Special report: Inside the Israeli lobby

 

The term ‘Israeli lobby’ is credited with the power to make or break Presidents and dictate US foreign policy.

The term 'Israeli lobby' is credited with the power to make or break Presidents and dictate US foreign policy. PHOTO:  JELLE VD WOLF/ SHUTTERSTOCK.COMAs far as members of Congress are concerned, they are less concerned about national security and more about campaign financing.

The Israeli Lobby. It is a term that brings up images of an entity of near-mythic strength that seems to influence all branches of US policy and has an inside track to prominent US politicians, whether Republican or Democrat. It is credited with the power to make or break Presidents and dictate US foreign policy. Unaccountable and impossible to fight, it is seen in Pakistan and in large parts of the Muslim world as the driving force behind the United States’ pro-Israel stance.

It is in fact not a monolithic entity, and comprises of many separate lobbies, the most powerful of which is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is considered to be the most powerful lobbying group in the United States (see The Lobby List).

From 1982 to 1986, MJ Rosenburg was editor of the AIPAC’s Near East Report, a biweekly publication on Middle East Policy. Since then, he has held the position of Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan group that lobbies for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and has also worked as a fellow for Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group.

Once a supporter of Israel’s policies, Rosenburg is now a staunch supporter of peace between Palestine and Israel and holds AIPAC and the right-wing Israeli lobby responsible  for not only distorting American policy, but also plunging Israel and Palestinians into a seemingly never-ending conflict.

In an exclusive interview, The Express Tribune Magazine spoke to him about the role of AIPAC, and how left-wing Jews like him believe that AIPAC has harmed US politics. The interview was conducted in two parts — as the November war between Gaza and Hamas in November took place, and a few days after the ceasefire agreement was agreed to.

For Rosenberg, there were two defining moments that led to his split with AIPAC. The first came when he witnessed the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin shake hands with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat on the grounds of the White House in 1993.

“I was at the White House lawn and [the handshake] indicated to me that the conflict was over,” says Rosenberg in a telephonic interview. Two years later, Rabin was assassinated by the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir at a rally held in support of the Oslo accords and it seemed as if the peace process died with him.

“The final breaking point was when the Camp David negotiations of 2000 collapsed,” says Rosenberg, adding that “the nature of Ehud Barak’s statements made after the collapse of the talks between him and Arafat,” made it clear that Rabin’s dream of peace did not outlive him.

ET: What makes AIPAC so influential in US politics?

Rosenberg: It is important to understand that American politics is entirely governed by money. Presidential campaigns cost billions of dollars and its primarily the Democrats who rely on the Jewish donors for the money to run their campaigns. Republicans can afford to rely on big business, and have all kinds of billionaires making sizable campaign contributions. They don’t need the pro-Israel crowd as much as the Democrats do. And what the Democrats seem to believe is that every Jew who gives money to President Obama is giving it to support Netanyahu — that’s not true. Jews are liberals, and always have been, even before there was an Israel. What AIPAC has done is to convince the Democrats and Obama that the reason he got 72 per cent of the Jewish vote is because he supports Netanyahu. Now if the US had public financing, and if political campaigns were paid for by taxpayers, you would see Congress and Obama taking a different position. It’s all about the money.

ET: How do you think AIPAC viewed this current conflict? There are reports coming out that the US will block the UN resolution on Gaza?

Rosenberg: I think AIPAC, and more importantly rich donors associated with AIPAC, are on the phone with the State Department and the National Security Council and with members of Congress to make sure the US blocks the resolution.

I think that this war, is going to help convince the people of Israel to think that this [approach by Israel] is only going to lead to the next war, and the yet another war. And in every encounter, the Palestinians are getting stronger. Who would be believed they had rockets that could reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Next time they’ll have guided missiles. This is not what the Israeli people want. Netanyahu is desperate to get a ceasefire because the Israeli people are going to start turning on him. Within the next few years, Israel is going to have to deal with whomever the Palestinians choose as their representative. Public opinion polls say that the number of people supporting Israel in this war is much lower than before. Less than half of the Democrat voters supported Israel this time around.

Unfortunately, many innocent people are going to die before this realisation takes hold. There has to be some kind of arrangement before the round of conflict. I don’t know what that’s going to be but ultimately Israelis and Palestinians will have to live together, and I think that can be done. Sadly, the leadership to advance that idea is not there, and certainly not on the Israeli side. Hamas would like to achieve a long-term ceasefire, but Israel may not want that. If the Gaza blockade is ended, if Israel stops its targeted assassinations in Gaza, and Hamas stops shooting rockets into southern Israel you will have a true and total ceasefire. I think that’s a good enough situation for now. But anything less than that, and especially if Israel is going to maintain its blockade of Gaza all it will get in return is missiles.

Graph

ET: There has been a lot of talk about a war between Israel and Iran. What do you think is AIPAC’s role in that?

