In the last years (and in fact for many decades), the Israeli government has become increasingly close with the global far-right. Why? They often share “values”, dislike/hate Muslims, nations want Israeli defence equipment and the Jewish state needs international support for its never-ending occupation of Palestine.
“I think Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes friends with people who share the Israeli government’s values. Those values are deeply slickened to hatred of Islam and Muslims,” said Antony Loewenstein, a Jerusalem-based, independent journalist and author, who has recently penned Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe.
According to Loewenstein, both Israel and far-right movements, which have been fomented by recent migration waves mostly from Muslim-majority countries, have been meeting on a common Islamophobic agenda.
“They have no problem treating Palestinians or Muslims as second-class citizens because they themselves view Muslims as second-class citizens in their own countries like Brazil, Poland, Hungary,” Loewenstein told TRT World, referring to the attitudes of anti-migrant far-right movements across the world.
The Israeli love affair with the new far-right does not only have ideological roots but also political aims.
“Israel wants to get international recognition or legitimacy for its occupation of the Palestinian lands and these countries [where the far-right is on the rise] provide legitimacy,” Loewenstein observed.
“I believe mainstream left-wing groups in the West have either abandoned Israel or pretty much expressed a lot of contempt how Israel treats Palestinians and other minorities,” Loewenstein said, arguing that this abandonment could be one of the leading causes of the recent far-right-Israeli alliance.
“For many people around the world including myself, who is Jewish, I find it very disturbing and offensive,” Loewenstein said.
Loewenstein thinks Netanyahu feels free to pursue such a policy because his first concern is not anti-Semitism, which has recently increased in significant proportions in Europe, forcing 40 percent of Jews to think about leaving Europe, according to a recent study.
“They believe and view that all the Jews around the world should move in Israel and be in safe. No way in the world is safe for the Jews unless you live in Israel, they say,” Loewenstein said.
“But the truth is because Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands more than 50 years, in fact, Israel is in some way a very unsafe place for the Jews,” he says.
At the same time, the Israeli government stays silent against the rise of anti-Semitism and Trump-supported white nationalism in the US, he added.
According to Loewenstein, Netanyahu’s Israel believes that “anti-Semitism is not very destructive.”
At the same time, the current far-right agenda is more about Islamophobia than anti-Semitism despite both trends being on the rise, overlapping with Netanyahu’s political agenda.
Furthermore, strangely, the rise of anti-Semitism forces Jews to move to Israel, helping to implement Israel’s political agenda that the country is the only place Jews can feel safe.
But Loewenstein and others still think differently.
“Israel claims to speak for all Jews around the world. Israel claims to be the Jewish state. For me, as a Jew, Israel does not speak for me. Israel is a country that regularly assaults Palestinians and occupies for over 50 years,” he said.
“For me what Jewish values should be is believing in all people are equal,” he concluded.
My investigation in Australian outlet Crikey:
Australian aid to Palestine has fallen greatly under the Coalition government, partly due to successive Liberal prime ministers believing false allegations of mismanagement and illegality by Palestinians.
The result for Palestinians living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza has been devastating and comes on top of the Trump administration cutting all aid to Palestine early this year (changes that particularly impact women).
The World Vision case
One particular case highlights the rot that’s developed in the Palestinian aid debate. Israel charged a Gaza-based, World Vision employee, Mohammed El Halabi, in 2016 with illegally diverting millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas coffers. The Australian government, having given the Christian charity $5 million for its work over years in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, immediately suspended its support. The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council was quick to believe the Israeli allegations. The Israeli judge initially told Halabi that he was almost guaranteed of being found guilty.
By the following year, however, both the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) and World Vision had found no evidence that Halabi was guilty of any crimes. Nonetheless, DFAT did not resume funding to these programs.
Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, had long wanted to nail an international NGO with direct ties to Hamas, aiming to prove that such organisations were helping support the Islamist regime. In late 2018, Israeli forces were caught in Gaza impersonating aid workers, an act that endangered all foreigners working there.
Today, Israel continues to prosecute Halabi despite his denials of wrongdoing. He has refused to take a plea deal, accuses Israel of torturing him in prison, has pled not guilty and no evidence has ever been shown publicly that supports the Israeli claims. Halabi remains incarcerated with no end in sight.
Halabi’s Jerusalem-based lawyer, Maher Hanna, told Crikey that Halabi had been pressured by Israeli officials to admit guilt a long time ago but he had refused, saying that he was innocent. Hanna recently petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court over the slow pace of the trial and urged Halabi to be transferred to house arrest in Haifa. This was refused because the Israeli prosecutor claimed that Halabi was too dangerous. Hanna said that he had never seen another case like this in Israel with such secrecy.
