Winning hearts and stomachs

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump reflect on how they can add more salt to transatlantic relations. (Shealah Craighead/White House Photo)

European politicians attending D-Day commemorations tend to fawn towards the US.

Although Emmanuel Macron seemed to be sufficiently deferential to Donald Trump at this year’s ceremony, the French president may have caused momentary confusion when he declared that “finding the salt” was necessary in transatlantic relations.

The expression used by Macron – retrouver le sel – means “get back to basics” or “capture the essence.” But its literal translation – “to find the salt” – seems apt if you examine how “experts” in EU-US affairs behave.

They love nothing better than to sprinkle a little salt on a hearty meal.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States is a group replete with “experts.” And dining will be an important part of a major conference which it will hold in Brussels later this month.

As participants chat and chew harmoniously, they probably will not object to how one meal at the event is sponsored by the pro-Israel lobby.

The European Leadership Network, or Elnet, is hosting the “breakout dinner” in question. That group made its sympathies clear recently when it arranged for representatives of the settlements that Israel has built in the occupied West Bank to visit Paris.

The construction and expansion of settlements on land seized by Israel in 1967 are war crimes. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they can also make life unpleasant for Western diplomats.

European Union officials insist they are “strongly opposed to Israel’s settlement policy.”

If they are indeed “strongly opposed” to the policy, EU officials might consider withholding cooperation with lobbyists promoting it.

In practice, it doesn’t take much for lobbyists to buy these officials. A free dinner usually does the trick.

Pro-Israel groups such as the European Leadership Network often feed senior EU figures. The best way to the heart, after all, is through the stomach.

The European Leadership Network is on the hard right of the political spectrum. Between them, its lobbyists have overseen a bombing raid that killed children and elderly civilians in Gaza, raised funds for the Israeli military and teamed up with some of the most extreme anti-Muslim bigots.

It would be rude, of course, to highlight such transgressions as guests get their glasses refilled.

Hint of hypocrisy

Making reservations in fine restaurants is part of efforts by the European Leadership Network to sell itself as respectable. In briefing papers intended for its donors, the group has acknowledged that some of the influential players it woos have participated in “dozens of meetings and dinners.”

The German Marshall Fund of the United States is among the think tanks with which it has cultivated links.

Diners with a discerning palate may taste a hint of hypocrisy.

Inspired by the spirit with which Europe was rebuilt following World War II, the German Marshall Fund of the United States is dedicated to some lofty ideals: democracy, universal respect for all, the rule of law, motherhood and apple pie.

The group’s idealism does not compel it to demand respect for Palestinian rights. In fact, some of its staff have argued that the rule of law should not be applied to Israel.

Jan Techau is a foreign policy “expert” with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In a 2014 article, he complained that the question of settlements was dominating contacts between the EU and Israel.

The EU, he wrote, was “focusing on the illegality of the settlements and letting this issue hijack the atmospherics of the relationship.”


Techau was distorting reality. The EU was not letting this issue “hijack” the relationship.

In fact, it devoted considerable energy toward smoothing the feathers that were ruffled among Israeli government ministers after one policy paper indicated that the EU may stop giving science grants to firms active in the settlements. Eventually, it transpired that the Union has kept on subsidizing at least one of those firms – the cosmetics maker Ahava.

Admittedly, Techau was working for a different organization when he made that complaint. But he does not appear to have retracted his comments since joining the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

His eagerness to ensure that illegality doesn’t distract from developing what he called a “truly strategic partnership” between the EU and Israel may be in keeping with the true ethos of his current employer. Despite the professed commitment to universal values, the group’s staff have adopted a reverential tone when welcoming some of the worst rogues in recent history.

When Henry Kissinger addressed a conference held by the group in 2017, he was introduced as a “towering figure in US foreign policy.” The genteel gathering was spared the gory details of Kissinger’s record as a secretary of state.

Among his many crimes were bombing Cambodia for more than four years, approving genocide in East Timor, encouraging civil wars in Africa and arming death squads througout Latin America.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States has similarly rolled out the red carpet for Madeleine Albright on a number of occasions.

For Albright’s critics, she will always be synonymous with a televised interview she gave as secretary of state during the 1990s.

Asked about economic warfare that starved Iraqi children of essential medicines, Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.” Yet that unsavory incident tends to be forgotten when Albright is on the speaking circuit nowadays.

If the German Marshall Fund of the United States is happy to lavish praise on Albright and Kissinger, then it is only fitting that the pro-Israel lobby should be sponsoring its dinners.

Bon appétit!