Rosenberg: AIPAC will push for a war with Iran, it is obsessed with the idea. In light of the Gaza attack, it can go one of two ways: One is that they’ll look at how different this (the Gaza conflict) was and think: “We’ve used up all the goodwill, and we can’t do another war”. Or, it’ll be: “Look at how President Obama backed us 100 per cent without any criticism; we can get away with anything.” At this point I think Obama’s view on Israel is: “I’m giving you Gaza, so don’t attack Iran.” I thought he knew what side he was on, that he stood for peace and security. I may have been wrong.

ET: Why haven’t other people like yourself been able to be an effective opposing voice to AIPAC?

Rosenberg: There aren’t so many of us. You have a situation whenever people like me, whenever there’s a war, they line up behind Israel with very few exceptions. The lobby group J Street is for peace, but they go to solidarity rallies for Israel as well. It’s a fallcy to think that Congress listens to Jews, because many Jews don’t support Netanyahu. The only people Congressmen really listen to are wealthy AIPAC donors. All that really counts in money, and not just in this issue. Every issue is determined by which side has how much money.

ET: Then how does J Street differ from AIPAC?

Rosenberg: It differs in the fact that J Street prefers a two-state solution and is pushing Israel for a negotiation. The difference between J Street and AIPAC is that J Street prefers pushing both sides towards a two-state solution. AIPAC favours the status quo, AIPAC and the Israeli right feels that the last war wasn’t won, and that there are ways to win it this time. So there is a significant difference. In J Street’s heart it wants peace from the conflict, and AIPAC doesn’t. But they can only be effective if President Obama is interested in what they have to say. It’s possible that Obama has come to his senses on this.

ET: Since we last spoke, there has been a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. What do you think about the agreement?

Rosenberg: First of all it is a bit ambiguous as to how it was achieved. It appears that President Obama and Secretary Clinton joined with President Morsi and put pressure on the Israelis. If that narrative is true and it holds, it’s a significant shift in the US. Also, this was a recognition of Hamas. I don’t want to be overly optimistic as to whether this indicates a shift in American policy as it’s too early to know for sure.

We have to see what happens at the United Nations when the Palestinian Authority asks on November 29 for observer status. If the US says it’ll cut off aid if it asks for observer status then nothing has changed. We’ll know over the course of this week — it could be a significant shift.

One thing that is clear is that the Israeli right-wing and Jewish right in the US are very unhappy about the ceasefire in general. An indication of this is the contrast between the cheering and dancing in Gaza City, and the quiet in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

This is not what [the Israeli right] wanted. Israel initiated this war, when you initiate a war, you want a victory. Instead what they got is this. All along, they could’ve had a deal with Hamas: end the blockage and target assassinations, and in exchange Hamas would stop shelling Israel — they could’ve had all of that without this war.

And this is going to hurt Netanyahu, but it remains to be seen to what extent. The main thing is that the AIPAC crowd is miserable, and Jews like me are very happy about the ceasefire, even though we are sad about the loss of life.

ET: How is it that AIPAC is able to influence foreign policy to the extent to possibly damaging the US?

Rosenberg: Well, they do in fact damage the US, but they claim to believe and they have made most of Congress believe that whatever Israel benefits from, benefits the US. To wit: if it’s good for Israel, it’s good for the US. And it’s very cynical, but that’s the line that they sold Congress. As far as members of Congress are concerned, they are less concerned about national security and more about campaign financing.

ET: If the status quo continues, where do you see Israel in five years?

Rosenberg: If this continues I see Israel engulfed in Intifada in five years time. It would not just be a war with Gaza, but with the West Bank as well. And if it continues for five years, the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship will join in as well and it just won’t be sustainable for Israel. For many years Palestine expected nothing, but that has now changed.

Israelis won’t put up with it for five years despite their hawkishness and even now certain Israelis may have started seriously thinking about an Israeli initiative in exchange for peace. I don’t see a viable peace anytime soon, but it could happen. Rockets landing on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv changed a lot, and the next time will be worse. Hizbullah has tens of thousands of missiles and there could be one gigantic Intifida that involves all Palestinians and Hezbollah as well. What I pray for is that Israelis come to their senses, like Yitzak Rabin did.

Israel lobbies and activist groups

The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a powerful lobbying organisation that exerts considerable influence in the legislative and executive branches of the American Federal Government.

Supported by an estimated 100,000 supporters from all political parties, AIPAC aims to improve relations between America and Israel, and since its founding in 1953 has grown to become one of the most powerful and controversial lobbyist groups in the United States.

It frequently urges sanctions against countries seen to be actively anti-Israel and also works to secure foreign aid to Israel.

americans

Americans for Peace Now (APN) was established in 1981 to mobilise support for the Israeli peace movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), and has since developed into the most prominent American Jewish, Zionist organisation working to achieve a comprehensive political settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

jewish

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was formed in September, 1996 by Julia Caplan, Julie Iny and Rachel Eisner.

