Outlawing Israel boycott in Europe revealed as key AIPAC goal

A protest against the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in London. Influencing the planned EU-US accord is one of the Israel lobby’s key aims. (Global Justice Now/Flickr)

At a time when Palestinians are rising up against Israeli apartheid, ranting about a trans-Atlantic trade accord might seem off-topic. Yet a protest camp held in Brussels this week illustrated how to blend a fight against corporate power and the expression of solidarity with an oppressed people.

As well as trying to shut down a European Union summit, participants in the camp joined a demonstration against a football match between Belgium and Israel. Inevitably, that sparked some questions about how a sporting event was relevant to plans for a gigantic EU-US “free trade” zone, the protest camp’s main focus.

The connection, as it happens, has been made by the Israel lobby. Its most powerful group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is following closely the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

In June, President Barack Obama signed a demand by the Israel lobby for how the TTIP negotiations should be conducted into US law. Because of clauses inserted into the “fast-track” legislation, the US team in the TTIP talks has been instructed that one of its main objectives is to protect Israel’s interests.

The legislation explicitly says that the TTIP negotiators should act to discourage boycotts and other economic measures against Israel. Such measures would include sanctions targeting goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Outlawing solidarity

AIPAC devoted considerable resources to getting this law approved.

According to documents filed with the US Congress, AIPAC had a team of 10 lobbyists working on a handful of trade dossiers during the first six months of this year. TTIP was a key dossier.

AIPAC declared an income of more than $1.6 million related to its lobbying activities in that period.

The documents suggest that TTIP has ranked alongside Iran as top priorities for AIPAC lately. That is significant: while the failure of Israel and its supporters to wreck Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran was widely reported, their work on trans-Atlantic trade has assumed a much lower profile.

That low profile belies the anti-democratic nature of this work.

When challenged recently about why she was ignoring the large-scale opposition to TTIP, Cecilia Malmström, the EU’s trade commissioner, said: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

The TTIP negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic have been pursuing an agenda dictated by corporations. Much of the preparatory work for their talks was undertaken by an alliance of banks, oil companies and cigarette manufacturers.

It is now clear that the US negotiators are also required to grovel towards the Israel lobby.

AIPAC’s real goal is to make effective gestures of solidarity with the Palestinians illegal. If AIPAC has its way, any restrictions placed on importations of Israeli goods would be viewed as “barriers” to trade.

TTIP is designed to remove such barriers.

Jitters

The lobbying by AIPAC has taken place at a time when the European Union’s governments have been mulling the introduction of mandatory labeling for goods from Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

As the construction and expansion of those settlements amount to war crimes, sticking a label on tomatoes or avocadoes grown there is clearly inadequate. Labeling rules are also easy to break: the occupation monitoring group Who Profits? has already documented how food from the settlements is transported to warehouses and processing plants in present-day Israel, so that regulators can’t check its precise origin.

Nonetheless, the labeling idea has caused some jitters among Israel lobbyists. European Friends of Israel — a Brussels-based organization operating in a similar way to AIPAC — has warned its supporters that the labeling proposal would likely “gain momentum” and lead to friction between the EU and Israel.

The Israel lobby sees TTIP as an opportunity to nip such initiatives in the bud before the public clamor for tough sanctions against Israel becomes too loud for politicians to dismiss.

By jumping on the TTIP bandwagon, the Israel lobby is allying itself with the world’s corporate bullies. An overriding goal of big business is that TTIP should usher in a court system reserved for corporations to challenge social, health or environmental standards affecting their profits. Because such standards have often been introduced following years of campaigning by public interest advocates, TTIP can be regarded as an enemy of the people.

It is intriguing that the Israel lobby is cozying up with corporate behemoths. The American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel group, has been trying to drum up support in Congress for the Keystone XL pipeline intended to bring tar sands from Canada to Texas.

Tar sands extraction is a highly destructive activity. In Alberta, it has befouled First Nations’ land and food.

Promoting fossil fuels is a departure from the Israel lobby’s traditional activities — but not a radical one. Groups that try to put a respectable sheen on Israeli apartheid make appropriate allies for the world’s polluters.

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I understand why the Israel lobby wants to cosy up to them, but the opposite is more difficult to understand. These behemoths are clearly slow learners. They haven't done their reading on Soda Stream, Orange, Veolia, and so many others. They underestimate how principled and deep-rooted BDS is. And how LEGAL.

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).