Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, head of a powerful movement in Iraq, said on Wednesday during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Iraq should not cooperate with “occupiers.”
“We wish for Iraq to cooperate with the neighboring countries and its allies, but not with the occupiers,” said Sadr, whose opinions hold sway over tens of thousands of militants.
Kerry, who arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday in a bid to build a coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, met Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider Abadi and said he was impressed by the premier’s plans to rebuild the Iraqi military and push broad political reforms.
Speaking in front of reporters, Kerry told Abadi he was “encouraged” by the premier’s plans for the “reconstituting” of the military and “your commitment to broad reforms that are necessary in Iraq to bring every segment of Iraqi society to the table.”
Abadi called for the international community to help Iraq fight ISIS, urging them “to act immediately to stop the spread of this cancer.”
“Of course our role is to defend our country, but the international community is responsible for protecting Iraq and protecting Iraqis and the whole region,” Abadi said at the close of his meeting with Kerry.
Abadi said there was “a role for the international community, for the United Nations” in tackling the threat of ISIS in neighboring Syria.
During Kerry’s visit, three car bombs exploded in a neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, killing 19 people and wounding at least 52 others, officials said.
They said a suicide car bombing followed by a car bomb struck near a police checkpoint in a crowded area of eastern Baghdad.
Kerry due in Saudi Arabia “to battle extremism”
Kerry will meet with ministers from 10 Arab States and Turkey in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to hold talks on joint action against ISIS.
The talks coincide with an address from President Barack Obama at the White House, where he will outline the US’ strategy to confront ISIS and address criticism that he has been slow to respond to a wave of atrocities that has shocked the world.
Britain also announced on Tuesday that it will ship $2.6 million (two million euros) worth of weapons to Kurdish forces in Iraq, to help roll back the militants’ lightning advances.
Kerry’s arrival in the region on Wednesday comes as Washington hailed the formation of the new government in Baghdad.
Iraq’s campaign to claw back territory it lost in the north and west of Baghdad in June, and US efforts to engage neighboring governments in the fightback, have been complicated by regional politics.
Saudi Arabia and the five other Gulf Arab states have had deeply strained relations with the government in Baghdad, with each side blaming the other for the jihadists’ gains.
But their foreign ministers will be among those attending Thursday’s talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah, along with top diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq itself.
They will address “terrorism in the region, extremist organizations behind it and means of fighting them,” Saudi state media said.
The Arab League, which has stopped short of explicitly backing ongoing US air strikes against ISIS, also drummed up regional support for the fight.
Ahead of his visit, Kerry vowed to build “the broadest possible coalition of partners around the globe to confront, degrade and ultimately defeat (ISIS).”
“Almost every single country has a role to play in eliminating the (ISIS) threat and the evil that it represents,” he said.
Notably absent from Jeddah will be Russia, the Syrian government – which has not been consulted over possible US airstrikes on its soil – and Iran.
ISIS has taken advantage of the conflict to seize a big chunk of northeastern Syria in fighting with government forces, rival rebel groups and Kurdish militia.
Damascus views itself as a bulwark against the militants, but Washington has ruled out any cooperation.
Washington launched airstrikes against jihadists in Iraq on August 8.
Obama is prepared to authorize air strikes in Syria against ISIS, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported late Tuesday.
An opinion poll published on Tuesday suggested Americans are hawkish towards ISIS, with nearly three-quarters favoring ongoing airstrikes against the group in Iraq while 65 percent would approve extending operations into Syria.
But critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.
On Monday, a study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military issue arms and weapons supplied to the so-called moderate rebels in Syria by Saudi Arabia.
The report said the jihadists disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”
It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013.”
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that more strikes had been carried out over the previous two days near western Iraq’s massive Haditha dam as part of operations against ISIS forces.
After months of wrangling, Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi finally formed a government on Monday that Washington said had “the potential to unite all of Iraq’s diverse communities.”
Kerry described the new government as a “major milestone” after the divisive rule of Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.
Iran – alongside the United States, the key outside power in Iraq – said it hoped the change of government in Baghdad would help turn the tide against ISIS.
“I hope that during your new mandate, complete calm will return to your country,” President Hassan Rouhani said.
In reality, the new government does not constitute quite the sea-change hailed by Washington, as the divisive Maliki becomes one of three vice presidents.
In other developments, French President Francois Hollande will visit Iraq on Friday ahead of hosting a conference in Paris on security in the country next Monday, his office said.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)
A military alliance in search of an identity: For over two decades NATO has had branding issues. To justify its existence, it absolutely needs an enemy. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Russia now fits that bill.
CrossTalking with Mark Sleboda, Alexander Mercouris and Brian Becker.
Since popularity polls were begun in 1978, no French president has had such low popularity. [...]
Hollande has been implementing austerity reforms, even though he was elected with the motto, “I have only one enemy: the world of finance.”
Last week, the whole cabinet resigned because the economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, from the left faction of the governing socialist party, criticized this approach. The controversial Emmanuel Macron, a former director of the Rotschild Bank, was then chosen to replace him. … Full article
A US Navy destroyer and, reportedly, a French frigate have entered the Black Sea, as NATO builds up its presence in the region while tensions remain high in Ukraine. Another two warships are expected to arrive in the area by the end of the week.
The US Navy 6th Fleet official command has confirmed on its official Twitter account that the destroyer USS Ross, (DDG 71), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is now in the Black Sea.