It is a United States Jewish organisation which describes itself as “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights to support the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination.”

JVP seeks “an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem” and opposes Israel Defence Forces operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and supports Israeli refuseniks.

adl

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is an international non-governmental organisation based in the United States. Describing itself as “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency”, the ADL states that it “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all,” doing so through “information, education, legislation, and advocacy.”

Historically, the ADL has opposed groups and individuals it considered to be anti-Semitic and/or racist, including: Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin(leader of the Christian Front), the Christian Identity movement, the German-American Bund, neo-Nazis, the American militia movement and white power skinheads (although the ADL acknowledges that there are also non-racist skinheads). The ADL publishes reports on a variety of countries, regarding alleged incidents of anti-Jewish attacks and propaganda.

jstreet

J Street is a nonprofit liberal advocacy group based in the United States whose stated aim is to promote American leadership to end the Arab–Israeli and Israel–Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. It was founded in April 2008.

J Street describes itself as a pro-Israel organisation, which supports peace between Israel and its neighbors. Some Israelis, including several public figures, have said that J-Street is anti-Israel, particularly in relation to key challenges facing the Jewish state. Several US Jewish leaders have expressed reservations about J Street’s position on Israel, and some have publicly disassociated themselves from the organisation.

J Street states that it “supports a new direction for American policy in the Middle East — diplomatic solutions over military ones”, “multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution”; and “dialogue over confrontation” with wider international support.

ajc

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) was established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews concerned with pogroms aimed at Russian Jews.

The organisation’s mission statement is “to safeguard the welfare and security of Jews in the United States, in Israel, and throughout the world; to strengthen the basic principles of pluralism around the world, as the best defense against anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry; to enhance the quality of American Jewish life by helping to ensure Jewish continuity and deepen the ties between American and Israeli Jews.”

(tribune.com.pk / 22.12.2012)

Israel does not respect Intl. law on nuclear transparency: Press TV poll

The majority of respondents taking part in a poll conducted by Press TV say Israel’s reluctance to open its nuclear sites to international inspectors shows its disrespect for international law.

According to the survey, which was conducted on 12,844 people on December 10-22, 62 percent of the participants said Israel refuses to open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors because it does not have the habit of respecting international law.

Some 31 percent of the respondents said Israel’s developing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons at its sites is the reason behind its dislike for nuclear transparency.

Only seven percent of participants said it is Israel’s right to keep its nuclear program from inspections.

On December 4, 2012, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution, calling on the Israeli regime to quickly open its nuclear program to inspections and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty “without further delay.”

The 193-member General Assembly passed the resolution with 174 ayes against six nays with six abstentions, urging Tel Aviv to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have access to its nuclear facilities.

Israel, however, once again rejected calls by the United Nations and fiercely dismissed the UN vote as a “meaningless mechanical” one.

Israel, the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, is widely known to have between 200 and 400 nuclear warheads.

The Israeli regime rejects all the regulatory international nuclear agreements — the NPT in particular — and refuses to allow its nuclear facilities to come under international regulatory inspections.

(www.presstv.ir / 22.12.2012)

Ambassador: Palestinian refugees can return to Damascus camp

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — An agreement between Palestinian factions in Damascus will allow residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp to return after fleeing violence, the Palestinian ambassador to Syria said Thursday.

Mahmud al-Khalidi said Syrian and Palestinian factions will not allow gunmen to enter the camp. In turn, troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad will stay outside, he said.

“We are working to make the entrances of the camp safe for Palestinians,” al-Khalidi told Ma’an.

The ambassador said he was in contact with the Syrian regime as well as leaders in the army and could confirm that they officially withdrew from the camp, allowing thousands of Palestinians to return.

He said the embassy in Damascus was committed to protecting displaced Palestinians and helping them find secure places despite the bloodshed since the uprising started in 2011.

Ahmad Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a Palestinian faction allied with the Assad regime, is cooperating with the plan, the ambassador said.

Over 150,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus, as well as thousands of Syrians living there, have come under heavy aerial bombardment in recent days.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Tuesday it was housing over 2,600 displaced persons in its facilities and Damascus-area schools and the number was growing.

Meanwhile more than 1,000 Palestinian refugees crossed into Lebanon.

(www.maannews.net / 22.12.2012)

In Pictures: West Bank Bedouins

Khan al-Ahmar, occupied Palestinian territories – Israeli authorities recently approved plans to build more settlement units in an area known as E1, which links Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim.

Khan al-Ahmar is part of a cluster of Bedouin communities living in or near the E1 corridor, and is deemed one of the few remaining obstacles to long-held Israeli plans to link the holy city directly with the third-largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Eid Khamis is the head of Khan al-Ahmar, a community that was forced to leave the Negev Desert during the 1948 war.

