Thursday, April 13, 2017

UKIP dominates new support group for Israeli settlers

The UK Independence Party specializes in distorting reality.

Nigel Farage, UKIP’s former leader and still its best-known representative, poses as a no-nonsense patriot. Curiously, his patriotism does not extend to insisting his chief backers pay their taxes in his beloved Britain.

One of Farage’s allies and donors was the multi-millionaire tax exile Aaron Banks. The aptly-named Banks accompanied Farage as he raced across the Atlantic in November last year, determined to be the first British politician received by Donald Trump, the newly-elected US president.

Banks has subsequently fallen out with the party over apparently trivial matters. Though such squabbles are entertaining, they should not distract from how – despite its claim to champion ordinary folk – UKIP frequently sides with the world’s bullies.

That much is clear from the strong level of UKIP involvement in a recently-formed group dedicated to supporting Israel’s war crimes.

Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament, as the group is called, has been set up in response to the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Fifteen members of the European Parliament support the new group, according to its website. Three of the 15 belong to UKIP, making it the only party to have more than one declared supporter.

Judea and Samaria is the name that Israel gives to the occupied West Bank. The “friends of” group seeks to legitimize Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank, all of which are illegal under international law.

Moreover, it seeks to build a direct link between the Brussels institutions and Israeli settlers.


The group was founded by Yossi Dagan, chair of Samaria Regional Council, which is a local authority for some of Israel’s illegal settlements.

Dagan – who was invited to Trump’s inauguration earlier this year – is diehard settler.

He came to prominence by vociferously opposing the evacuation of a small number of settlements in the West Bank.

The settlements were evacuated as part of what was (inaccurately) described as a “disengagement” plan implemented by the Israeli government led by Ariel Sharon in 2005.

In a 2015 interview with Arutz Sheva – a media network supporting the settler movement – Dagan bragged of his “public relations” skills. Politicians and journalists that he had brought on tours of Israeli settlements “now form the core of lobbying groups in their respective countries, advocating for Judea and Samaria, as well as against BDS,” he claimed.

Roger Helmer is among the UKIP representatives supporting Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament. Asked why he has endorsed an organization that defends Israel’s illegal conduct, Helmer replied that there is an issue of “strategic defense.”

“Having stood on the hills of Samaria and looked out over Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport all the way to the Mediterranean – a mere 10 miles or so – it is clear that the State of Israel is simply indefensible without control over those heights,” Helmer added. “This is an existential issue.”

If Helmer really believes his own words, then he has swallowed so much propaganda that he must have constant indigestion.

Only Israel and its supporters view the occupation of the West Bank as a matter of “strategic defense.” Every other analyst recognizes that it is the result of a belligerent act undertaken in 1967 and that the building and expansion of settlements contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Put more simply, they are war crimes.


Petr Mach, a Czech politician who is allied to UKIP, teamed up with Dagan to form Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament. Mach claimed that the group’s “main goal” is to promote a “balanced” and “fair” EU approach “regarding the West Bank.”

“We just wish to have free trade with everybody and we wish peace to everybody,” he stated by email.

The group’s professed desires for fairness and peace are bogus. A leaflet it has published alleges that the EU imposes “trade barriers” on “Jewish goods from the West Bank.”

That accusation is based on how the EU officially refuses to regard Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as part of Israel. Whereas the EU allows most goods from present-day Israel to be exported free of tax or customs duties, such privileges do not apply to produce from settlements in the West Bank.

The “trade barriers” of which the group complains have proven easy to circumvent. Casimex, a French company, markets wines from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights as “Wine of Israel.” The latter territory is a part of Syria, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

The group also peddles the lie that the European Union is funding “terrorism” by giving money to the Palestinian Authority.

“Terrorism” is the catch-all term that Israel and its supporters use to describe acts of Palestinian resistance.

Far from encouraging resistance, the EU has been financing cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In so doing, it has helped transform the Palestinian Authority into an enforcer of the Israeli occupation.

Apart from endorsing the Friends of Judea and Samaria group, UKIP representatives have flaunted what one called their “absolutely massive” support for Israel in other ways.

An apparently separate outfit, Friends of Israel in UKIP, has been circulating comparable baloney. One of that group’s absurd claims is that calling settlement activities in the West Bank illegal “impedes Israel’s security.”

Three years ago, Friends of Israel in UKIP found its logo derided on Twitter. Featuring a pound sign inside a Star of David, the logo triggered accusations of employing an anti-Semitic trope.

