Way back in 1979, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn became the first female minister in an Irish government since Constance Markievicz in 1919.
Unfortunately, however, Geoghegan-Quinn is not a feminist trailblazer. In her current role as a European commissioner, she is implementing policies that are deeply harmful to the women and children of Palestine.
Israel is the most active non-European participant in the EU’s program for scientific research, which Geoghegan-Quinn oversees. Under her direction, Israel has taken part in hundreds of EU-financed cooperation schemes, the total value of which exceeds €4 billion ($5.3 billion).
Among the recipients of these grants are the makers of drones that were used to terrorize the people of Gaza when Israel bombed them for eight consecutive days in November 2012.
Geoghegan-Quinn and her advisers have been alerted to how the EU is subsidising Israel’s war industry by many Palestine solidarity campaigners. Yet she has refused repeatedly to take any action.
This can only mean one thing: Ireland’s representative in the European Commission is abetting Israel’s crimes against humanity.
Why is Geoghegan-Quinn embracing Israel?
Privately, some members of her entourage have told me that the EU needs to have close links with Israel because it is something of a world leader in information technology. Their argument is that companies and policy-makers must try to emulate Israel if the EU’s own technology sector is to flourish.
This argument skirts around the fact that Israel’s technology boom cannot be viewed separately from the occupation of Palestine. Brochures published by Israel’s enterprise promotion authorities make no bones about how the occupation provides Israel with a “competitive advantage,” particularly in terms of developing products for the “homeland security” market.
What this really means is that Israel regards the West Bank and Gaza as laboratories for new weapons and surveillance equipment. The Palestinian people are accorded a status similar to animals used in cruel experiments.
Geoghegan-Quinn speaks regularly about how she is pursuing an agenda that is of fundamental importance to Europe’s economic policies.
Let us be clear: any policy that relies — even partly — on supporting Israel’s war industry is by definition immoral.
A number of Irish universities are actively collaborating with Israeli arms companies.
Trinity College, here in Dublin, is part of an EU-funded consortium called Total Airport Security System (TASS). As its title suggests, this has involved testing new scanning equipment in airports, including Heathrow in London.
While the idea of keeping airline passengers safe appears laudable, the involvement of Elbit, Israel’s top weapons manufacturer, in the project raises questions about its precise purpose.
Here is the kind of question that must be raised: why has a famous institution, situated just across the River Liffey, teamed up with Israel’s war industry?
Over the past few months, there have been quite a few news stories published indicating that there is serious friction between the EU and Israel over the expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.
These stories give the impression that the EU and its governments have a strong aversion to Israeli conduct. But if we examine the situation a little more closely, we will see that the EU is facilitating the very conduct it claims to oppose.
Some of the companies receiving grants administered by Geoghegan-Quinn benefit directly from the construction of Israeli settlements. These companies include Motorola Israel, which has installed an “intruder detection” system in some settlements to ensure that Israelis in the West Bank can live free from contact with the indigenous people of that territory. In other words, then, Geoghegan-Quinn is rewarding firms that profit from Israeli apartheid.
Even worse, the European Commission sponsored an arms exhibition held in Tel Aviv just a few days before Israel’s offensive against Gaza in November. And in the past few weeks, the Commission has launched a new project on using drones to intercept cars and boats that law enforcement bodies want to search. Israel Aerospace Industries, another maker of drones used to bomb civilians in Gaza, is among the project’s “partners.”
Representatives of the European Union constantly say that they regard respect for human rights as sacrosanct. But in reality there is an enormous gap between the EU and genuine advocates of human rights.
Whereas Palestinians and their supporters have been calling for a boycott of Israel, the European Union has been determined to increase its trade with Israel. As well as dramatically reducing the tariffs and customs duties levied on Israeli exporters, the EU has set up an official forum for “business dialogue,” where European and Israeli executives can brainstorm on how to maximize their profits.
U2 losing credibility
Some firms which benefit from the EU’s close commercial ties with Israel are less than transparent about what they are up to.
Let me give you an example. There is a firm in Belgium called Barco, which makes electronic screens for warplanes. In promotional material available on the firm’s website, Barco says that it has provided screens for a drone program called Watchkeeper.
This material omits some salient facts. Watchkeeper drones are made jointly by two arms companies, Elbit from Israel and Thales from France. They are intended for use by the British Army in Afghanistan. So Barco is helping to support not only the occupation of Palestine but also the military occupation of Afghanistan.
You can be forgiven if the name Barco does not mean anything to you. But I assume you have heard of a Dublin-based quartet called U2.
When not working out new ways to avoid paying income tax, U2 has been known to undertake the occasional concert tour. During its last world tour, U2 hired Barco to install massive video screens in the group’s futuristic stage The Claw.
To put it mildly, it is ironic that Bono, the group’s singer, used technology provided directly to him from a company profiting from human rights abuses to preach about human rights.
According to reports I have seen, U2 is threatening to release a new album and to play further concerts in the foreseeable future.
A clear message must, therefore, be sent to the band and its management: if you sign any more contracts with the weapons industry, you can no longer be taken seriously as human rights campaigners.
Intifada in jails
Two years have passed since the uprising which brought down Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. And in those two years, it has been fashionable for pundits to remark that the Arab Spring bypassed Palestine.
Yet this “analysis” ignores the daily acts of resistance by Palestinians against Israeli apartheid.
It ignores how Palestinian prisoners have begun a kind of intifada in Israeli jails.
The hunger strikes undertaken by numerous prisoners have proven to be an effective tactic against Israel’s use of administrative detention: that is to say indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.
Administrative detention is a sadistic practice that the Israelis inherited from the British Mandate, which governed Palestine from 1923 to 1948. Britain introduced a version of administrative detention — known as internment without trial — in the north of Ireland during the 1970s. Not only was it manifestly unjust, internment fanned the flames of conflict.
It is not entirely surprising that the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has refused to explicitly condemn Israel’s use of administrative detention. Ashton is a protégé of that war criminal, Tony Blair. Ashton’s silence indicates that the British and European elite continue to view Palestine from a colonial perspective.
If Israel is copying the practices of the British Empire, then it deserves zero respect from people of conscience worldwide.
Fortunately, a movement determined to isolate Israel is gaining strength. This movement urges boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Just as the black majority in South Africa called on the world to boycott that country during its apartheid era, representatives of a broad cross section of Palestinian society have urged the world to boycott the apartheid state of Israel.
If we are serious about demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinians, the least we can do is to heed their call.
This speech was delivered at a “counter-summit,” held in Dublin, to mark Ireland’s presidency of the European Union.