Diplomat who used sex to sell Israel advises top EU lobby group

An image from a photoshoot reportedly organized by Israeli propagandist David Saranga. (Maxim)

Two markedly different images of the Israeli military have emerged: the grainy and the glossy.

The grainy image is epitomized by the new video of soldiers murdering two teenage boys. This image is often captured by amateurs. It is authentic.

The glossy image is of a caring force that does everything to avoid civilian harm — the most moral in the world, according to some politicians. This image is constructed professionally. It is fraudulent.

Spindoctors occasionally try to add a new layer of gloss, hoping that it will conceal the cruelty with which Israel has become synonymous. One such effort was a photo shoot for Maxim, a magazine popular among certain types of men. It featured a number of scantily-clad women, all of whom had apparently served in the Israeli military.

Rebranding

That 2007 feature was reportedly the brainchild of David Saranga, a “rebranding” specialist then working for Israel’s consulate in New York.

During an investigation for Spinwatch, an organization monitoring the “public relations” industry, I learned that Saranga is now advising a leading pro-Israel group in Brussels.

Saranga can often be seen hanging out with the main figures in European Friends of Israel (EFI). That group was formed by members of Britain’s Conservative Party, who felt that there should be a strong Zionist lobby within the European Parliament.

EFI has arranged for Saranga to train its staff and supporters about how to “sell” Israel on “social media” websites. The group appears to have paid close attention. Its Facebook page brims with hasbara, as Israeli “public diplomacy” is called. A particular emphasis is placed on Israel’s technology industry, which is busy inventing things that “could save your life,” as one post claimed.

“Protecting lives”

EFI applies Israeli gloss liberally. Earlier this year, I heard Marek Siwiec, a Polish member of the European Parliament (MEP) who chairs the group’s political board, praise Israel for the “humanitarian aid” it was providing to victims of Syria’s civil war. “Israel is protecting hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said. “I think this phenomenon should be more presented for the European public.”

Siwiec airbrushed an inconvenient truth out of this “phenomenon.” Many victims of the appalling situation in Syria had been previously dispossessed by Israel. I’m referring here to those Palestinians who sought refuge in Damascus after they were forcibly displaced in the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing at the time of Israel’s establishment.

Transparent?

When I later asked Siwiec a few basic questions about EFI, he boasted of how it was a “transparent organization.” Yet he refused to divulge any details about its finances.

After some further digging, I found out that EFI has received backing from some very wealthy entrepreneurs.

One of the them was Yaron (Ronny) Bruckner, who died last year. His Luxembourg-registered property and consumer goods firm Eastbridge has been stepping up its business activities in the US. In 2011, it bought the New York skyscraper that previously housed the insurance giant AIG.

Another man to sit on EFI’s administrative board was Marc Grosman. He owns Celio, a clothing retailer with more than one thousand stores in sixty different countries.

Almost certainly, these two men have helped fund EFI. At the same time that Bruckner became one of the EFI’s administrators in 2011, a new rule was added to the group’s statutes. It set the maximum annual donation which EFI board members can make to the group at a cool €5 million ($6.8 million). Before then, the yearly limit had been a mere €1,000 ($1,400).

Trade triumph

Unfortunately, EFI has enjoyed some success during its eight year history. It was instrumental in ensuring that the European Parliament approved a trade deal between the EU and Israel in 2012.

Despite its technical name — the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) — that deal was of huge political importance. It has meant that Israeli pharmaceutical companies — and potentially the manufacturers of other Israeli goods — can ship their products to the European Union without having to undergo costly quality controls.

As a result, Israel is being accorded commercial preferences usually reserved for businesses inside the EU. The EFI’s success on that dossier can be at least partly attributed to how the current European Parliament veers more towards the right than the left.

The group seems to be nervous, however, about the prospect of encountering greater difficulties in the assembly that will be formed as a result of this week’s election. It has asked budding MEPs to sign a pledge that they will work against boycotts of Israel. More than likely, it would not have done so if it did not feel under pressure. Some EFI stalwarts have admitted to me that they regard the Palestine solidarity movement as too strong for their liking.

This is a testament to people power. The Palestine solidarity movement is not backed by profit-hungry corporations. It does not hire “rebranding” specialists to place photo shoots in mass circulation magazines. And yet by patiently and diligently building public awareness, it is striking fear into the hearts of Israel’s elite and its “friends.”

Israel is losing its propaganda war. No amount of gloss can save it.

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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).