These Bedouin of the Jahalin clan set up their homes in a dusty valley – now nestled between the Israeli settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’aleh Adumim – about 10km from Jerusalem.

Khamis, 47, said the community’s traditional way of life has been under threat by Israeli authorities for as long as he remembers. The encampment has no running water and is not connected to the electricity grid. Israel refuses to provide Khan al-Ahmar with basic infrastructure, and prevents it from building even to sustain the natural growth of its population.

And now, communities such as Khan al-Ahmar face a new threat, as Israeli authorities recently approved plans to build more settlement units.

The E1 expansion announcement came after Palestinians won an upgrade in their status at the UN General Assembly to non-member observer state.

According to the Palestinian negotiating team, if the proposed settlement building goes ahead, it would effectively bisect the West Bank and sever the physical link between Palestinian territories and Jerusalem.

A young boy from Abu Nowar Bedouin community with Ma’aleh Adumim settlement in the background. Like Khan al-Ahmar, the community is part of a cluster of Bedouin communities living in or near the E1 corridor, which is slated for expansion. Already served with demolition orders, the 118-person community bides its time.
While camel herding is a diminishing feature for the Palestinian Bedouin since they lack the financial ability to maintain them, each family has a herd of goats and sheep, essential to their survival for meat and dairy. More than 200 families were relocated from the area in the 1990s, with more than 85 per cent reporting they had to abandon their traditional livelihoods.
Generators provide electricity for a few hours each night. Electricity in Bedouin communities is rare, as the Palestinian Authority does not have access to provide for the communities and they are not given services by Israel. None of the communities have access to the electricity network, and only half are connected to the water network.
Many of the classrooms in the Khan al-Ahmar school are outdoors. During the cold season, only a tarp shelters the children from the rain.
A young man from Khan al-Ahmar relaxes in his home. A graduate of the only school in area for the Bedouin, he plans to work illegally as a builder for various Israeli construction projects.
A couple from Khan al-Ahmar displays their images used for identification cards at the start of their marriage. The couple could not afford photographs to be taken for their wedding.
Khan al-Ahmar spokesman Eid Abu Khamis and his wife. According to Khamis, the residents of Khan al-Ahmar and other Bedouin communities are pessimistic about the future.
Young girls prepare for school in their living room. The older daughter volunteers in the Khan al-Ahmar school with dreams of pursuing an education, but without access to transportation to get to the nearest city of Jericho. Her younger sister is one of the brightest in her class, but her education will stop at age sixteen.
A baby takes a nap while her twin is bathed. Her father was wounded while working illegally on a construction site for Israeli company and his unable to work. Despite the hardships, the family were thrilled when they gave birth to twins.
Children from Abu Nowar with Ma’aleh Adumim settlement in background. Like many other communities in the E1 corridor, residents have all lost access to land due to settlement expansion, and most have demolition orders pending against their homes.
(www.aljazeera.com / 22.12.2012)

Egyptians Vote on Constitution, VP Resigns

Egypt, constitution, vice-president

Egyptians queued outside the polling stations to decide on the country’s future.

CAIRO – Egypt’s Vice-President Mahmoud Mekky resigned Saturday, December 22, as Egyptians queued to vote in the second round of a public referendum on a new constitution.

“We feel our voice matters,” Shahinaz Shalaby, a housewife, told Reuters.

Though she disagrees with some clauses in the new document, Shalaby voted “yes”.

A “yes” vote would not stop protests but “then it will stabilize afterwards,” she said.

From early hours on Saturday, Egyptians queued outside the polling stations to decide on the country’s future.

Army soldiers joined police to secure the referendum process after deadly protests during the build up to the referendum date.

To provide security for the vote, some 250,000 security personnel have been deployed nationwide to try to keep order during the referendum.

The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak.

Supporters say the passage of the constitution will bring stability to the country after months of turbulence since Mubarak’s ouster last year.

If the constitution is passed, a parliamentary election will be held in about two months.

However, the opposition says the constitution is divisive and would cause more divisions in the country.

“I’m voting ‘no’ because Egypt can’t be ruled by one faction,” said Karim Nahas, 35, a stock market broker, heading to a polling station in Giza, a province included in this round of voting which covers parts of greater Cairo.

Polling stations opened at 8 am (0600 GMT) and close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) though voting could be extended as it was last week.

Analysts expect another “yes” vote on Saturday because it covers rural and other areas seen as having more Islamist sympathizers.

Unofficial tallies are likely to emerge within hours of the close, but the referendum committee may not declare an official result for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals.

VP Resignation

Just hours before polls closed, Vice-President Mahmoud Mekky announced his resignation.

In a resignation letter, Mekky said that although he had held on in the post he had “realized for some time that the nature of political work did not suit my professional background as a judge”.

Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of a controversial decree granting President Mohamed Morsi sweeping powers. Morsi later amended that decree.