“USS Ross enters Black Sea, promoting peace and stability while working with NATO allies and partners,” a statement said.
The US Navy has stressed that “the Ross’ presence in the Black Sea serves to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to strengthening the collective security of NATO allies and partners in the region.”
“The US Navy maintains an enduring commitment to forward-presence throughout the region in order to have ready-forces available if a crisis were to occur,” the statement said.
Another NATO warship, France’s Commandant Birot, also arrived in Black Sea waters on Wednesday night, according to a military diplomatic source cited by the Itar-Tass news agency.
“Both ships have passed through the Bosphorus and entered the Black Sea between 21:00 and 22:00 Moscow time,” the source was quoted as saying.
Commandant Birot has joined another French warship, the Dupuy le Lome, a surveillance ship designed to collect signals and communications from beyond enemy lines. Up until September 4, the Dupuy le Lome was the only NATO ship in the region. The vessel is scheduled to leave the area on September 5.
A total of four NATO warships are expected to enter the Black Sea before September 7. The USS Ross and Commandant Birot will be joined by Canada’s HMCS Toronto, a Halifax-class frigate, and a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbon.
Under the Montreux Convention of 1936, warships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days. It also stipulates that the maximum deadweight of a non-regional warship in the area should not exceed 45,000 tons.
NATO warships have been operating in the area since this spring, when tensions started escalating between Kiev forces and rebels in southeastern Ukraine.
Despite the three-week limit, the alliance has managed to secure its presence in the area by constantly rotating warships there.
Deployed to the region in mid-May, the Dupuy le Lome was preceded by the destroyer USS Donald Cook, sent to the Black Sea in early April.
In July this year, NATO deployed a total of nine vessels, setting a record for the post-Soviet period.
On August 7, the US missile cruiser Vella Gulf entered the Black Sea and left the region at the end of the month.
NATO has been discussing its “more visible” presence in Eastern Europe, referring to the three Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – as there has been little progress in resolving the conflict in Ukraine. The issue is now being discussed in Wales, where the military alliance is meeting on Thursday and Friday.
The US and the international community have accused Russia of supporting opposition forces in southeastern Ukraine, accusations that have been denied by Moscow.
Russia has condemned NATO’s activities in the Black Sea and branded them a provocation that hinders the normalization of the situation in Ukraine.
France has suspended delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carrier ships to Russia, due to events in eastern Ukraine.
“The situation is serious. Russia’s recent actions in the east of Ukraine contravene the fundamental principles of European security,” said a statement from the office of President Francois Hollande.
“The president of the Republic has concluded that despite the prospect of ceasefire, which has yet to be confirmed and put in place, the conditions under which France could authorise the delivery of the first helicopter carrier are not in place.”
The office informed AFP that the suspension would be next reviewed before November.
“Legally, nothing has changed and the contract is still in force, and the first vessel is still due for delivery on November 1. But a political decision has been taken. The President is saying that if nothing changes, he cannot allow the delivery to go through,” one of Hollande’s representatives told Russia’s RIA news agency.
As the rift over Ukraine has widened, Russian officials have repeatedly said that they would accept the French government’s failure to deliver the ships, as long as it paid the penalty for breaking the contract, which, could potentially exceed the cost of the ships themselves.
“This is not a tragedy, though of course the news is unpleasant. It will not affect our armament plans. We will act in accordance with international laws and the statutes of the contract,” said Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, in a statement.
The two ships were commissioned by Russia in 2011 at a cost of $1.6 billion. The first of these, the Vladivostok, was due to come into service at the end of this year, with the second, the Sevastopol, due to be completed in 2015.
France’s suspension does not fall under the sectoral sanctions the EU and the US imposed upon Russia for purported meddling in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, introduced last month. That raft of sanctions did not cover deals signed before their imposition.
But it could be covered under new sanctions sanctions the EU is expected to introduce this week, which may earn France a temporary reprieve from compensation under the terms of the contract.
While Moscow officials earlier admitted that in terms of efficiency and versatility the cutting-edge Mistral has no equivalent in the Russian Navy, the deal was always considered controversial, as France was a Cold War adversary, and is a founding member of NATO.
Indeed, there had been speculation of NATO taking over the Mistral order from Russia, following a proposal from a group of US congressmen back in May. Earlier this week, the Alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen did not rule out the possibility, but said that it “remains a national decision, not for NATO to interfere.” In the aftermath of the announcement from Hollande, NATO maintained that it wasn’t forcing France to suspend the sale.
Previously US President Barack Obama said France should “press the pause button” on the deal, while fighting in Ukraine is in progress.
Previously, French officials resisted, citing concerns over reputational damage, and saying that the financial penalties might hurt Paris more than Moscow. Even if France does now decide to sell the ships to someone else, it will have to refit them, as every aspect, from the helicopter pads to hull alloys is custom-made to Russian specifications.
Secretary of State Kerry has earned an unenviable reputation for bombastic exaggeration at times when diplomatic caution is needed, a pattern that he has demonstrated again in rushing to judgment over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The last time a major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. In a speech on Aug. 30, 2013, he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “we know” that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Just a few days later it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. There was instead a great deal of uncertainty within the U.S. intelligence community. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground by refusing to say “we know.”
