Thursday, December 10, 2015

Israel lobbyist doubles up as adviser to European Parliament

A pro-Israel lobbyist is playing a direct role in organizing some of the European Parliament's key activities on the Middle East.


Nuno Wahnon Martins, a representative of the European Jewish Congress, describes himself as an adviser to Fulvio Martusciello, the Italian right-wing politician who chairs the Parliament's committee for relations with Israel.


Since assuming that "title" in late 2014, Wahnon has been so prominent during the committee's meetings that he appears to be "running the show," a well-placed source told me on condition of anonymity.


His prominence raises fundamental issues about the independence of the committee (or "delegation," as it is officially known).


The European Jewish Congress routinely puts pressure on the EU to adopt positions favorable to Israel. Has it succeeded in parachuting one of its lobbyists into a post within one of the EU's most powerful institutions?


When I emailed Wahnon with some questions, he offered to meet me. Over coffee, he said that he works as a freelance consultant for the European Jewish Congress, even though he is listed as the organization's director of European affairs


Wahnon claimed he does not draw a salary for his work in the Parliament but that he has twice had expenses of around €100 reimbursed. He admitted that he is acting as an adviser without the approval of the parliament's administration.


The Parliament's rules have no provisions on the recruitment of advisers -- as opposed to research assistants or secretarial staff -- by its elected members. "Officially, these positions [advisers to committee chairpersons] do not exist," he said.


Transparent?


He claimed that there is no conflict of interests involved and that he has been open about his activities. A note on his Twitter account, for example, states that he is an adviser to Martusciello.


"It would be much easier not to say anything," Wahnon added. "But it would be much less transparent."


The Parliament's delegation to Israel recently hosted a visit to Brussels for what it described as "young political leaders, mainly from Israel and Palestine." On the program for that visit, Wahnon was named as an "assistant" to Martusciello.


I asked the Parliament's administration if it regard the hiring of a professional pro-Israel lobbyist by its delegation to Israel as a conflict of interests and if it would investigate the matter. Marjory van den Broeke, a spokesperson for the administration replied: "Mr. Martusciello has no assistant on the payroll of the European Parliament called Nuno Wahnon Martins."


I then informed her that Wahnon's own Twitter account describes him as an adviser to Martusciello and enquired if the parliament pays advisers to chairpersons of its committees. "No, it does not," she replied.


Dismissive


Her dismissive attitude is symptomatic of a wider problem. The European Parliament overlooks how lobbyists with destructive agendas shape many of its policies and activities.


In my book Corporate Europe, I documented how members of the Parliament signed and proposed amendments to financial sector regulations that were drafted for them by banks and hedge funds. As many of these amendments were approved by a parliamentary majority, the effect was that proposals supposedly intended to prevent an economic crisis of the type Europe is still enduring were altered by the gamblers who caused the crisis in the first place.


A similar thing is happening with regard to the parliament's relations with Israel.


Because of his position, Fulvio Martusciello commands respect from the Israeli elite. He uses the platforms afforded to him to express views that are at odds with both public opinion in Europe and, on occasion, with EU policy.


According to The Jerusalem Post, he has argued that an EU decision that goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank be labeled as such amounts to "criminal discrimination" against Israel.


"Europe is loud about Israel, but quiet about 200 other conflicts around the world," Martusciello has also said. The opposite is closer to the truth, by the way: last year the EU imposed an arms embargo on Russia but refused to even entertain the idea of halting its weapons trade with Israel.


In a personal capacity, Martusciello should be free to say whatever he wishes. Yet he is not entitled to invite a pro-Israel lobbyist to effectively hijack part of a public institution.


The European Jewish Congress is not the voice of Jews across this continent, despite how it may give that impression. Rather, it is a highly partisan lobby group. By habitually taking a pro-Israel stance, it does a disservice to the numerous Jews horrified by Israel's belligerence.


Wahnon, a qualified attorney from Portugal, has made a career out of promoting Israel in Brussels. He has previously worked for two other pro-Israel groups, B'nai B'rith and European Friends of Israel.


Wahnon confirmed to me that his access badge for the parliament's buildings categorizes him as an intern. This morning, I phoned Martusciello's office asking to speak to Martusciello himself. Instead, my call was transferred to Wahnon.


I don't believe that he just happened to be in that office. It is much more likely that the pro-Israel lobby is paying him to be there in an effort to buy influence.


This is a squalid case of democracy being undermined by supporters of Israeli apartheid -- and of the powers that be not giving a damn.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 December 2015.

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