Did public pressure kill Denmark-Israel weapons deal?

Israeli weapons, used against Gaza, are often marketed as “battle-tested.”

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Denmark has canceled what could have been a major arms purchase from Israel’s Elbit Systems.

Arms industry publication Jane’s revealed on 1 May that the Danish military had canceled a plan to buy 21 155-mm self-propelled artillery systems.

According to Jane’s, Elbit was a finalist for the contract along with South Korea’s Samsung. In March, the Danish newspaper Politiko reported that military procurement authorities had all but officially chosen the Israeli system.

Danish military officials say the cancelation was a financial decision driven by the need to reassign funding to other purposes.

But Christian Juhl, a member of the Danish parliament for the Red-Green Alliance, told the publication Modkraft that the official explanation is a cover story.

As lawmakers began to take an interest in the issue and it began to get negative media exposure, the government looked for a way out, according to Juhl.

Modkraft says the potential purchase came to light when a Danish colonel revealed on Facebook last December that a number of his country’s soldiers were in the Negev (Naqab) region of present-day Israel for a training exercise.

The post led to parliamentary questions and the disclosure that 20 Danish personnel had been there to test the Elbit artillery system.

According to Juhl, the defense ministry got cold feet over the purchase amid growing public opposition.

In March, Norway’s public broadcaster NRK reported on the growing criticism of the planned purchase from Elbit because the weapons Denmark could acquire were likely “tested on Palestinians.”

NRK said that Denmark has previously purchased weapons including grenades and shells from Israel.

Danish lawmaker Juhl warned that the artillery purchase might only have been postponed for electoral reasons and could be resumed later.

Politiko reported in March that the potential arms deal with Israel was a source of growing political problems for the leftist parties supporting the government.

Denmark is currently ruled by a center-left government led by the Social Democrats, which does not include the Red-Green Alliance.

In a posting on his own Facebook page, Juhl said the weapons deal with Elbit had been “embarrassing” for the coalition parties.

Arms embargo pressure

There is mounting pressure for an embargo on arms trade with Israel, especially since last summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and at least 547 children.

Last July, in the midst of the Israeli attack, several Nobel laureates and dozens of writers and intellectuals appealed in The Guardian for an end to the arms trade with Israel.

“Israel’s military technology is marketed as ‘field-tested’ and exported across the world,” says the letter whose signatories include Nobel Peace Prize winners Adolfo Peres Esquivel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Betty Williams, Jody Williams and Mairead Maguire.

“Military trade and joint military-related research relations with Israel embolden Israeli impunity in committing grave violations of international law and facilitate the entrenchment of Israel’s system of occupation, colonization and systematic denial of Palestinian rights.”

“We call on the UN and governments across the world to take immediate steps to implement a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid,” the letter concludes.

A number of European pension funds, including several in Denmark, have barred investments in Elbit because of its involvement in Israeli occupation activities.

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Comments

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I don't understand. Why wouldn't they just purchase them from a different company (Ali wrote that there were multiple companies competing for the contract) if they wanted to boycott Elbit Systems? They wouldn't need to scrap the deal altogether. If you are suggesting it was politically unviable to publicly cancel a contract because it was with an Israeli company, then obviously public pressure against the contract wasn't so strong.

Politically, it seems like pressure to cancel the deal would come from the Red-Green alliance and other far-left parties upon which the Social Democrats are leaning in order to hold a parliamentary majority.

But major centrist (left or right) political parties seem ready to conduct business with Israel.

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your logic is similar to saying that Norwegians must all be aligned with Pam Geller because of how many "leftists" Anders Brievik killed. Or that Americans all want Hillary because the party has picked her to run for them.
It's unlikely that you really believe that masses of people support Israel's crimes.

However, if all you are saying is that lots of governments are "ready to do business with Israel", then that is the whole point of a campaign such as BDS. When governments do unethical things such as reward a weapons vendor that profits from such human misery, people need to wake them up and say "no". When corporations abuse workers, people need to boycott and make them stop. It's elementary, and overdue for Palestine.

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Laws are being passed by the US Congress to target companies and governments participating in BDS actions. Canada is also taking a harsh line against BDS. Denmark trades with both countries, as well as with Israel itself. It would therefore be impolitic for the Danish government to admit this concession to the boycott movement . To do so would invite reprisals, yet to go ahead with the purchase of arms used in war crimes against Palestinians would also have repercussions with the general public. Thus, the government has announced a contract cancellation due to sudden financial constraints. This is exactly what is to be expected in the face of growing citizen pressure against the deal. It's how governments cover their actions. Afterwards, if the army really wants those weapons, they will be quietly procured from another source. Military budgets have lots of little pockets of discretionary funding.

But the fact is, Israel's butchery of Palestinians last summer made a big impression on people in Denmark. Government officials took a pretty cavalier attitude to those events. Ordinary citizens did not.

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Let's hope so. The Danes have throughout history been decent so it is not surprising to find them doing once again the right thing. Israel should be shunned by all decent people. It is an action that is cumulative and will make a difference.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.