Indeed, the dog-not-barking moment in the Syria-sarin case was the absence of U.S. intelligence officials sitting behind Kerry when he testified about his supposed knowledge to the U.S. Congress. Unlike the tableau in 2003 when CIA Director George Tenet positioned himself behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to give silent endorsement to Powell’s false allegations about Iraqi WMD to the United Nations Security Council, Kerry had no such support when he made his case against Syria’s government, although the clueless U.S. mainstream news media failed to notice this significant absence.
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this lack of consensus among our former colleagues in a Memorandum for the President on Sept. 6. Determined to avoid a redux of the fraudulent intelligence performance on Iraqi WMD, our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy” – again. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director John Brennan could give Kerry the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best the Obama administration could cook up was something called a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence and shorn of the normal dissents that intelligence analysts file with traditional estimates.
The reason for this internal intelligence community resistance was that, from the start, it made little sense that Assad would have launched a sarin attack right outside Damascus just as UN inspectors were unpacking at their Damascus hotel, having arrived in Syria to examine another chemical incident that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Further, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had sarin and that they may well have been the ones who released it on Aug. 21 in a scheme to push Obama across his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and induce the U.S. military to join the civil war on the rebel side.
At the time, the rebels were increasingly desperate. They had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer. The Turks, who had been aiding the rebels, also were growing convinced that only open U.S. military involvement could avert a looming defeat. So they set out, with apparent support of hawks in the U.S. State Department, to mousetrap President Obama into “retaliating” against Syria for crossing the “red line.”
Kerry’s performance on Aug. 30 – with all his “we knows” – was a clarion call for attacking Syria and might have prevailed, were it not for the fact that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone in Official Washington by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately as expected, but rather would go to Congress for authorization.
How close the world came to another U.S. war was underscored by the fact that after Obama’s decision, France, which had been eager to attack, had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on the tarmac. Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
On Sept. 1, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey’s intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his Sept. 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they, too, were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria included a transparent attempt to play down the effectiveness of al-Qaeda affiliates in gaining control of the armed opposition to Assad.
Kerry’s testimony drew a highly unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said, “He [Kerry] is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad.”
But Kerry continued to dissemble. Still arguing for war on Syria, Kerry was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively, in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”
However, such a plan was already afoot, being pushed by Putin’s diplomats. Later that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. Cutting out Kerry, Obama had cut a deal directly with Putin. All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.
So this is the backdrop against which to give credence, or not, to Kerry’s stacking up the evidence against Russia for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday over Ukraine.
Pascal Boniface is a specialist in what the French call ‘geopolitics’. His output has been prodigious, traversing a wide variety of subjects. His latest book was published in May, titled: La France malade du conflit israélo-palestinien. For his literary efforts in this arena, Boniface has moved from respected commentator to being persona non grata in the mainstream media.
This story begins in 2001. Boniface was an adviser to the Parti Socialiste, with the PS then in a cohabitation government under RPR President Jacques Chirac and PS Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. In April 2001, he wrote an opinion for PS officials. The Party’s approach to Israel is based on realpolitik rather than on ethical principles, and it was time for a reappraisal.
Boniface published an article to the same effect in Le Monde in August 2001, which led to a response and rebuke by the then Israeli ambassador. Boniface then became fair game for the Israel lobby (my term – Boniface assiduously avoids it). Boniface was accused, via selective quotation, of urging the PS to cynically cater to the French Arab/Muslim community, more numerous than the Jewish community, to gain electoral advantage. As recently as January 2014, Alain Finkielkraut (rabble-rouser on the ‘Islamist’ problem in France) denounced Boniface on the same grounds.
The 1300 word 2001 note is reproduced in Boniface’s latest book. In a prefatory note to the reproduction, Boniface notes: “How many times have I not heard that one can’t move on the Middle East because of the ‘Jewish vote’ (sic) which of course does not exist but which nevertheless is largely taken on board by the elected of all sides.” Again, “It is not because there are more Arabs than Jews that it is necessary to condemn the Israeli Occupation; it is rather because the Occupation is illegal and illegitimate, contrary to universal principles and to the right of peoples to govern themselves.”
In the note itself, Boniface opines: “The intellectual terrorism that consists of accusing of anti-Semitism those who don’t accept the politics of Israeli governments (as opposed to the state of Israel), profitable in the short term, will prove to be disastrous in the end.” Paraphrasing Boniface: ‘… it will act to reinforce and expand an irritation with the French Jewish community, and increasingly isolate it at the national level.’ Boniface concludes:
“It is better to lose an election than to lose one’s soul. But in putting on the same level the government of Israel and the Palestinians, one risks simply to lose both. Does the support of Sharon [then Prime Minister] warrant a loss in 2002? It is high time that the PS … faces the reality of a situation more and more abnormal, more and more perceived as such, and which besides does not serve … the interests in the medium and long term of the Israeli people and of the French Jewish community.”
As Boniface highlights in 2014, “This note, alas, retains its topicality.”
Then comes 9/11 in September. There is the second Intifada in Palestine. Boniface wanted an internal debate in the PS, but is accused of anti-Semitism. The glib denunciation of terrorism brings with it a prohibition against the questioning of its causes.