Another Australian aid organisation, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA, was also falsely smearedby Israel supporters in 2018 for backing terrorism.
Labor and Palestine
Labor’s Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong told Crikey that if her party won government this year it would increase aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by $20 million. The US cut all funding to UNRWA in 2018, affecting millions of Palestinians under occupation.
Although Wong wouldn’t commit to supporting programs run by World Vision, she said that aid was “vital to the work of countering extremism and promoting peace in the Middle East.” The money would have “appropriate oversights to ensure the funding is being used as intended, to directly support development programs for the Palestinian people.”
The Labor party has pledged to recognise Palestine when it is next in government, though what that means in practice is not clear given both governments that nominally rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas (aside from Israel that exercises control over the entire territory), are dictatorships.
During the recent anniversary of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Australia, both Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten expressed support for the Jewish state. Israel is “a beacon of democracy in the Middle East”, Morrison said. No mention of the recent botched attempt by Canberra to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Meanwhile in the occupied Jordan Valley, extreme Jewish settlers and their associates in the Israeli army are making life a daily nightmare for Palestinian shepherds. During a recent visit to the area, I witnessed soldiers harassing Palestinians and their sheep by driving a jeep too close to them. One Palestinian man was illegally arrested (and released soon after). Israeli activist Guy Hirschfeld told me that he saw constant collusion between the Israeli army and Zionist settlers. “Change here will have to come from outside [the country]”, Hirschfeld told me.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges amidst a ferocious Israeli election campaign. My interview on global broadcaster TRT World discusses this development and the wider, arguably far more important questions, around Palestinian rights and the never-ending occupation of Palestinian lands:
My article in US outlet Forward:
On Wednesday, it was reported that in the midst of a tense election cycle, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the right-wing Jewish Home Party to join with the Jewish Power Party, which is populated by followers of the racist, banned leader Meir Kahane.
So important was this merger to Netanyahu that he cancelled a planned visit to Moscow this week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu leads the most extreme, right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The Jewish state’s occupation over the West Bank and Gaza is now permanent, imprisoning millions of Palestinians under military rule.
But despite all this — even despite inviting avowed racists into the governing coalition — Netanyahu isn’t really the main problem. Nor will removing him from office, through indictment over multiple corruption cases or a loss at the polls in April, do much to alter the political alignment of Israel’s power elite.
For the truth is, all the major candidates for Israeli Prime Minister support an indefinite continuation of the occupation. That’s the greater scandal that barely receives any press in the West or Israel.
Netanyahu is a symptom of Israel’s right-wing drift, not its primary cause.
Netanyahu’s loudest critics seem to believe that the crimes he’s accused of, like the relatively minor corruption of receiving gifts from millionaires, are the worst sins a leader can commit. They go on at length about how serious his alleged crimes are, and the consequences they’d like to see.
To be sure, it’s hard to ignore the reality that Israel remains one of the more corrupt nations in the developed world. But these are not Netanyahu’s greatest crimes by a long shot.
Netanyahu’s greatest hits include entrenching the occupation around Palestinian villages, building a new “apartheid road” in the West Bank, killing unarmed Palestinian protestors in Gaza and demonizing African refugees. These have all been far more damaging than the bottles of Champagne he’s accused of accepting. And yet, corruption is the issue that may bring Netanyahu down.
Netanyahu has other flaws, too. He’s perfected the art of selling Israeli military expertise, turning over fifty years of occupation into a lucrative, global business of intelligence and surveillance equipment.
The walls and fences he’s built around unwanted populations has been warmly received by US President Donald Trump, the European far-right and white nationalists who admire the Jewish state’s creation of an ethno-state.
Even worse, Netanyahu doesn’t mind anti-Semitism if it’s expressed by his allies; opposing Islam and Muslim refugees but supporting the Israeli occupation are enough to get him on board, a short-term kind of thinking that endangers Jews everywhere.
What they’ll find is tribalism and anti-Palestinian racism has become extraordinarily mainstream in the Jewish state.
A 2016 poll in Israel found that nearly half of Jewish citizens wouldn’t live in the same apartment block as Arabs. A 2018 study found that many Israelis Jews didn’t want to hear Arabic spoken in public spaces and a majority didn’t want their children becoming friends with Palestinians of the opposite sex.
Now look at Israel’s political options. Yair Lapid is head of the Yesh Atid party, a man with a long history of anti-Arab outbursts. From refusing to serve in a government alongside Palestinians to expressing opposition to inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews to urging the assassination of Hamas leaders in Gaza, Lapid is a more telegenic version of Netanyahu.
