author Naomi Klein (p.143). While not yet having the sort of hegemonic influence the American Israel lobby enjoys in the US, these organisations include members of European parliaments and numerous business leaders. They are also well-funded organisations. As Cronin notes, their sources of income are not listed in the EU register of ‘interest representatives’, a fact highlighting the lack of transparency in the entire lobbying process (p.142).
Recently offices opened in Brussels for B’nai B’rith (the world’s oldest Zionist organisation) and for The European Jewish Congress (who boasted of their role in lobbying MEPs to water down a resolution on Operation Cast Lead; p.148), both of which have been unswerving in their support of Israeli wars. In view of this, it seems unlikely that European/Israeli relations will become more transparent, and likely that the drum beat towards further conflict will continue alongside the sidelining of Palestinian suffering.
Cronin’s book does at times make a depressing read. The range of forces levelled against those who fight for justice for Palestine are huge. From their involvement in the ‘matrix of control’ used to carve up and subjugate the occupied territories, to that network of business and political interests, it seems the EU, despite official statements to the contrary, is now fully immersed in aiding the occupation. Cronin doesn’t spent much time offering solutions to these problems. For the record, he does offer his support for a one-state solution, citing the near impossibility of a two-state solution after Israel’s strangling of the potential for an independent Palestine through decades of brutal occupation (p.161).
The role of the EU here has been to follow America’s stance on a two-state solution. It has further demanded that Hamas recognise Israel in its current configuration. These positions show that the EU’s commitment to a peaceful settlement merely tracks the agenda of the Israeli establishment in maintaining it as a purely Jewish state. This both rejects the legitimate aspirations of Israel’s large Arab minority, to say nothing of ignoring the plight of Palestinians, whose land has been expropriated over the decades.
Cronin concludes the book with an examination of the arguments for a boycott of Israeli goods. Quite rightly he dismisses critics of that stance who claim such a boycott resembles too closely the sort seen in 1930s Germany, when the Nazi regime boycotted Jewish businesses. Such criticism is clearly flawed in that it conflates Israeli economic interest with Jewry as such. A conflation that many supporters of Israel leverage to shout down opponents with accusations of anti-Semitism. Cronin rightly points out that such an economic boycott was used successfully against apartheid South Africa.
While I am sympathetic to Cronin’s demands for a united international campaign against the EU’s legitimising of Israeli actions, I am sceptical as to how much influence such a campaign can have through purely parliamentary channels. Demands that the EU should suspend its association agreement with Israel, and the trade preferences they grant it, would certainly apply the sort of economic pressure that could yield small shifts in policy. But can we really expect political representatives both in EU member states and the European parliament itself to undertake actions that are clearly against their narrow self-interest? It seems almost as if Cronin has failed to pick up the theses from his own book. Has he not just devoted close to 200 pages demonstrating that these very representatives are knee-deep in the mire of this conflict through the network of business and interest groups who keep them so well heeled in their Brussels offices?
The problem here is not just that the EU has lacked teeth and moral authority over their dealings with Israel, but rather that the entire structure of the political process is geared towards maintaining and justifying such injustices that we see in Palestine. The interests of Israeli politicians and business leaders coincide with their EU counterparts on almost every issue of economic and foreign policy. And it is those deeply entrenched economic ties that reach from Europe to Israel and the US, which benefit the ruling class, and which cast aside the plight of Palestinians. Cronin’s book provides an indispensable account of the network of self-interested parties that profit from Palestine’s pain. It is one that every activist involved in this struggle should read. However to move from analysis to effective action we need to look beyond the confines of a parliamentary solution, and towards a world where the economic and political structures that maintain inequalities are themselves rendered obsolete.
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