The timing of Mekky’s move appeared linked to the fact there is no vice-presidential post under the draft constitution.

The resignation comes as the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition warned of troubles if the constitution is passed.

“I see more unrest,” said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party and a member of the NSF.

Citing what he said were “serious violations” on the first day of voting, he said anger against President Morsi and his Islamist allies was growing.

“People are not going to accept the way they are dealing with the situation,” Said added.

Opposition figurehead Mohammed ElBaradei has urged Egyptians to vote against the charter.

“We know that if this constitution is passed, there will be no stability,” he said late on Thursday.

Opponents, who had earlier quit the drafting assembly saying their voices were not heard, were invited to talks with President Morsi but stayed away.

Turning down several invitations for a national dialogue to find a way-out of the crisis, opposition figures rejected a last invitation on Friday by the constitution’s general assembly to talk on the disputed articles.

Mohamed Beltagy, a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said the constitution was crucial to holding a parliamentary election and setting up the essential institutions of state.

“What is the catastrophe of this constitution?” he asked the assembly which drafted the document, during a sitting on Friday that was called to challenge opposition criticism of the text.

(www.onislam.net / 22.12.2012)

Bahrain protesters demand departure of PM

THOUSANDS of Shi’ite protesters in Bahrain have demanded a transition government and the removal of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has been premier since 1974, witnesses say.

They said the demonstrators marched in the village of Diya near the capital Manama, chanting “Resign, Khalifa!” and waving Bahraini flags.

The Shi’ite opposition in the tiny Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom is led by al-Wefaq, which wants a government of technocrats to rule in a transition leading to a constitutional monarchy.

Since February last year, Bahrain has been shaken by opposition protests that the authorities accuse of being exploited by Shi’ite Iran across the Gulf.

At least 80 people have died since the start of the unrest in February 2011, according to the International Federation of Human Rights.

The opposition insists that the premier stand down and that the government be headed by the leader of the elected majority in parliament.

(mobile.news.com.au / 22.12.2012)

Blood Diamonds – Fresh Graves in Gaza

Appeals to jewellers and the Kimberley Process to end the trade in Israeli blood diamondsdocumented on OpEdNew s over a month ago have been ignored. In the interim Israel launched another diamond-funded assault on Gaza, killing 174 Palestinians, including more than 100 civilians, among them at least 37 children and 14 women. 

Blood Diamonds – funding war crimes in Gaza

Vested interests in the diamond industry navigated last week’s Kimberley Process (KP) Plenary meeting in Washington D.C. through treacherous waters to calmer seas – for the moment. As a result, Israel and Zimbabwe – diamond exporting countries that stand accused of serious human rights violations – avoided potentially crippling sanctions and jewellers worldwide can breathe easier in the period leading to Christmas, the peak diamond-sales season.

With the multi-billion dollar industry holed below the waterline by the re-surfacing of its menaces, blood diamonds, it needed all hands at the pumps to prevent civil society concerns about diamond-funded human rights abuses from scuttling their golden goose. The failure of the KP Plenary to broaden the definition of a “conflict diamond” to ban blood diamonds that fund human rights violations by rouge governments looked set to deliver the coup de gr- ce for the discredited KP system of self-regulation.

In the end, a face-saving coup of sorts deftly smoothed the cracks and the cover-up went unnoticed by the drowsy media which largely ignored the event. Some reports regurgitated the official line without question, giving the impression that all was well, as Zimbabwe, the focus of human rights abuse allegations, was now back in the fold having met KP minimal standards.

The reality, however, was that the gaping hole in the regulations that gave rise to the crisis in the KP remains wide open and KP minimal standards still don’t preclude the export of diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces. Statements from KP members hailing the fact that Zimbabwe had met minimal KP standards were a smoke screen to conceal the KPs failure to reform and to promulgate the conflict-free diamond charade.

The statement by Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative on the outcome of the Plenary amounts to blatant obfuscation and deception by omission, on a scale that questions the European Commission’s commitment to the EU’s founding values of democracy and respect for human rights.

It is misleading for the EU to describe as “significant progress” steps taken by the Zimbabwean government to improve “KP compliance” when KP compliance does not require an end to human rights violations by member governments.   The EU statement fails to alert people to the fact that and cut and polished diamonds that fund human rights violations continue to evade the regulations and remain KP compliant.

The emphasis on “KP compliance” throughout the EU statement and the assertion that the KP “remains a unique tool for conflict prevention” greatly over -states the effectiveness of the KP. Rather than preventing conflict, the KP facilitates, and provides a marketing boost for, diamonds that fund violence by government forces. The “Note to editors” accompanying the EU statement compounds the deception by stating the KP ” requires governments to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are conflict-free .” The KP cannot and does not certify diamonds are conflict-free as diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces are KP compliant.

It appears that some EU statements are designed to misinform rather than inform.

In 2010, in response to a question from a Member of the European Parliament, Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of the EU Commission, stated : “KP implementation cannot be accompanied by human rights violations.” Two years later,   on the same day that Catherine Ashton issued the EU statement on the outcome of the KP meeting, Israel, a KP member, approved the construction of a further 3000 housing units in illegal West Bank settlements on territory recognised by the UN General Assembly as the Palestinian state less than 24 hours previously. Population transfer to occupied territory is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.

Days later the EU High Representative repeated the usual EU mantras of extreme concern and extreme worry over Israel’s latest violation of international law and, also as usual, gave no indication that any sanctions would be imposed on Israel. The EU continues to allow Israel to flout EU and international agreements and regulations with impunity.

The diamond industry had hoped public concern about blood diamonds and the damage caused to the diamond brand image had been contained and reversed following the introduction of the KP regulations in 2003. The regulations ban “conflict diamonds,” which are narrowly defined as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” Despite their limited remit, the regulations are cynically promoted as a guarantee of a conflict-free diamond supply chain by the diamond industry, jewellers and governments — a total fraud.

That sham was laid bare when diamonds from Zimbabwe, where government forces are accused of killing 200 people, were approved for export by the KP despite protests from leading human rights groups and many in the jewellery business. Instead of an outright ban, diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe were put under supervision by a KP monitoring team to ensure they complied with technical/administrative requirements of the KP regulations — a façade to create the illusion of KP action in response to alleged human rights violations by the Zimbabwean military for which the KP has absolutely no mandate.

The Zimbabwe affair exposed a serious fault in the architecture of the Kimberley Process. The scheme, designed by the diamond industry which “provided the blueprint for the certification scheme” and rubber-stamped by the UN, has a built in by-pass which allows blood diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces to evade scrutiny.   Attempts to close the loophole were resisted by some member countries fearing any broadening of the scope of the regulations could expose their diamond industry to sanctions.

Israel , the biggest beneficiary in dollar terms of the global diamond industry and the only member of the Kimberley Process that stands accused of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by the UN Human Rights Council has most to lose if diamonds that fund human rights violations by governments are banned.   Russia and China, countries with less than exemplary human rights records, also objected to the proposals.

The US chair of the KP, Gillian Milovanovic twisted and turned every lever in an attempt to come up with a “conflict diamond” definition that would garner support, but her efforts were doomed. Even her tightly restricted proposal:   “rough diamonds used to finance armed conflict or other situations relating to violence affecting diamond-mining areas” couldn’t persuade the naysayers.   African countries saw through the double-standard which targeted their diamonds while diamonds funding the Israeli regime which has a far worse human rights record would continue to be given a pass.

Considering that Israel doesn’t have any diamond mines some might have expected Israel to support a “conflict diamond” definition restricted to rough diamonds. But as well as being a big importer of rough diamonds Israel re-exports large quantities ($4.4 billion in 2011) of rough diamonds to Israeli companies in Indiaand China where cheap labour makes the cutting and polishing of smaller diamonds a profitable enterprise.

In the wake of the Plenary it didn’t take long for accusation to surface over the KP’s failure to reform. The World Diamond Council slated the US chair Ms. Milovanovic , and the US State Department, accusing them of using “divide and rule” tactics and trying to introduce a two-tier diamond market.

The KP Civil Society Coalition (CSC) led by Partnership African Canada, huffed and puffed prior to the Plenary but failed to blow the house down. The CSC continues to prop-up the system, ignoring calls from members of civil society for them to follow the example of Global Witness and withdraw from the KP if it failed to ban the trade in all blood diamonds.

Quoted in The Independent, the head of the British Jewellers Association (BJA), Simon Rainer, attempted to claim the high moral ground. As he explained why the BJA tells their members “don’t touch Zimbabwe’s diamonds” he asked : “what if a democratically elected government is using diamond wealth to suppress indigenous populations?” His concern for indigenous populations smacks of hypocrisy. Where was the BJA’s concern for the plight of indigenous populations two weeks previously as Israel’s diamond-funded military mercilessly rained death, destruction and terror down on the defenceless, besieged civilian residents of Gaza?

Are BJA members not selling diamonds from Israel that are funding the Israeli war machine responsible for the death and destructions in Gaza? The BJA would rather sweep those uncomfortable facts under the carpet and keep them hidden from public scrutiny.

So, for this Christmas at least, most diamond-purchasers will remain blissfully unaware of the human rights violations being funded by diamonds that are labelled conflict-free even though a “great amount” of them are generating revenue used to fund the Israeli military regime which stands accused of war crimes, even before its latest pre-election murderous assault on Gaza – the largest refugee camp in the world. How many more murdered children will be laid to rest in the cold sands of Gaza before jewellers worldwide end the trade in Israeli blood diamonds?

(Seán Clinton / www.opednews.com / 22.12.2012)

Israel’s greatest fear – its diamond trade exposed

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the $60 billion global diamond industry, and Israel’s burgeoning diamond industry in particular, as the dynamic forces of economics, human rights, and politics careen towards a major showdown in Washington. The fallout is likely to blow the lid on a cozy cartel that has kept the scandal of cut and polished blood diamonds hidden from public scrutiny.

In November members of the Kimberley Process (KP) diamond-regulatory system, ostensibly set up to end the trade in blood diamonds, will come under severe pressure to adopt a US proposal, rejected last June, which would slightly broaden of the definition of a “conflict diamond” to include rough diamonds linked to violence by government forces associated with diamond mining.

The US proposal falls far short of the reforms initially sought by the KP Civil Society Coalition and other members of civil society , who want all diamonds, including cut and polished diamonds, which fund human-rights violations, to be classed as “conflict diamonds” and banned.

The remit of the KP system of self-regulation, which came into force in 2003, has been severely limited from the outset when the definition of a “conflict diamond” was restricted to “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to fund violence aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” This allows diamonds that fund human-rights violations by government forces, including those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, to evade scrutiny. In 2011 diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe, where government forces are accused of human-rights violations, were deemed KP compliant and allowed enter the international market. As a result, Global Witness, the London-based human rights organizations responsible for exposing the trade in blood diamonds and a founding member of the KP, withdrew from the scheme in protest, stating: “Most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes.”

In a recent address to the World Diamond Congress in Mumbai the US Chair of the KP said : “Buying diamonds is an emotion-laden decision that is a choice, not a necessity. These kinds of purchases are particularly vulnerable to changes, sometimes rapid changes, in consumer sentiment.” Western consumers, and increasingly so consumers in the East, have learned to consider diamonds as objects of romance and eternal love.

But that romantic image was damaged when reports of diamond-funded human-rights violations gained media attention and a Hollywood film exposed the uglier side of the diamond trade.   While the human-rights violations that lead to the establishment of the Kimberley Process were associated with rebel groups in Africa, recent revelations have exposed how cut and polished diamonds, sold as conflict-free diamonds in most of the world’s leading jewelry outlets, are funding war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by Israeli government forces.

Despite the fact that a significant percentage of cut and polished diamonds are crafted in Israel (50% in the USA) the jewelry industry has so far failed to take any action to curb the trade in these diamonds. In a clear indication of the unwillingness of the diamond industry to deal with the issue of Israeli blood diamonds, it was recently reported in the Israeli media that the US Chair of the Kimberley Process, Gillian Milovanovic, had assured the industry that diamonds that fund cross-border fire between Gaza and Israel would not be banned.

The double standards of the jewelry industry was evident earlier this year in an articlesupporting KP reform on a leading US jewelry magazine’s website (JCK), which posed the question, “What if there were diamonds (either mined or imported to be cut) in Syria?” JCK Senior Editor Rob Bates ignored the fact that Israel, which illegally occupies part of Syria, is a leading player in the global diamond industry, is responsible for the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and stands accused of war crimes by the UN Human Rights Council.

Evidence given to the London Session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in November 2010 by Israeli economist Shir Hever indicated that revenue from the Israeli diamond industry generatesover US$1 billion per year in funding for the Israeli military/security industry. And yet jewelers facilitate the trade in Israeli diamonds, which are a major source of funding for Israel’s nuclear-weapons programme and many grievous breaches of humanitarian law and international human rights laws.

Any mention of the link between Israeli diamonds and war crimes is likely to result in censorship and the castigation of those who questions the ethical provenance of diamonds crafted in Israel. The editor of the leading jewelry magazine, Retail Jeweller, was forced to withdrawcopies of the April 2011 edition from the Basleworld Jewelry Fair and issue an apology for publishing a “Letter of the Month” that questioned why Israeli diamonds are allowed dodge the blood-diamond rules.

In recent months human-rights activists in London have been staging an on-going protest over the display, by De Beers, of a Forevermark Steinmetz diamond in the Tower of London in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The Steinmetz Diamond Group, through the Steinmetz Foundation, adopted a Unit of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli military, which it funded and supported during the Israeli assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008/2009. That assault resulted in the death of over fourteen hundred people, including more than three hundred Palestinian children, and left thousands maimed and traumatized. A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) investigation concluded Israeli forces committed serious war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the three-week assault.

The Givati Brigade was directly responsible for one of the most serious examples of human-rights violations documented by human-rights groups and the UNHRC when 29 members of the Samouni family were massacred by the Brigade. When the Steinmetz Foundation’s support for the Givati Brigade became public knowledge, the Foundation tried to conceal the facts by deleting from their website all reference to their funding and support for the Brigade during the assault on Gaza – but not before a screen short of the page was distributed on the internet.