Not content to be silenced, Boniface wrote a book in 2003, titled Est-il permis de critique Israël ?. Boniface was rejected by seven publishing houses before finding a publisher. In 2011, Boniface published a book titled Les Intellectuels Faussaires (The Counterfeit Intellectuals). In that book he called to account eight prominent individuals, not for their views (virulently pro-Israel, Neo-cons, Islamophobes) but because he claims, with evidence, that they persistently bend the truth. Yet they all regularly appear on the French mainstream media as expert commentators. The point here is that the 2011 book was rejected by fourteen publishers; add those who Boniface knew would be a waste of time approaching. Belatedly, Boniface found a willing small-scale publisher for Faussaires, and it has sold well in spite of a blackout in outlets that Boniface had expected some coverage.
Boniface also notes that Michel Bôle-Richard, recognized journalist at Le Monde, experienced a rejection for his manuscript Israël, le nouvel apartheid by ten publishing houses before he found a small-scale publisher in 2013. Boniface’s La France malade was rejected by the house that published his 2003 book. By default, it has been published by a small-scale Catholic press, Éditions Salvator. As Boniface notes, ‘this is symptomatic of the climate in France and precisely why this book had to be written’. It’s noteworthy that much of the non-mainstream media, including Marianne, Le Canard Enchainé and Mediapart, steers clear of the issue.
Boniface’s book is not about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Rather, it is about the parlous influence of the domestic Israel lobby on French politics and French society more broadly. Boniface claims that one can criticize any government in the world (one can even mercilessly attack the reigning French President), but not that of Israel.
After 2001, the PS was pressured to excommunicate him. Two regional presses ceased to publish his articles. There were attempts to discredit his organization – the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques – and to have him removed. He has been slurred as an anti-Semite.
At the peak of French Jewish organizations is the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France. CRIF’s formal dominant concern is the combating of anti-Semitism. At its annual dinner, its President cites the yearly total of recorded anti-Semitic incidents, berating the assembled political elite (‘the turn up of Ministers rivals that of the 14th July’) who don’t dare to reply.
There are indeed recurring anti-Semitic events, and there was a noticeable surge for several years in the early 2000s. Prime Minister Jospin was blamed for not keeping a lid on troublemakers (read Arab/Muslim) from the banlieues. The Socialists were ousted in 2002 and CRIF became a vocal advocate for and supporter of the new Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy’s domestic hard-line against civil disorder.
But Jospin was ‘guilty’ of more. One of the PS’s most ardent supporters of Israel, Jospin visited Israel and the Occupied Territories in 1999. Experiencing the latter first hand, his government’s policy towards Sharon-led Israel becomes less ardent. For CRIF, France’s less than a 100% plus pro-Israel stance puts French Jews at greater risk, so CRIF maintains as its imperative to influence both foreign and domestic policy. After the Merah murders of (amongst others) three Jewish children and an adult at a Toulouse school in 2012, CRIF was still laying blame on Jospin. As Boniface notes, CRIF perennially attempts to influence France’s policies but refrains from attempting to influence Israel’s policies.
When the publisher of Boniface’s 2003 book rejected the latest proposal (originally planned as a revised edition of the earlier book), the excuse was that it was over-laden with statistics. Statistics there are (helped by French infatuation with surveys and polling), and they ground Boniface’s cause.
Boniface highlights a change in attitudes after the 1960s. Anti-Semitism was still observably prevalent in the 1960s (would you accept Jews as in-laws?, a Jewish President?, etc.) but has since been consistently in decline. At the same time, popular support for Israel has experienced consistent decline. Until 1967, support for Israel, as the ‘underdog’, in France was high. Gradually attitudes have changed. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is a turning point. Increasingly the manifestations of conflict – the intifadas, the failures at Camp David and later of Oslo – are blamed on Israel. Increasingly, the sympathy is more in favor of the occupied rather than the occupier.
In 2003, a European-wide survey produced the result that the greatest percentage of those surveyed thought that, of all countries, Israel was a threat to world peace – ahead of the US, Iran and North Korea, and so on. If the facts are ugly then bury them. There has been no subsequent comparable survey.
With anti-Semitism down and dislike for Israeli government policies up, the main agenda of CRIF has been to become a ‘second ambassador’ for Israel under cover of the supposed omnipresent pall of anti-Semitism in France. Other organizations like the Bureau national de vigilance contre l’anti-sémitisme (BNVCA) and the Union des étudiants juifs de France (UEJF) are part of the Israel cheer squad.
Boniface cites CRIF President Roger Cukierman in 2005: “Teachers have a demanding task to teach our children … the art of living together, the history of religions, of slavery, of anti-Semitism. A labor of truth is also essential to inscribe Zionism, this movement of emancipation, amongst the great epics of human history, and not as a repulsive fantasy.” And CRIF President Richard Prasquier in 2011: “Today Jews are attacked for their support of Israel, for Israel has become the ‘Jew’ amongst nations.” After 2008, following the ascendancy of Prasquier to the CRIF presidency, CRIF institutionalizes the organization of trips to Israel by French opinion leaders, and the reception in France of Israeli personalities.
Boniface finds it odious that anti-Semitism should be ‘instrumentalized’ to protect Israeli governments regardless of their actions. There is the blanket attempt at censorship of all events and materials that open Israel’s policies to examination.
Representative is a planned gathering in January 2011 at the prestigious École normale supérieure of 300 people to debate the ‘boycott’ question. Among the participants were the Israeli militant peacenik Nurit Peled, who lost her daughter in a suicide bombing, and the formidable Stéphane Hessel. The ENS’s director cancelled the booking under direct pressure. The higher education Minister and bureaucracy were also lobbied, in turn putting pressure on the ENS.
In February 2010, Sarkozy’s Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie issued a directive criminalizing those calling for a boycott of Israeli products. The formal reason given was that such a boycott militates against the freedom of commerce. The directive imposes a jail sentence and a heavy fine, and the Justice Minister instructed prosecutors that it is to be vigorously applied. Even the magistrature has criticized the directive, noting that its claimed dependence on a 2004 anti-discrimination law is inadmissible, and that it involves ‘a juridical assault of rare violence’ against a historic means of combating crimes of state. The directive remains in force under the Hollande Presidency.
The most striking reflection of the wholesale censorship agenda of the Israel lobby is the abuse of Jewish critics of Israel.
April 2010, under the banner Jcall.edu, a group of respected European Jews criticize the Occupation in defense of a more secure Israel, urging ‘two peoples, two states’ – they are attacked. March 2012, Jacob Cohen, Jewish critic of Israel, is physically menaced by the Ligue de défense juive (LDJ) during the launch of his book. November 2012, the mayoralty of the 19th arrondisement is attacked by the BNVCA for supporting an exhibition on the Negev Bedouins. Its sponsors, the Union juive française pour la paix (UJFP), are characterized as fronts for Palestinian propaganda. December 2012, Israeli Michel Warschawski is awarded the ‘prix des droits de l’homme de la République française’ – he is demonized. Other prominent Jewish intellectuals – Franco-Israeli Charles Enderlin, Rony Brauman, Edgar Morin, Esther Benbassa, members of the UJPF – are demonized.
July 2014, three young Jewish Israelis have been murdered. Charles Enderlin reports from Israel. The television channel France 2 mis-edits Enderlin’s reportage of ‘three young Israelis’ as ‘young colonists’. Widely respected for his sober reporting, Enderlin has been subsequently subject to a volley of abuse – thus: ‘it’s time to organise a commando to bump off this schmuck’.
April 2012, at the first Congress of friends of Israel. Israeli Ofer Bronchtein, President of the Forum international pour la paix, arrives as an official invitee. The LDJ attack him; the organisers, including CRIF, ask him to leave. Bronchtein later noted:
“If I had been attacked by anti-Semites in the street, numerous Jewish organisations would have quickly called for a demonstration at the Bastille. When it is fascist Jewish organisations that attack me, everybody remains silent …”
February 2013, Stéphane Hessel dies. Hessel’s life is an exemplar of courage and moral integrity; in his advanced years, this life was brought to our attention with the publication of his Indignez-vous ! in 2010. Hessel, part Jewish, was a strong critic of the Occupation and of the 2008-09 Gaza massacre. His death is met with bile from the lobby. CRIF labelled him a flawed thinker from whom they had little to learn and a doddery naïf giving comfort to the evil of others. A blogger on JssNews ranted: ‘Hessel! The guy who stinks the most. Not only his armpits but his inquisitorial fingers regarding the Jews of Israel.’ The LDJ celebrated – ‘Hessel the anti-Semite is dead! Champagne! [with multiple exclamation marks].’
Peculiarly in France, there is the LDJ. Its counterparts banned in Israel and the US (albeit not in Canada), the LDJ represents the strong-arm end of the Israel lobby. CRIF looks the other way. Boniface notes that it has been treated leniently to date by the authorities; is it necessary to wait for a death to confront its menace? On the recent murder of the three young Israelis, an LDJ tweet proffers: ‘The murders are all committed by the apostles of Islam. No Arabs, no murders! LDJ will respond rapidly and forcefully.’
As a de facto ambassador for Israel, the lobby has long attempted to influence French foreign policy. Boniface notes that in 1953 the new Israeli ambassador was met by Jewish representatives with the claim that ‘we are French citizens and you are the envoy of a foreign state’. That was then.
At successive annual dinners, CRIF has called for France to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘eternal’ capital, and to incorporate Israel as a member state in the Francophonie (with the associated financial benefits and cultural leverage). On those fronts, CRIF has been unsuccessful. But it has had success on the broader front.
The turning point comes with President Chirac’s refusal to sanction the coalition of the willing in its criminal rush to invade Iraq in March 2003. The lobby is not amused. Now why would that be? In whose interests did the invasion and occupation occur? Chirac’s reluctance is met with a concerted strategy of the French lobby in combination with the US Israel lobby and US government officials to undermine the French position. Thus the ‘French bashing’ campaign – not generated spontaneously by the offended American masses after all. In his 2008 book, then CRIF President Roger Cukierman notes his gratitude for the power of the US lobby, and its capacity to even pressure the French leadership over Iraq.
Boniface claims that Chirac falls into line as early as May 2003. There is the establishment of high level links between France and Israel. After that … Sharon is welcomed to France in July 2005. France denies acknowledgement of the Hamas electoral victory in January 2006. France demurs on Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 (in spite of the historic ties between Beirut and Paris). France remains ‘prudent’ regarding Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in late 2008 and the murderous assault on the Turkish-led flotilla in May 2010. France did vote ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state at the UN in November 2012, but in general French foreign policy has become captive to Israeli imperatives, thanks in particular to the domestic lobby.
* * *
In February 2006 a young Jew Ilam Halimi is tortured and murdered. The shocking event becomes a cause célèbre in the media. Halimi’s killer was an anti-Semite. The killer’s hapless gang members receive various sentences, but parts of the Jewish community complain of their inadequacy, want a retrial and lobby the Élysée. The Halimi murder has since been memorialized with a school prize for the guarding against anti-Semitism, and several films are being produced. At about the same time an auto worker had been murdered for money (as was Halimi). The latter murder received only a couple of lines in the press.
Boniface produces summary statistics that highlight the violent underbelly in French society. A shocking count of conjugal murders, large-scale infanticide and rampant child abuse. Tens of thousands of attacks on police and public sector workers. A string of shocking gang attacks with death threats against members of the Asian and Turkish communities – those presumed to keep much liquid cash in their homes. Boniface notes that the anti-Semitic attacks (some misinterpreted in their character) need to be put into perspective.
And then there’s the Arab/Muslim communities. A survey was desirably undertaken in schools to combat racism. A student innocently notes that any tendency to display anti-Semitism is met with a huge apparatus of condemnation. (The 2002 Lellouche Law raised the penalties for racism and explicitly for anti-Semitism.) On the other hand, noted the student, tendencies to racist discrimination against blacks or Arabs are ignored or treated lightly.
There is, as Boniface expresses it, deux poids, deux mesures – two weights, two measures. It is widely felt and widely resented. TWTM could be the motif of Boniface’s book.
Arabs and blacks often refrain from reporting abuse or assaults with the prospect that the authorities will not pursue the complaint. Women wearing the veil are perennially harassed and physically attacked. A young pregnant woman is punched in the stomach; she loses her child. There is perennial use of the term ‘dirty Arab’. Arabs and blacks are perennially harassed by police because of their appearance and presumed ethnicity. Islamophobia escalates, with implicit support from CRIF and from pro-Israel celebrities such as Alain Finkielkraut. (Finkielkraut was recently beamed up to the celestial Académie française; his detractors were labelled anti-Semites.)
Salutary is the perennial humiliation experienced by Mustapha Kessous, journalist for Le Monde. Boniface notes that Kessous ‘possesses a perfect mastery of social conventions and of the French language’. Not sufficient it appears. On a cycle or in a car he is stopped by police who ask of him if he has stolen it. He visits a hospital but is asked, ‘where is the journalist’? He attends court and is taken to be the defendant, and so on.
In 2005, a Franco-Palestinian Salah Hamouri was arrested at a checkpoint and eventually indicted on a trumped up charge of involvement in the murder of a rabbi. In 2008 he took a ‘plea bargain’ and was given 7 years in jail. He was released in 2011 in the group exchange with the release of French IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. In France, Shalit is treated with reverence, though a voluntary enrolee of an occupying force. Hamouri’s plight has been treated with indifference. TWTM.
In March 2010, Said Bourarach, an Arab security guard at a shop in Bobigny, is murdered by a group of young men, Jewish and known to the police. They get off, meanwhile alleging that the murdered guard had thrown anti-Semitic insults. In December 2013, young Jews beat up an Arab waiter for having posted a quenelle (an anti-authority hand gesture ridiculously claimed to be replicating a Nazi stance and thus anti-Semite) on a social network. The event received no coverage.
TWTM. The media is partly responsible. The authorities in their manifest partisanry are partly responsible. The lobby is heavily responsible.
Boniface is, rightly, obsessed with the promise of universalism formally rooted in Republican France. He objects to the undermining of this imperative by those who defend indefensible policies of Israeli governments and who divert and distort politics in France towards that end.
For his pains, Boniface is denigrated and marginalized. Evidently, he declines to accept defeat. Hence La France malade …
Evan Jones is a retired political economist from the University of Sydney. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Havana – The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) denounced the U.S.-imposed fine against the French bank BNP Paribas as an outrage against state sovereignty and the rules of free trade and international law.
A MINREX statement warns that with this new fine, the government of President Barack Obama has gone further than all his predecessors, accumulating penalties that exceed $11 billion USD against scores of entities, applied under many different sanctions regimes.
According to the statement, the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice and the state of New York imposed a record fine on June 30 of $8.97 billion USD against the French bank BNP Paribas, for disobeying Washington’s unilateral sanctions regimes against many countries.
In the specific case of Cuba, this bank institution is accused, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, of having processed thousands of transactions with the island’s entities, totaling more than $1.7 billion USD.
This fine, the largest imposed in history by the U.S. government for violations of its blockade on Cuba and current sanctions against third countries, violates the rules of International Law, and is described as an extraterritorial and illegal application of U.S. legislation against a foreign entity.
MINREX said that as a Free Trade Agreement between the United States and the European Union is being negotiated, it might be asked whether this is how the U.S. government intends to continue treating its allies.
BNP Paribas joins a long list of U.S. and foreign financial, trade, economic and other entities that have been the object of punitive measures, in the context of the worsening of the blockade and, especially, the financial persecution of Cuba.
Once again, the U.S. government has ignored the overwhelming international rejection of this criminal and failed policy against our nation, the Ministry said, qualifying the fine as an outrage against state sovereignty, and the rules of free trade and international law.
Russia’s president has blamed the turmoil in Ukraine on the country’s newly-elected leader Petro Poroshenko. Vladimir Putin also criticized the West for its intention to turn the planet into a “global barracks.”