Then there’s newcomer and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who has formed a new party and is polling well. But he’s said little about his policies. He recently backed the idea of Israel keeping some illegal, West Bank settlements in any peace treaty. And a two state solution seems unlikely on his watch.
One of Gantz’s campaign ads even brags about the number of Palestinians killed during the 2014 Gaza war. And a Palestinian-Dutch citizen is suing Gantz for bombing his family home in Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel.
And those are just the so-called centrists. Pro-settler politician Naftali Bennett doesn’t believe that Palestinians are even under Israeli occupation (and he refuses to accept that all Palestinians in the West Bank be given full, civilian rights under the law), to say nothing of what Jewish Power is likely to come up with.
The state of Israeli democracy is parlous. At the April election, only one in four of the 6.5 million Palestinians living under various forms of Israeli rule in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, or around 24%, have the legal right to vote.
This leaves American and Diaspora Jews with a dilemma. When will the love affair with the Jewish state end, or at least, become so strained that automatic support isn’t guaranteed?
That moment has arrived with some Democrats in the US increasingly critical of Israeli policies (though the party leadership remains a close friend of the Jewish state). And young Jews in Europe and the US are vocal about their disgust with more than 50 years of Israeli occupation (notwithstanding the surging support for nationalist and pro-Israel policies in many European nations).
Older Jews are following — as they should be.
It’s foolish to believe that the removal of any leader, even a leader like Netanyahu, will radically change the political direction Israel has taken, descending ever rightward. There is no leader in Israeli politics today capable — or willing — to guide Israel into the warm embrace of the liberal, Zionist dream of a two-state solution.
This is not to defend or justify Netanyahu. He’s a corrupt menace to minorities and human rights and must be vigorously opposed and defeated. But the reason behind his rise to power and retention of huge amounts of support is the more uncomfortable question that must be answered.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based, independent, investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times, Guardian and many others, author of “My Israel Question” and “Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe”, amongst others, writer of the documentary “Disaster Capitalism” and will be releasing a book on the global “war on drugs” in 2019. He’s been reporting on Israel/Palestine since 2003.
Honduras is a key nation in the US-backed “war on drugs”. I visited there to report on what this meant for civilians, many of whom flee in fear to the US.
Here’s my story in the new US outlet, Filter, covering drugs domestically and globally, on the grin reality in Honduras and why so many of its citizens are leaving in despair:
My 4000-word investigation in US magazine The Nation is on Afghanistan and the rush to exploit its natural resources. Based on explosive, leaked documents, the story uncovers how the Trump administration is pressuring the Kabul government to issue contracts to the highest bidder. Increased violence against civilians is assured. Foreign companies, Blackwater founder Erik Prince and others are all in the mix. Within hours of this report being published, I was reliably told that it was being read at the highest levels of the US embassy in Kabul and Afghanistan’s National Security Council.
Here’s my latest story in PDF form: Peace in Afghanistan? Maybe—but a Minerals Rush Is Already Underway | The Nation
My story in US publication Foreign Policy:
The founder of the military contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, has a new project. He’s aiming to raise $500 million to invest in the discovery, exploitation, and delivery of resources required to produce electric car batteries. Minerals such as cobalt, lithium, and copper are mostly found in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan.
Speaking recently to CNBC, Prince said that he aimed to end cobalt’s status as a “conflict mineral” in Congo, and his plans included regular jobs and incomes for artisanal miners who toil in in horrific conditions, in “loincloth,” according to Prince. The Congolese Chamber of Mines estimated in 2015 that there may be 2 million artisanal miners in the country digging for gold, diamonds, and minerals such as cobalt. Prince told CNBC that he wanted to create an “ethical mine” so businesses invested in his project could trace the source of the cobalt and know that it was coming from a location without any abuses. Approximately 67 percent of global mined cobalt in 2017 came from Congo.
Corporations such as Apple, the electric car company Tesla, Volkswagen, Samsung, General Motors, and Renault have all pledged to source cobalt from mines in Congo and elsewhere that don’t use child labor, but human rights groups have challenged the feasibility of this project.
It’s an ambitious goal, because Congo has a long history of atrocious mining conditions, including for children as young as 6. In 2018, CNN found that it was still common in Congo to find minors toiling in cobalt mines. Despite companies such as Glencore claiming that it doesn’t use materials from informal cobalt mines, the broadcaster discovered that, “dealers at markets in the DRC were filmed buying cobalt without verifying its source and mining method. They then send it for processing where it is mixed with cobalt from other mines before ending up in batteries that power devices [such as cell phones and car batteries] around the world.”
This is the industry that Prince is now entering, and his controversial history makes many critics cast a skeptical eye on his real agenda.