Against this background, leading players in the diamond industry are trying to persuade the industry to back the US proposal for Kimberley Process reform. If successful this will allow the industry to claim they have eliminated the loophole that allowed some “conflict diamonds” to evade the regulations, while at the same time the trade in cut and polished blood diamonds that fund the Israeli military regime continues unchecked.

In the open letter to the jewelry industry, Matthew Runci, President and CEO of Jewellers of America, and 25 other leaders of the American jewelry industry called on companies to demonstrate their support by making a commitment that “they will not supply diamonds and diamond jewelry connected to violence or conflict in any way” and “to ask that their suppliers to not supply their businesses with diamonds and diamond jewelry connected to violence or conflict in any way.”

On the face of it this sounds like a comprehensive rejection of all diamonds that fund human-rights violations. However, when Matthew Runci, who is also Chairman of the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), and members of the RJC Management Team were notified in April 2011 about the trade in diamonds from Israel that fund human-rights violations, the Council’s CEO responded on his behalf, saying the RJC “does not accept your proposition that the Israeli diamond industry, by virtue of being Israeli taxpayers, is funding human-rights violations and that, thereby, the diamonds sold by Israeli companies should be considered ‘blood diamonds.'”

This selective righteousness, which has plagued the Kimberley Process from the outset, will continue as long as the vested interests in the diamond industry have a veto on what is and is not a “conflict diamond”.   The US proposal looks set to fail as some countries see the move as an attempt to cut off diamond revenues from governments not in favour with the US and its allies.   Human-rights groups are also stepping up the pressure on the KP Civil Society Coalitionto demand an end to the trade in all blood diamonds, including cut and polished diamonds that fund human-rights violations.

Palestinians are by far the biggest victims of blood diamond-funded violence.   The diamond industry is “one of the cornerstones of the Israeli economy” and revenue from that industry is used to deny Palestinians the most basic of human rights — the right to life. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s diamond-funded military. Millions of Palestinians suffer daily humiliation and denial of the inalienable rights as they languish in refugee camps across the Middle East, eke out an existence under occupation and brutal subjugation in the occupied Palestinian territories, and endure discrimination in their daily lives under the apartheid regime in Israel.

If the diamond industry is to restore consumer trust in diamonds it will have to tackle the issue of Israeli blood diamonds and prevent Israel from using the industry to bankroll its apartheid regime and associated daily human-rights abuses. Jewelers should not allow their business to act as an economic shield behind which Israeli blood diamonds masquerade as conflict-free diamonds. The time for action is now — jewelers must ban the trade in all blood diamonds and not just those associated with diamond mining.

(Seán Clinton / www.opednews.com / 22.12.2012)

Abbas: PA won’t allow E1 settlement project to happen

PA president says Palestinians are “holding contacts on all levels to stop this Israeli project that aims to sabotage the peace process,” Palestinian media reports; PM: Israel will continue to build despite int’l condemnation.

Mahmoud Abbas

The Palestinian Authority will not allow Israeli plans to build in the E1 area of Jerusalem to be realized, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Abbas said the building plans are “a red line and we will not allow it to happen.”

Abbas’s comments come a day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to ignore the international community’s condemnation of prospective building plans for Jerusalem across the Green Line, in an interview aired in part on Channel 2.

“The entire world oppose settlements and say they are illegal,” Wafa quoted Abbas as saying. “International resolutions say settlements are an obstacle to peace and therefore they should be stopped in total in all the Palestinian territories, particularly in occupied Jerusalem, in order to resume serious and real negotiations on all final status issues to reach a comprehensive and just peace.”

He added that Palestinian leaders were exploring a range of measures to respond to Israeli moves, and called on the international community to press Israel to release tax revenues belonging to the PA.

In reference to the building plans, Netanyahu declared on Friday that “The Western Wall is not occupied territory, and I don’t care what the United Nations says.”

“We are living in the Jewish State,” the prime minister said, and “The capital of the Jewish state, for 3,000 years, has been Jerusalem. I want to say it clearly.”

“On election day, Israeli citizens will send a message,” he continued, “not only domestically but also to the international community.”

“Do you know who will be paying attention to the election results?,” Netanyahu added, “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, [and Hamas chief Khaled] Mashaal, they’ll wait for polls to close and for results to be publicized. And they’ll want to know if the prime minister was strengthened or weakened.”

Netanyahu’s statements came in wake of widespread censure over preliminary plans to construct thousands of new apartment units in the E1 area of Jerusalem located across the Green Line.

(www.jpost.com / 22.12.2012)

Presidential source: Egypt’s vice president resigns

CAIRO (Reuters) — Egypt’s vice president, Mahmoud Mekky, has resigned from his post, a presidential source said on Saturday, without giving any reason.

The source said the presidential spokesman would issue a statement shortly.

Mekky took a leading role in hosting “national unity” talks called by President Mohamed Mursi, although the main opposition politicians stayed away.

(www.maannews.net / 22.12.2012)