Revealed: EU science chief promised to be “flexible” towards Israel’s war crimes

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This article was originally published in Electronic Intifada on Tuesday the 15th of October.

Israel’s war crimes sometimes have to be overlooked, according to a senior European Union representative.

During 2013, Israel reacted angrily when Brussels officials issued a policy paper stating that the EU would not award funding to firms and institutions based in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. Rather than standing up to Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, the EU’s top figures tried to downplay the significance of the “guidelines” contained in that paper.

One letter — not published before now — shows that some of this downplaying was tantamount to grovelling.

Signed by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU’s commissioner for scientific research, in November last year, that letter states that both the Union and Israel “are conscious of the need to find flexible ways of implementing the guidelines.” Such flexibility was required, she argued, to “ensure full respect of the Union’s policy in relation to the territories occupied by Israel, while not deterring Israel’s association to EU programs.”

Don’t be fooled

Her attempt to sound balanced and nuanced should not fool anybody.

The only possible interpretation of her letter (published below) is that although the EU considers Israel’s colonization of the West Bank to be illegal, it is willing to compromise on that position for reasons of political expediency.

The construction of Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. They involve the tightening of Israeli control on land it acquired by force.

In other words, they are war crimes.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was advocating a flexible approach to war crimes.

Her letter was written in reply to a complaint about the guidelines from Jim Nicholson, a pro-Israel member of the European Parliament and a stalwart of the Ulster Unionist Party. Nicholson had claimed that excluding Israeli institutions in the West Bank from EU research would be “unhelpful” to the “sensitive talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority then being chaired by John Kerry, the US secretary of state.

I acquired these letters under freedom of information rules, while writing a report on how the Zionist lobby interacts with the European Union (my report will be published by the organization Spinwatch in the near future).

Eager to please

Torpedoing the EU’s guidelines has been something of an obsession for Israel and its staunchest allies.

The Brussels bureaucracy proved quite eager to please Israel.

Geoghegan-Quinn herself displayed flexibility to Israeli settlements just two weeks before the “guidelines” were published in the summer of 2013. The Irish politician approved an €800,000 ($1 million) research grant for Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics-maker which had its main factory in the West Bank.

Briefing notes prepared for her by EU officials acknowledged that Ahava was located in an illegal settlement but recommended that she go ahead and rubber-stamp the grant.

A separate internal paper from the EU’s executive, the European Commission, suggests that such officials were somewhat in awe of Israel’s technological prowess. Israel and Switzerland, both of which were involved in the EU’s multi-annual science program, were “among the most research-intensive and innovative countries in the world,” the paper states. “European researchers and innovators have much to gain from cooperating (and competing) with the best teams in these countries.” The EU is one of Israel’s main sources of research subsidies.

Between 2007 and the end of last year, Israeli firms and institutions signed nearly 1,500 grant agreements with the European Union. The total value of all EU research projects involving Israel in that period was €8.7 billion ($11 billion).

Dishonest

Many recipients of these grants can be linked to activities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Whenever she has been challenged about the surrounding issues, Geoghegan-Quinn has tried to defend the allocation of EU grants to the weapons manufacturers Elbit and Israel Aerospace Industries.

Dishonestly, she has insisted that the research being funded is “civilian in nature at all times.” Yet those companies have supplied surveillance equipment to the apartheid wall in the West Bank, and equipped the Israeli military with the warplanes used to bomb Gaza’s children.

Far from being “civilian in nature at all times,” some of the EU-funded schemes involving Israeli partners relate to the development of drones — inherently military aircraft.

Deception

Earlier this month, the EU’s foreign policy service issued a statement criticizing Israel’s latest settlement activities in apparently robust terms. Any further deepening of the EU’s relations with Israel will depend on Israel’s “engagement towards a lasting peace,” according to that statement.

The statement was partly a reaction to how the settler group Elad had stolen 26 houses from Palestinians in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem.

Elad’s larceny was carried out with the assistance of Israeli soldiers. If Brussels officials are really furious about this crime, then they should advocate that sanctions be swiftly imposed on Israel. Not only has the Union refused to contemplate punishing Israel, it has given important support to those responsible for ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been working in tandem with Elad to uproot Palestinians from Silwan under the pretext that they wish to build an archaeological park known as the City of David.

The IAA has its headquarters in East Jerusalem. Although the EU never recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, it has subsidized the IAA.

That authority took part in an EU-funded research project aimed at protecting heritage from earthquakes. The project had a total budget worth €3.5 million ($4.4 million) between January 2010 and December 2012.

Another internal EU paper says that the IAA gave a post office box address inside present-day Israel when applying to take part in that project. This is a very serious matter: it implies that an organ of the Israeli state resorted to deception in order to obtain EU funding.

Because that deception verges on fraud, it provides the EU with all the reasons it needs to stop subsidizing Israel. But instead of taking action, the EU has signed an agreement enabling Israel to take part in Horizon 2020, the Union’s latest research program.

Disgrace

Geoghegan-Quinn will be stepping down as an EU commissioner over the coming weeks. As a farewell gift, she has been awarded the Légion d’Honneur.

That is France’s highest accolade, The Irish Times informed its readers. Geoghegan-Quinn bagged the medal for her work to maintain a high level of research funding in challenging economic times.

No doubt, a few Irish people felt a sense of pride when they heard about this honor. I wasn’t one of them. By displaying flexibility towards Israel’s crimes, Geoghegan-Quinn has disgraced her nation.

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Photo: Palestinians are being pushed out of their homes in the Silwan area of occupied East Jerusalem. (Oren Ziv / ActiveStills)

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David Cronin is an Irish journalist and political activist, living in Belgium. His new book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).