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Hilary Aked

Israel lobby in Brussels exposed

Pro-Israel groups have proliferated in the EU capital over the last 15 years [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 May, 2016

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Comment: A detailed new report raises troubling questions for all those who retain hope for a transparent and democratic Europe that is supportive of the Palestinian struggle, writes Hilary Aked

A new report has exposed the Israel lobby in Brussels's extensive links to illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to the Islamophobia industry in the USA.

'The Israel lobby and the European Union', a Public Interest Investigations/Spinwatch report (full disclosure: I work for Spinwatch on a freelance basis) was launched in Brussels on Monday and is being presented in London on Friday. The full report is available free to download and read here.

Lead author David Cronin, building on work carried out for his 2011 book 'Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation' shows how pro-Israel groups have proliferated in the EU capital in the last 15 years, partly in order to counter the growing Palestine solidarity movement. The European Friends of Israel lobby group, for example, was modelled on Britain's influential Westminster group Conservative Friends of Israel.

He and co-authors Sarah Marusek and David Miller put the lobby firmly in the context of Brussels' billion-dollar lobbying industry which some suggest influences up to 75 percent of legislation on issues as diverse as pharmaceuticals, finance and, of course, foreign policy.

Despite a chronic lack of transparency, they use investigative research techniques to uncover some of the funders of the burgeoning Israel lobby in Europe - and what they find is not pretty. For example, donors to the US fundraising arm of the Friends of Israel Initiative, a group closely linked to the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society think tank, include the Abstraction Fund and the Hertog Foundation, both of which also give money to an organisation called Friends of Ir David, otherwise known as Elad.

This coalition of groups peddling fear of Muslims is strongest in the US but is increasingly exporting its hate-filled politics to the UK and the continent

Elad is responsible for contributing to the slow ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, using an archaeological dig as cover – with the full support of the Israeli government and Jerusalem municipality, naturally.

Meanwhile the biggest known donor to the Friends of Israel Initiative is American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. He also gives generously to Christians United for Israel, Friends of the IDF and the Birthright programme as well as the Republican party in the USA. Adelson famously topped a list of potential donors penned by Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu.

Donations made by the Middle East Forum and Abstraction plug the Friends of Israel Initiative into the transatlantic Islamophobic network. This coalition of groups peddling fear of Muslims is strongest in the US but is increasingly exporting its hate-filled politics to the UK and the continent.

Likewise, little-known academic Marc Cogen, who co-founded the only marginally less right-wing European Friends of Israel group, is linked to some of the same political circles. He spoke at a so-called 'Counterjihad Conference' in 2007 alongside the likes of Robert Spencer (once banned from the UK), Bat Ye'or (the grandmother of the 'Eurabia’' conspiracy theory) and Filip Dewinter of the far-right Belgian/Flemish Vlaams Belang party. 

The report notes the turn towards Israel made by the European far-right, epitomised in the 'Jerusalem Declaration' involving Dewinter and others. Even though this doesn't always signal a genuine shift away from anti-Semitism (and is in fact merely motivated by the comparative mainstream acceptability of Islamophobia), Israel's political leaders have tended to reciprocate the affection of the European right in return. Their major contemporary concern is what what they dub the 'new anti-semitism', which the authors describe as an attempt "to silence any criticism of Israel".

the meticulous detail in this new report drives home just how deep these channels of influence go

The report shows that the lobby in Europe has been key to efforts to criminalise the activities of movements engaging in forms of resistance against Israeli oppresion sanctioned by international law. At the same time, it has worked to discredit those campaigning for justice as part of the international Palestine solidarity movement. The lobby has also invested energy in dissuading European law-makers from sanctioning Israel for its abuses, notably seeking to sabotage guidance concerning the labelling of settlement goods.

As well as engaging in "corporate outreach", and winning sponsorship from the likes of arms company Israeli Aerospace Industries - one of the world’s major manufacturers of drones - pro-Israel lobby groups in Brussels enjoy a close relationship with the Israeli government, via its embassies.

The report documents how European Friends of Israel even acknowledged its role as, effectively, a mouthpiece of the Israeli government, when it published a list of arguments in favour of the attack on Gaza in 2014 explicitly attributed to Israeli diplomats.

While the fact that deeply conservative American political activists and the Israeli government have an influence on policymaking in the EU is perhaps not surprising, the meticulous detail in this new report drives home just how deep these channels of influence go, raising troubling questions for all those who retain hope for a transparent and democratic Europe supportive of the Palestinian struggle.


Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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