Although the group apologized for any offense caused, that image – or a very similar one – is still emblazoned on its Facebook page.

UKIP’s appreciation of Israel appears clumsy and its representatives appear to have a superficial knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs. That does not make its cheerleading for war crimes any less dangerous.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 12 April 2017.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Britain hands over embassy to Israel's war industry

Does Britain conceal the full extent of its support for Israel?

Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative politician, recently urged the prosecution of British citizens who fight for the Israeli military.

Warsi should be commended for raising an important issue – just as she did when resigning as a government minister over Britain’s refusal to condemn the 2014 bombing of Gaza.

Yet Britain provides more direct assistance to Israel than allowing Londoners and Mancunians join a foreign army.

One example of that assistance has avoided scrutiny: Britain’s embassy in Tel Aviv has hired senior players in Israel’s weapons industry.

Since 2011, the embassy has hosted an initiative called the UK Israel Tech Hub.

The initiative is chaired by Haim Shani, a civil servant-turned-entrepreneur. In 2012, Shani was appointed a director of Israel Aerospace Industries, a leading manufacturer of drones used in attacking Gaza.

The biographical note for Shani on the UK Israel Tech Hub website omits any reference to his post with the weapons firm.

It does, however, state that he is a former head of NICE Systems. No explanation is offered of how NICE, an Israeli corporation, has made surveillance equipment for police services and spying agencies around the world.

Shani is credited with overseeing a seven-fold increase in NICE’s revenues. Following his departure from the firm, its “cyber and intelligence” division was sold to Elbit, another supplier of drones to the Israeli military.

Parroting propaganda

I contacted the British embassy in Tel Aviv, asking why it is hosting an initiative led by a man with such strong connections to Israel’s war industry.

The embassy did not answer that question. Rather, a spokesperson replied that “Haim Shani is a well-respected Israeli businessman.”

The spokesperson claimed, too, that the UK Israel Tech Hub has “improved life” in Britain by facilitating cooperation with Israeli firms involved in health care and the environment.

Those comments indicate that the British embassy is parroting Israeli propaganda. Israel constantly boasts of innovations in water technology and medical treatment – as if such innovation cancels out Israel’s bombing of sewage treatment plants and hospitals.

Other members of Shani’s team also have strong connections to the Israeli war industry.

Naomi Krieger Carmy, director of the UK Israel Tech Hub, is described on the initiative’s website as an “8200 alumnus” – without any elaboration.

Unit 8200 is part of the intelligence corps in the Israeli military focused on technological research. Maor Chester, “digital solutions manager” at the hub, also states on her LinkedIn profile that she served in “an elite intelligence unit (8200)” of the Israeli military.

Amoral outlook

Every so often, the business press publishes articles celebrating how Unit 8200 has contributed to Israel’s “start-up nation” ethos.

Yet there is a far murkier side to its activities than helping to shape the Internet’s activities. Yair Cohen, a former head of the unit, has admitted that it has been involved in spying operations during all of Israel’s major offensives.

Those include activities by Mossad, the Israeli secret service.

In 2014, three dozen Unit 8200 veterans and reservists revealed that the unit deploys its capabilities to collect intimate personal information on Palestinian civilians living under occupation that is “used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”

They charged that the unit’s activity against Palestinians “fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.”

The UK Israel Tech Hub was officially launched by George Osborne, then Britain’s finance minister, in 2011.

During a visit to the Middle East, Osborne rhapsodized about Israel’s “amazing economic achievement.”

The achievement is a byproduct of profound injustice.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has enabled its weapons-makers to test out their products. Palestinians have been used as specimens in sadistic experiments.

The British embassy is coy about how it is encouraging such experiments. Yet it does hint that Israel’s much-celebrated technology sector is inextricably linked to an army that denies Palestinian rights.

“Cyber security” has been identified as a priority for cooperation. “Israel is a global leader in the cyber field, with a robust ecosystem drawing on capacity developed in the military arena,” the embassy has noted.

Last year, the embassy arranged for businesspeople based in Britain to visit Israel’s “cyber security” industry. Lockheed Martin, a US military giant with investments around the world, was among the firms to take part.

Matthew Hancock, a British government minister who joined that trip, has said that he wished to study how the partnership between private firms and public authorities that was deemed essential to the success of Israel’s technology sector could be emulated in Britain.

His comments reveal the amoral outlook of the British ruling elite. That elite is impressed by how Israel has turned a military occupation into a business opportunity.

The admiration runs so deep that Britain has handed over part of its embassy to the profiteers of occupation.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 4 April 2017.