Some employees of the Prince-founded private military contractor Blackwater committed war crimes against civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Prince has helped provide foreign troops for the army of the United Arab Emirates (whose military is today committing some of the worst abuses in Yemen) and attempted to create a private air force for the repressive government of South Sudan.
The Trump administration reportedly considered establishing a private spy network, designed by Prince and convicted Iran-Contra scandal participant Oliver North, to circumvent the so-called deep state that U.S. President Donald Trump fears is out to get him. Prince is a staunch Republican Party supporter, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary. He’s facing scrutiny by Robert Mueller’s investigative team into questionable meetings in the Seychelles in January 2017, just before Trump’s inauguration, with the Russians and the UAE to reportedly discuss a back channel between Moscow and Washington.
Prince claims his trip to the Seychelles was for business purposes, that it had no connection to Trump, and that his meeting with the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin was “incidental.”
Prince is currently the head of a Hong Kong-based company, Frontier Services Group, a logistics, aviation, and security company whose primary investors include the Chinese government-owned Citic Group. Frontier focuses on protecting Chinese enterprises in Africa and Asia when working in the most inhospitable places on earth. It has invested in a copper mine in Congo, won a security contract in war-torn southern Somalia, and invested in a bauxite mine in Guinea.
Prince told Foreign Policy in an email that his plans to source cobalt will involve using “geo science expertise and certainly look to other regions of Africa, south America and East Asia to diversify the supply base of key minerals.” He said that 15 percent of cobalt in the Congo is extracted by artisanal miners and his “strategy includes professionalizing and enhancing those assets and making them compliant. We would also apply new technology to the millions of tons of tailings already existing to further extract copper and cobalt in an efficient and environmentally acceptable manner.” Prince said that he has not discussed his plans with the Trump administration.
China is a key transit point for cobalt, because Chinese companies dominate the supply chain, placing Prince in prime position to capitalize, given his deep ties to Beijing. Many Chinese firms have also been found to buy cobalt mined by children in Congo. Prince told FP that although China already produces around 50 percent of the world’s electric cars, Frontier is not expected to participate in this initiative and instead remains focused on logistics and transportation support, not resource and mining development. Prince said that he anticipates a “geographically diverse set of investors joining us.”
It will be difficult for any company to ethically mine cobalt, copper, and other resources in a nation such as Congo that has a history of mass violence, corruption, and inequality fueled by its rich minerals. Indeed, the Trump administration already sanctioned a wealthy Israeli businessman, Dan Gertler, in 2017 for allegedly corrupt behavior around the sale of Congolese oil and mineral rights. Lobbyists in Washington have been busy over the last few years persuading politicians to ease sanctions against Congo for its flagrant corruption and human rights abuses. The recent election there may only worsen the instability, with massive fraud credibly alleged against the declared winner.
But these resources also exist in Afghanistan, where Washington already has a large and longstanding military footprint. Prince is never hesitant to advocate what most observers regard as mercenaries. Indeed, he recently suggested that withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria should be replaced by private contractors and has stated publicly that he believes in privatizing the entire conflict in Afghanistan. He argues that he can engineer victory against the Taliban with a relatively small number of contractors. He toldCNBC earlier this month that China was worried the United States would “abandon” Afghanistan and terrorism would increase as a result.
This is the stated reason given by hawks in Washington and Europe to support an indefinite occupation of the country regardless of the civilian toll. Trump has pledged to withdraw around half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in the country. He eventually wants to remove all of them.
The Blackwater founder is also determined to exploit the country’s largely untapped resources. Prince has met with senior Afghan officials and ministers, opened a Kabul office for Frontier Services Group, and is aiming to build alliances with tribal elders in areas where minerals have been found. (Prince said that his plans to extract resources in Afghanistan have no connection to establishing an electric car battery fund.)
Prince’s record in conflict zones provides little reason to believe he has either the inclination or ability to mitigate violence in Congo or Afghanistan.
Electric cars may well help the world lessen its carbon footprint, but this benefit seems negligible if thousands of the world’s poorest people will suffer to soothe the consciences of Westerners who want to go green.
Prince is just one player in the global rush to secure valuable minerals in the production of cell phones, electric car batteries, tablets, laptops, and other modern inventions, but he has the potential to deepen the instability that’s an inevitable part of the resource curse in distressed nations.
Antony Loewenstein is a Jerusalem-based independent investigative journalist who has written for the New York Times andThe Guardian. He is the author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and a forthcoming book on the global war on drugs. @antloewenstein
My interview with the US radio program, By Any Means Necessary, based on my recent investigation in the New York Review of Books on Israel exporting knowledge and equipment gained from years of occupying Palestine: