For the first time, I have been flattered by a pro-Israel lobbyist.
Toby Greene, the lobbyist in question, emailed me a few days ago, seeking help with a project he is conducting for Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Given your knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian issues and EU politics, your insights would be invaluable for my research,” he wrote.
The flattery proved fruitless. I promptly told Greene that I supported the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. Before I could entertain his request, I would need clarity about who he represented.
Greene replied that his position at Hebrew University was being financed by the Israel Institute in Washington. He claimed, however, that the university and the institute merely “support and facilitate my research” and “like all academics in Israel, I have full academic freedom and I define my own research projects.”
I don’t buy that explanation and have refused to help Greene’s project – which apparently relates to how Israel is viewed by Europe’s political elites.
Greene is a lobbyist masquerading as an analyst. Apart from holding a post at Hebrew University, he works for a propaganda outfit called the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
He has previously been a staff member with Labour Friends of Israel. That pressure group – embedded in one of Britain’s largest political parties – coordinates its activities with the Israeli government, as a recent Al Jazeera documentary illustrated.
Greene inferred that his sponsors at the Israel Institute cherish academic freedom. Is that really the case?
The institute was established in 2012 by Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli diplomat, and is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
The Schusterman Foundation has made clear that it is supporting academic research with the intention of “strengthening Israel at home and abroad.” The foundation’s declared mission includes funding “efforts to identify, mentor and train student leaders to support Israel and advocate for strong US-Israel relations.”
That is anathema to the whole concept of academic freedom.
Truly independent academics are focused on the production of knowledge, not on the “strengthening” of states or disseminating propaganda to further their political agendas.
I asked Ari Roth, director of the Israel Institute, if it had sponsored any academics who criticized Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. Rather than answering that question, he stated that “descriptions of our grantees can be found on our website.”
I could not find any criticisms of Zionism on its website. But I did find publications which were fundamentally dishonest. One of them claimed Israel had made “notable efforts to avoid civilian casualties” during its major offensive against Gaza in 2014.
Israel killed almost 1,500 civilians – including more than 550 children – in that offensive. That means around one in every 1,000 residents of Gaza was killed.
How can that be construed as a notable effort to avoid civilian casualties?
Toby Greene has told a similar lie. In 2014, he spoke of Israel’s “desire to avoid civilian casualties” while bombing Gaza.
He then had the impudence to scold Jon Snow from the broadcaster Channel 4, one of the few British journalists willing to challenge Israeli spin doctors. Accurately describing the effects of Israel’s attacks on children – as Snow did three years ago – meant he had “abandoned all pretense at objectivity,” Greene wrote.
Greene has a long record of downplaying crimes by both Israel and Britain.
Back in 2006, he advocated that powerful governments should be “ready to reward” Israel’s political leaders who make “positive steps” towards Palestinians. One reward that he recommended would be “international recognition that some of the settlement blocs [in the occupied West Bank] will remain as part of a future land-swap deal.”
That proposal echoed an argument by George W. Bush, then US president, in 2004 that it would be “unrealistic” for Israel to fully withdraw from the West Bank. By making that comment, Bush signaled that he would tolerate Israel’s settlement activities, despite how they violated international law.
Greene is also an apologist for Tony Blair.
When an official British enquiry issued a damning verdict last year on Blair’s determination to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Greene wrote a lengthy article that was highly sympathetic to the former prime minister.
To Greene, Blair’s only “sin” was “hubris: an overinflated misperception of his ability to shape international politics.” Causing hundreds of thousands to die and destroying an entire country are more grievous sins than hubris – though not, it would appear, in Greene’s mind.
Greene is still lying in the service of Israel. He recently alleged that an event held as part of a campaign to make Britain apologize for supporting Zionist colonization in Palestine was characterized by “anti-Semitic bluster.” A parliamentary investigation into the same event, which was held at Westminster, found no evidence to support the accusations of anti-Semitism made by the Israeli government and its surrogates.
Greene has written a book about the British Labour Party and Palestine. It is a 298-page fan letter to Blair disguised as sober analysis.
A note in the acknowledgements section of that book states: “Two employers, Labour Friends of Israel and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, generously allowed me the flexibility to pursue my research while under their employment.”
The note is perhaps the most instructive thing about the book. Greene has implicitly admitted that he is a flexible flunky.
He is a scholar who shills for Israel.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 18 May 2017.