Russia’s president has laid the blame for the ongoing turmoil between Kiev and south-eastern regions squarely at the feet of Petro Poroshenko, after the Ukrainian leader terminated the ceasefire.
He has stressed that Russia and European partners could not convince Poroshenko to not take the path of violence, which can’t lead to peace.
“Unfortunately, President Poroshenko has made the decision to resume military actions, and we – meaning myself and my colleagues in Europe – could not convince him that the way to reliable, firm and long-term peace can’t lie through war,” Putin said. “So far, Petro Poroshenko had no direct relation to orders to take military action. Now he has taken on this responsibility in full. Not only military, but also political, more importantly.”
On Monday, the leaders of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine held a phone call in which Putin stressed the need to prolong the ceasefire and the creation of “a reliable mechanism for monitoring compliance with it and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] should play an active role.”
Russia offered that checkpoints on the Russian side should be monitored by representatives of the Ukrainian Border service as well as OSCE observers for “the joint control of the border.”
As the violent conflict continues in the east of Ukraine and the number of refugees fleeing to Russia grows, Putin vowed to provide help to everyone who needs it.
“Everything that’s going on in Ukraine is of course the internal business of Ukrainian government, but we are painfully sorry that people die, civilians,” Putin said. He added that the killing of journalists was “absolutely unacceptable.”
“In my opinion, there is a deliberate attempt to eliminate representatives of the press going on. It concerns both Russian and foreign journalists,” the president said.
Speaking in front of ambassadors on Tuesday, Putin expressed hope that Western partners will stop imposing their principles on other countries.
“I hope pragmatism will still prevail. The West will get rid of ambitions, pursuits to establish a ‘world barracks’ – to arrange all according to ranks, to impose uniform rules of behavior and life of society,” Putin said.
“I hope the West will start building relations based on equal rights, mutual respect and mutual consideration of interests.”
Putin recalled the situation with France and the delivery of the Mistral-class ships that was agreed between Moscow and Paris, but was jeopardized in March.
“We know about the pressure that our American partners put on the French so that they would not deliver the Mistral [ships] to Russia,” Putin said. “And we know that [they] hinted that if the French don’t deliver Mistral, sanctions on banks will be gradually removed, or at least minimized. What is this, if not blackmail?”
Russia is ready to have dialogue with the US only on the basis of equality, Putin added.
“We are not going to stop our relations with the US. The bilateral relations are not in the best shape, that is true. But this – and I want to emphasize – is not Russia’s fault,” he told diplomats.
Speaking about international relations, Putin stressed that Russia always tried to be “predictable, to do business on an equal basis”, however, in return, its interests were quite often ignored.
France’s biggest bank has reportedly agreed an $8-9 billion settlement with US prosecutors over hiding $30 billion in money transfers to countries on the US sanctions blacklist. The fine against BNP Paribas could be a record for this type of violation.
In the proposed settlement, BNP Paribas will plead guilty to criminal charges in early July, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing a source close to the matter. After admitting violating the International Economic Powers Act, the bank will temporarily be banned from doing deals in US dollars. France has warned this could have a negative effect on the stability of the euro zone.
The US Department of Justice is negotiating with BNP Paribas over the infractions, and the penalty could be the biggest of its kind. French President Francois Hollande said the fines are ‘unfair’ and ‘disproportionate’.
In 2012, the US fined HSBC $1.9 billion over similar US sanctions violations, and Credit Suisse pled guilty to concealing sanctions data and paid $2.6 billion in fines.
After examining over $100 billion of transactions, US authorities found that $30 billion were illegally conducted with Iran, Cuba, and Sudan as they are countries sanctioned by the US.
The infraction will force the company to reshuffle its US-based management, according to several sources. The Wall Street Journal reports 30 bank employees have already left, or will soon exit, the company.
First set at $3 billion, the penalty later was rumored to have reached $16 billion before the latest $8-9 billion figure. The largest fine on record for a bank is the $13 billion JPMorgan Chase & Co paid out for pre-crisis mortgage frauds. BNP Paribas has only set aside over $1 billion to pay out any potential fines, and a fine between $8-9 billion could nearly wipe out the company’s entire pre-tax earnings of $11.2 billion.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Lodrian said on Monday that French arms sales increased by 42 per cent or €6.7 billion in 2013 compared to 2012 and are expected to exceed seven billion Euros this year. Lodrian was speaking during the opening of the Eurosatory 2014 arms fair in the Paris suburb of Villepinte.
France recorded a strong comeback in the Middle East market, said Lodrian. The region is responsible for generating 40 per cent of France’s total exports and it has also increased its presence in the Asia and Latin America markets.
In 2013, France’s biggest contract was an agreement to renew the Saudi Arabian navy’s fleet of ships, worth €500 million; a contract to sell a communication satellite to Brazil is worth €300 million.
The minister pointed out that French exports of munitions for use by armoured vehicles grew by 5 per cent in 2013. He noted that the Scorpion programme to update light weapons will soon be launched at the cost of five billion Euros over ten years.
“This means that future equipment will include more than 2,500 armoured vehicles connected to each other by sophisticated electronic systems,” said Lodrian. “The Scorpion programme will allow the Leclerc tank to be in use until 2040.”
Eurosatory 2014 will enable French industrialists “to improve their exports”, the minister added. Nearly 1,500 exhibitors from 58 countries are taking part in the arms fair, which lasts until Friday.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has once again poisoned international efforts to settle the nuclear dispute, with his latest effort to sabotage talks between Iran and the P5+1.
Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group – US, Britain, France Russia and China plus Germany – are due to reconvene next week in Austria with the tentative prospect of a comprehensive settlement to the long-running nuclear dispute.
A successful outcome would see Western-imposed trade sanctions on Iran being lifted. The onerous impact of these legally questionable Western sanctions on the Iranian people make that outcome long overdue.
However, this week – just days before sensitive talks re-open in Vienna – France’s top diplomat raised a new obstacle to finding a possible final agreement. Fabius is now telling French media that Iran must reduce the number of its nuclear-enrichment centrifuges, by a 10-fold factor, from a few thousand to a few hundred instruments.
Iran has already agreed to significant guarantees that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes – and not for weaponization, as the US, Britain and France have long been claiming – by agreeing to cap uranium enrichment at levels far below that required to make atomic bombs.
Fabius’ latest demand that Iran must now also drastically scale back on the number of its centrifuges used in uranium enrichment represents a new pre-condition for settling the nuclear impasse. The number of centrifuges is irrelevant given that Iran has already agreed to impose a limit on uranium enrichment – a generous concession by Iran given that it is not mandated to do so by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That self-imposed restriction led to the interim agreement being signed between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers last November.
That initial groundbreaking nuclear deal at the end of last year was also nearly scuppered back then by Laurent Fabius, when days before he suddenly raised the issue of “guarantees for Israeli security”. That was also seen as a mischievous intervention from Fabius, even by other Western diplomats, which in the event did not prevent the interim deal being signed on November 26.
Days before the next round of crucial talks, Fabius is up to his toxic diplomacy yet again.
Without exaggeration, no other contemporary Western diplomat has as much bad blood in his political veins than the French foreign minister.
He is currently overseeing French state-sponsored terrorism in Syria to illegally overthrow the elected government of President Bashar al Assad. Fabius is also currently overseeing the illegal French invasion of two African countries – Mali and Central Africa Republic – which has sparked the death of thousands of people from internecine violence. And yet this politician has the temerity and arrogance to hold the Iranian nation to ransom over trumped-up nuclear concerns.
But there is much more to this politician’s contaminated career. Fabius’ sinister political history has previously seen him involved in other acts of state terrorism, nuclear destruction of the environment on a massive scale, and the manslaughter of thousands of people around the world through the criminal selling of poisoned blood products.
Let’s start with the latter point first. During the 1980s when Fabius was then French prime minister, his government knowingly supplied blood transfusion products to its own citizens and those of many other countries around the world – to safeguard French commercial profits. It became known as the “blood transfusion scandal” – the biggest health controversy ever to hit France. More than 4,000 French citizens were infected by blood contaminated with HIV and Hepatitis C – of which at least 40 per cent were to die. Among several countries affected by importing blood products from France was Iran. An unknown number of sick Iranian patients would also later die from these toxic
As head of the French government between 1984-86, Fabius was subsequently charged with manslaughter relating to the scandal. He was later acquitted by a French court in 1999, along with another minister, while his former Health Minister Edmond Herve was found guilty. At least two other government officials were sent to jail for their part in the systematic crime. Angry campaigners denounced Fabius’ acquittal as an example of the French political elite being “untouchable”.
At the same time that Fabius’ government was overseeing the mass poisoning of blood patients to protect the commercial interests of French pharmaceutical companies, this same government committed one of the most audacious acts of state terrorism in recent decades.
In July 1985, French military agents carried out the bombing of a civilian ship, The Rainbow Warrior. The ship belonged to Greenpeace, the environmental campaign group, and was moored in the New Zealand port of Auckland at the time of the deadly attack, which resulted in the death of one Greenpeace activist and several others injured. French divers had mined the vessel with two explosives.
The incident brought an outpouring of international condemnation, and initially Fabius’ government denied any involvement. However, New Zealand police later arrested two French agents belonging to the foreign intelligence service, the DGSE. The pair were convicted and jailed. Fabius was then forced to come clean, in September 1985, when he made the shocking admission to world media that the French government had indeed ordered the murderous attack on a civilian vessel in a sovereign foreign territory. He famously said at the time: “The truth is cruel.”
But the background to this French act of state terrorism on the Rainbow Warrior is even more criminal. The Greenpeace ship was in New Zealand at that time to lead international protests against rampant French testing of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. Ever since 1962, France unilaterally declared its colonial territories of Polynesia and surrounding seas to be nuclear test sites. Between 1966 and 1996, successive French governments, including that of Laurent Fabius, carried out nearly 200 test explosions on the Pacific coral reef islands of Mururoa and Fangataufa.
The nuclear explosions were carried out with air, sea and underground devices and have been responsible for radioactive pollution spreading to New Zealand, Australia and even as far away as Peru in South America. The French weapons of mass destruction have also destroyed countless natural habitats in the South Pacific.
A year before the Rainbow Warrior terror attack, the New Zealand government introduced a law designating its territorial waters a nuclear-free zone. But that legal restriction did not stop Fabius’ government from committing an act of murder against civilians – civilians who were protesting against French acts of mass extermination in the South Pacific.
This is the criminal quality of former French Prime Minister and now Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius – who has the audacity to lecture the people of Iran about their legally entitled use of peaceful nuclear technology.