The “expert” who lets EU off the hook

EU support for Israel’s police and prison system elicits no criticism from corporate-funded think tanks. 

Shadi Hatem APA images

I had a simple reason for deciding to write and speak out about the European Union’s relationship with Israel more than a decade ago: Nobody else was doing it.

Soon it transpired that I was just partly right. Some “experts” on this subject can be found in think tanks and academia.

Occasionally, they are invited to appear on the mainstream media. But mostly the target audience for their work seems to be other experts.

Like a clique, the experts have their own language – a language with which the rest of us are unfamiliar. One of their favorite words is “normative.”

I found myself listening to a couple of these experts during a recent conference in London (thankfully, the event also featured some genuine human rights campaigners).

The conference introduced me to the work of Hugh Lovatt from the European Council on Foreign Relations. He has carved out a niche for himself as the leading authority on “differentiation.”

As far as I can see, “differentiation” means that the EU should draw a distinction between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967 – the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza and the Golan Heights.

Flawed

Lovatt’s analysis rests on a fact that should be obvious but which needs to be constantly repeated: Israel’s settlement activities are illegal and governments around the world are obligated not to assist Israel’s illegal conduct.

The concept of “differentiation” is nonetheless inherently flawed.

For a start, it implies there are two Israels: one a vibrant democracy that may be caressed and cuddled; the other a perpetrator of war crimes that Western liberals should shun.

In reality, there is only one Israel.

The 2005 Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions recognizes that reality.

It demands that action be taken against Israel in its entirety.

That is proper. The Israel which began colonizing the West Bank in 1967 is the same Israel which forbids Palestinian refugees from returning to homes from which they were expelled in 1948.

Furthermore, the same Israel treats Palestinians living within it as inferior to Jews – a situation now enshrined in constitutional legislation.

Hugh Lovatt has distanced himself from the BDS movement.

The principles behind differentiation were spelled out in a 2015 paper that he wrote, along with his colleague Mattia Toalda.

According to that paper, “the genesis, goals and policies that flow from differentiation contrast sharply with those of BDS. One is premised on the deeper integration of Israel with Europe, the other on its isolation.”

Lovatt’s stance is pretty much identical to that of the European Union. By rejecting the boycott of Israel, he is toeing the establishment line.

He is refusing to accept an appeal by an oppressed people. Even worse, he is implying that he knows better than them.

On paper, the differentiation policy is meant to hold Israel accountable for settlements. But it actually does the reverse.

While the EU takes no meaningful action to halt Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, the bloc continues to deepen its ties with the state that is building the settlements. Israel is essentially being rewarded for the very crimes the EU claims to oppose.

Independent?

It is tempting to ignore Lovatt and “experts” like him completely. But I believe it is necessary to question what they are doing.

The European Council on Foreign Relations is not supposed to be a governmental agency, although its name gives the impression that it is. Officially, it claims to carry out “independent research.”

The think tank nonetheless receives funding from the European Union, NATO and from Thales and Airbus, two weapons makers that have undertaken joint projects with Israel’s war industry.

I contacted Lovatt by email, asking if he could point me to a case where he had been trenchant in his criticism of the EU or the arms trade. He did not reply.

Far from being trenchant, Lovatt has actually whitewashed the EU’s complicity in Israel’s crimes.

He has given his seal of approval to Horizon 2020, an EU scientific research program involving Israel.

For Lovatt, the scheme is acceptable because it is conditional on no grants being given to activities undertaken within Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Lovatt has evidently not taken account of how Israeli government bodies are exempt from those conditions. The result is that Israel’s science ministry is a significant beneficiary of Horizon 2020, despite how it is headquartered in East Jerusalem.

By having such a narrow focus, Lovatt has also overlooked how other bodies taking part in the occupation of the West Bank soak up EU science grants.

They include Israel’s public security ministry – responsible for a police and prison system which subjects Palestinians to torture and abuse – and its defense ministry.

Farcical

If Lovatt was really committed to “independent research,” he would not seek to flatter diplomats and governments the way that he does.

In a recent tweet, he praised Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, for signing an “excellent” opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post.

The article outlined why the European Court of Justice has ruled that Israel’s settlement goods must be accurately labeled.

Yet the real intention behind Giaufret’s piece was almost certainly to assure Israel that the European Union is not banning settlement goods.

Lovatt was, therefore, lauding an attempt to smooth any Israeli feathers that were ruffled by the court’s verdict.

A truly independent observer would expose the double standards of the powerful.

Lovatt instead has a tendency to take what the powerful state at face value.

In another recent tweet, he commended the Dutch government for issuing a letter in support of the EU court ruling on labeling settlement goods.

Around the same time as the Dutch government issued that letter, one of its ministers opened an arms fair in Rotterdam.

Elbit, an Israeli weapons firm that profits from war crimes, used the fair to showcase the latest version of its super-duper “tactical” computer for military vehicles.

Moreover, the Netherlands’ embassy in Tel Aviv has facilitated trade by Dutch companies in Israeli settlements. That has spurred questions from the Dutch lawmakers, but no satisfying answers.

Contrary to the impression given by Lovatt, the idea that the Netherlands is being tough with Israel is simply farcical.

Who do Lovatt and his colleagues serve? In its entry to the EU’s “transparency register,” the European Council on Foreign Relations states it “does not engage in the direct representation of interests.”

The use of the word “direct” is instructive. It suggests that the European Council on Foreign Relations is lobbying on behalf of its funders in a subtle and stealthy way.

That would be in keeping with what think tanks financed by big business and major institutions generally do.

Their purpose is to ensure that discussions stay inside parameters deemed “safe” by the powerful. Radical viewpoints are seldom heard in those discussions.

For all his talk about differentiation, the work of Hugh Lovatt bears a strong resemblance to that by similar “experts.” Ultimately, they are toadies to the establishment.

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What is Lovatt but a leather-tongued time-server? Such insiders can't be expected to pursue the truth. Israel is a disgrace. Its democracy is an empty spectacle. It is kept afloat by dollars which buy the right of the US to dominate and bully. It is a little place whose power is solely the result of the need of big powers to hold back those they fear and are prejudiced against. The EU will not take a principled position because to do so would be to challenge the world order. The only principled position is a democratic Palestine. That would undermine the power of the US and of the EU. Hence the convoluted thinking and the double-speak.
The language can always be found to gloss injustice. The oppression and imprisonment of the Palestinians is not unconnected to the condition of the poor in the US in Europe, across the world. Democracy is the answer to oppression and to poverty. Great individual or corporate wealth is an affront to democracy. It buys power. A handful of billionaires in the US are more powerful than 100 million voters. That is the purpose of Israel. Its refusal of democracy, its insistence that Arabs are not fit to share democracy with Jews, is exactly what the rich and powerful in the US, in the EU, everywhere, need. The Arabs are a metaphor for the common folk who also are unfit, who must be kept in their place, who may have a vote (only because the elite can't find a way of removing it), but who must be disciplined to adulate the rich, the powerful, institutional power, celebs who must never be permitted to grasp that democracy means equality - one person, one vote. This is why Israel has to be whitewashed and why we get the mental gymnastics and twisted language of a Lovatt. Good Israel, bad Israel. No, there is one Israel and it operates apartheid, oppresses the Palestinians, was brought into being by terrorism and upholds a sham democracy. All lovely stuff for the elites of the US and the EU.

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