Palestine, Israel and the EU: Unabridged interview with David Cronin (and audio of his Dublin lecture)

David Cronin (right) and David Landy (IPSC) in Dublin, July 2011

Back in December 2010, I interviewed Irish journalist, author and activist David Cronin for LookLeft (#5) magazine. I promised to publish the full interview – the subject of which was European Union collaboration with Israel – but with one thing and another, I never actually got around to it. David was back in Dublin last month giving a lecture for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and it reminded me to post the unabridged version, which you will find below.

Also, I made an audio recording of David’s lecture in Dublin last month which the IPSC has posted on their website. You can listen to the lecture by going here.

Unabridged interview with David Cronin
December 2010

LL: Amongst other things, your book, Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation, is a depressing litany of EU hypocrisy with regard to Israeli human rights abuses. What do you think are some of the most egregious examples of this?

DC: I would go further than describing the EU’s governments and its most powerful institutions as hypocritical. They are also complicit in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.

Relations between the EU and Israel are covered by an “association agreement” which came into effect in 2000. This agreement contains a legally-binding clause, stating that both sides must respect human rights. Even though Israel has no interest in living up to that commitment, the EU has happily deepened its cooperation with Israel. We know that the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for example, involves the denial of Palestinian rights on a massive scale. Palestinians are hemmed into a tiny part of the West Bank, children who are seriously ill have died on the roadside because their parents were blocked from bringing them to hospital by Israeli military checkpoints.

Yet even though Israel stepped up the construction of Jewish-only settlements in 2008, the EU decided that year to “upgrade” its relations with Israel, inviting Israel to integrate itself into the Union’s single market for goods and services.

More recently, the EU and Israel have signed a new agreement on agricultural trade, allowing nearly all Israeli food exports enter the Union without having customs duties levied on them. In theory, food grown in Israeli settlements are excluded from the scope of this accord. In practice, Agrexco, the leading Israeli food exporter, labels food from the settlements as “made in Israel” – implying that it was grown within what the EU considers to be Israel. EU officials are perfectly aware that the system is being abused. By extending the scope of the trade preferences, they are accommodating the abuses and conniving in the expansion of Israeli settlements and the theft of Palestinian land.

LL: Explain how, using the pretext of “scientific co-operation”, the EU is both funding and rewarding the terrorisation of Palestinians by the Israeli military.

DC: Scientific research is the most lucrative form of Israeli cooperation with the EU. Under the EU’s so-called framework programme for research – which in its current phase runs from 2007 to 2013 – Israel is taking part in at least 800 joint schemes with European universities and companies, with a total value of €4.3 billion. The Israelis are expecting that they will have directly received more than €500 million worth of grants once the programme is completed in 2013.

Irish people should be outraged at how our country’s representative on the European Commission, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, is administering these grants. Among the beneficiaries of the grants are arms-makers like Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries that supplied the pilotless drones and other warplanes used to terrorise the people of Gaza in 2008 and last year. I have challenged Geoghegan-Quinn about her support for Israel’s war machine. She claimed that all of the grants in question are civilian, rather than military in nature. But that is a threadbare assurance because there is nothing to stop Israeli arms companies from using innovations realised with the support of the European taxpayer to develop ever-more lethal weapons.

LL: Why does the EU continues to disregard Israeli human rights abuses in pursuit of Israel’s ‘integration’ into the EU? Is it for military, economic or ideological reasons, a guilt hangover from the Holocaust – or some mixture of these?

DC: A mixture, I would say. The Holocaust has left an indelible stain of shame on Europe’s history and political leaders have a legal and moral duty to ensure nothing similar ever happens again. But it is a gross insult to the Jews murdered by the Nazis to allow them – metaphorically speaking – be exhumed and used as part of a sordid propaganda war. Geoghegan-Quinn has been facilitating that war lately, when she announced that the Israeli state will be intimately involved in a new Holocaust research project, to which the EU is contributing €7 million. Every time Israel commits a major crime it tries to justify the unjustifiable by invoking the Holocaust. Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, has defended the murder of Palestinian children by pointing out that Britain’s Royal Air Force hit a children’s hospital in 1944, when it tried to bomb a building that served as the Gestapo’s headquarters in Denmark. Why is Geoghegan-Quinn playing along with this deliberate misuse of history by the Netanyahu government?

One key factor behind recent cooperation is that – since the 11 September attacks in the US – Israel has presented itself as indispensable in the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration. Indeed, the Israeli economy is becoming more and more reliant on what is euphemistically called a “homeland security” industry. The reality is that industry is based around weapons and surveillance technology that have been “battle-tested” in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. And in Afghanistan and Pakistan, too: Israel has made many of the weapons being used by Nato forces in that disgusting, colonial war.

The EU has happily embraced the companies that make this technology. Some of them are even involved in a forum called the EU-Israel business dialogue, where chief executives get together to brainstorm on how they can increase trade.

LL: Much, but not enough, has been written about the growing Israel Lobby in Europe. How powerful do you think it really is? Is it a case of the tail wagging the dog as some argue, or is it merely a case of mutual interests synchronising?

DC: I don’t think that the growth of the Israel lobby in Europe over the past decades is the only reason why EU-Israel relations have deepened. But it is one factor that has not been analysed as much as it ought to be. What is significant is that some of the big players in the Israel lobby in Washington – particularly the American Jewish Committee – have come to the conclusion that it would be wrong from a strategic perspective for Israel to regard the US as the only ally it will ever need. These guys have realised that while the US remains the pre-eminent power in world affairs, Israel should also be reaching out to others. That is why the American Jewish Committee decided to open an office in Brussels in recent years, so that it could be seen sticking up for Israel in the EU’s corridors of power.

The lobby has friends in high places. Robert Cooper, one of the top officials in the EU’s newly-established diplomatic service and a former adviser to Tony Blair, has written joint pamphlets with hawkish Israel supporters, for example. The Israel lobby is quite dangerous, in my view, because it is fixated on getting the US and its allies in Europe to take military action against Iran. The last thing that the world needs is another war in that region but the lobby is so extremist that it is pushing for one – and appears to be having considerable success in twisting the arms of the powerful.

LL: On your Irish tour, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Europe – an institution that ostensibly fights bigotry but in reality attempts to conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – accused yourself and the IPSC of “anti-Semitic scapegoating” and called on the Taoiseach to “publicly condemn the … book cover’s subliminal message”. What is your response to this accusation?

DC: The SWC’s allegation was absurd. Like most people who are serious about defending the rights of the Palestinians, I don’t have an anti-Semitic bone in my body.

LL: Finally, the central argument of your book is that as long as the EU and its member states continue to economically and socially embrace and reward Israel, there is no chance for peace. What advice do you have for people seeking to redress this terrible situation?

DC: It is a terrible situation but there are some grounds for optimism. The Israeli political and military establishment is very worried about the international Palestine solidarity movement. One of the most important events in the Israeli political calendar is its “security” conference in Herzliya. The 2010 conference heard a presentation from an outfit called the Reut Institute, which identified human rights campaigners as a threat to the state of Israel. Clearly, this is a sign that the movement is having an impact.

The campaign to boycott Israel should be supported by all people of conscience. It is worth bearing in mind that this campaign was initiated by Palestinian political activists, not by bleeding heart Western liberals, so joining it is a practical way to stand up for the people who are most directly affected by the occupation.

My advice is simple: get involved in your nearest Palestine solidarity group or if there isn’t one where you live, set one up. We can’t rely on our politicians to deliver justice, so it falls to ordinary people to take action.

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