Are property speculators bankrolling European Friends of Israel?

The European Parliament’s official response to Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza echoed talking points from the Zionist lobby. 

Eyad Al Baba APA images

An investor in “distressed” Spanish real estate is among the wealthy supporters of the most prominent Israel lobby group in Brussels.

Dan Meyer, founder of the firm REInvest Capital, is a board member with European Friends of Israel (EFI), according to papers filed with the Belgian authorities.

For the past few years, REInvest has been trying to turn Spain’s economic woes to its advantage. The firm’s website says it is focused on “distressed Spanish opportunities,” particularly in “prime city center” locations and on the coast.

Meyer, who previously worked for the banking titan Goldman Sachs, has more than two decades experience in the real estate market. His firm claims to have invested in property worth around €11 billion ($12.3 billion) since the mid-1990s.

He was one of several business people to sit on the EFI board last year.

Another was Davina Bruckner, chairperson of the Luxembourg-based firm Eastbridge and board member with Belgium’s largest insurer Ageas.

Eastbridge has gone from importing branded consumer goods like Nestlé and L’Oreal into central and eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early 1990s to snapping up skyscrapers in Manhattan. In 2011, it bought 70 Pine Street, formerly the American International Building, in New York’s financial district.

Reportedly managing more than €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in assets, Eastbridge has strong connections to EFI. Davina’s father Yaron Bruckner, who set up Eastbridge and remained active in it until his death in August 2013, was one of EFI’s founders.

Marc Grosman, owner of the men’s clothing retailer Celio, has also been a board member of Eastbridge. Grosman, too, sat on the EFI board last year (a document listing the entire board can be found below).

Influence

On several occassions, I have asked EFI for details about who finances its activities. While the group has always refused to divulge those details, there are good reasons to believe that it relies on its board members for a significant proportion of its funding. Papers lodged with the Belgian authorities indicate that its board members pay annual subscriptions of up to €5 million ($5.7 million).

EFI’s influence could be seen in the European Parliament’s official response to Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer.

In July 2014, the parliament approved a resolution which essentially copied and pasted talking points provided by EFI. That motion referred to a “ceasefire plan” that was “so far only accepted by Israel.”

Not only did the parliament lend credence to the fallacy that Israel coveted peace, it neglected to mention that Hamas had not even been consulted about the “truce” offer in question.

Lately, EFI has been promoting fundraising appeals for the Israeli military, despite how it stands accused of committing war crimes.

EFI seems to have disappeared from a register of lobbyists administered by the European Commission. Although groups seeking to shape EU policies are not legally obliged to sign up to that register, they are required to do so if they want access badges for the European Parliament.

EFI did not reply when I asked why it can no longer be found in the register. The group had registered for 2014 and was required to update its details by the end of April this year. Its previous entries to the register have been skimpy. For example, the group reported that its overall budget for 2012 came to €400,000 ($453,000), all of which came from donations.

No scruples

Marek Siwiec (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung/Flickr)

As well as its management board, EFI has a political board, comprised of a cross-party alliance in the European Parliament.

Before last year’s election to the Parliament, that board was chaired by Polish politician Marek Siwiec. A biographical note posted on Siwiec’s Facebook page indicate that he is now the EFI’s president, even though he no longer has a seat in the European Parliament.

He has continued to visit the parliament’s headquarters and can be seen in a program filmed there last December by Revelation TV, a pro-Israel channel.

I contacted Siwiec asking him if he is indeed EFI’s president and if he is receiving money from the organization or its supporters. He did not reply.

Siwiec has combined being an elected representative with working as a corporate lobbyist. During his decade in the European Parliament, he found time to advise Yalta European Strategy (YES).

Run by one of Ukraine’s richest men, Viktor Pinchuk, YES has been pushing for closer bonds between Ukraine and the EU. The stronger trading links advocated by YES would almost certainly benefit Pinchuk directly. As Siwiec was active on foreign policy issues in the European Parliament, his involvement with YES was surely a conflict of interests.

I doubt that caused him too many pangs of conscience, however. Supporters of war crimes do not tend to have scruples. With public opinion increasingly critical of Israel, their success depends on groveling to the rich and powerful.

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David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest 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).