The Israel lobby has established a “firm presence in Brussels,” the de facto capital of the European Union, according to a new report.
Launched in London on Friday, The Israel Lobby and the European Union details the way many new Israel lobby groups were established in the years following the launch by Palestinians in 2005 of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
These include organizations such as the European Friends of Israel (EFI), a group founded within the European Parliament in 2006, and the Friends of Israel Initiative (FII), founded by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar in 2010.
Published by lobbying transparency organization Spinwatch, the report contrasts the multiple millions of dollars in cash and resources at the lobby’s disposal with the extremely modest budget of pro-Palestinian groups in Brussels.
FII alone received known funding of $2,448,750 between 2010 and 2013. Meanwhile, the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine had just $12,400 at its disposal for its Brussels office in 2012.
The report’s lead author is The Electronic Intifada’s David Cronin.
Right-wing US billionaires
Most of the groups detailed in the report “are opaque about their sources of funding.”
But most Israel lobby money comes from the far right in the US, said report co-author David Miller, including from noted pro-Israel and pro-Republican billionaires.
The report notes that while European Friends of Israel is associated with the political right in Europe, the Friends of Israel Initiative is even further to the right.
“Although its founding members include many Europeans, its funders include key American players in the transatlantic Islamophobia network,” the report states.
This follows a trend in the United States: whereas the lobby there has traditionally aimed for bipartisan support for Israel, the issue is becoming more aligned with the right.
In a sign of this shift, support for the Palestinians among young Democratic Party voters has increased markedly over the last few years.
US funders of the lobby in Europe include billionare casino magnate and key Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, leading Islamophobic demagogue Daniel Pipes and Nina Rosenwald – heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune, dubbed by journalist Max Blumenthal “the sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate.”
Adelson owns Israel Hayom, a leading pro-government tabloid in Israel. He also bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal in December.
Last month the most widely read columnist there resigned over what he termed a “gag order” placed on him by Adelson, who apparently did not take kindly to the columnist writing critically about his casinos.
Influence at the top
The report states that the Israel lobby in the EU “works in close cooperation with the Israeli state. The talking points for pro-Israel groups in Brussels are largely identical to those drawn up by Israeli ministries.”
As the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza was starting, European Friends of Israel posted a set of arguments to social media acknowledging that Israeli diplomats wrote them.
The report notes one instance of an Israel lobbyist securing a job near the top of the EU hierarchy. “Before he was nominated as Italy’s EU commissioner in 2008,” it explains, “Antonio Tajani was a [member of the European Parliament] with Silvio Berlusconi’s party, then called Forza Italia. He was also a political board member of [European Friends of Israel].”
The report details Tajani’s efforts during his time in office at the EU to increase military and high-tech links between the EU and Israel.
“This indicates that the EU perceives strong relations with Israel as being beneficial to corporate interests,” the report states.
Reaction to BDS
The number of new pro-Israel groups shot up in the years following the formal 2005 foundation of the BDS movement by Palestinian civil society.
The report says that “some of the key players in the Israel lobby [in the EU] are Christian Zionists who hold divergent views from many of their non-Christian counterparts.”
These include the European Coalition for Israel and the Israel Allies Foundation.
Noted Christian Zionists include Dutch European Parliament member Bas Belder, “one of Israel’s top supporters in Brussels,” the report says.
Belder belongs to SGP, a Dutch party which says it is “committed to a secure existence for Israel in the territory that God has assigned to the Jewish people.”
His party is also against same-sex marriage. But that didn’t stop Belder chairing a briefing organized by the Israeli foreign ministry during the 2014 war on Gaza at which the keynote speaker was an Israeli propagandist who has claimed Israel as an LGBTQ haven, the report notes.
David Saranga, the former head of the Israeli foreign ministry’s hasbara, or propaganda, department, says Israel has “some of the most advanced gay rights legislation in the world” – a distraction strategy known as pinkwashing.
Putting the report’s findings in context, co-author David Miller said it was important to see all these lobby groups “as part of the wider Zionist movement.”
He called for them all to be put on a compulsory transparency register.
Miller said that there is a “real opportunity” now to press for these organizations to have their charitable status revoked.
As the report concludes: “The lobby appears increasingly nervous that the European Union will finally take some concrete measures against Israel.”
European Friends of Israel asked candidates in the 2014 European Parliament elections to sign a pledge “to oppose the boycott of the state of Israel in the European Parliament.”
It’s an “ongoing battle” Miller said at the launch on Friday.
- Israel Lobby
- European Union
- European Friends of Israel
- Friends of Israel Initiative
- José María Aznar
- David Miller
- Sheldon Adelson
- Daniel Pipes
- Nina Rosenwald
- Israel Hayom
- Las Vegas Review-Journal
- Antonio Tajani
- European Parliament
- Silvio Berlusconi
- Forza Italia
- Christian Zionism
- European Coalition for Israel
- Israel Allies Foundation
- Bas Belder
- SGP (Dutch party)
- David Saranga