An anti-Palestinian conference due to take place in the UK tomorrow has barred Electronic Intifada from attending the event, despite admitting other journalists that will be given free entry.
“The Big Tent For Israel” in Manchester will bring together an alliance of pro-Israel groups specifically to combat the increasingly successful Palestinian campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). New Israeli ambassador Daniel Tuab is due to address the conference as keynote speaker, according to its program.
The event is focused on a 2010 report by influential Israeli think tank the Reut Institute, which named London as the “hub of hubs of delegitimization”.
Palestinian media seemingly excluded
I emailed the organizers on Thursday, telling them I am journalist who writes for The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian news website. I asked to register as press, and offered to openly wear my national press credentials while on the conference floor.
I heard nothing back, so gave them a call on Friday. I was passed onto one Debbie Marks, who said she was an organizer. On most questions I put to her, she declined to comment. Ms. Marks said she worked for Qube Events, and thus did not make the final decision. The business was contracted to organize conference logistics. She said a decision on my application to attend would follow via email.
She promised to get back to me either way by the end of the day. When I pressed her on this point she said “at the moment it looks like we are fully booked for press”. I said that, were I to be declined permission to attend, I would like an explanation as to why. Ms. Marks replied that they would likely not give out that information.
Bruce Levy of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) had previously registered for a related event in London (he has the story on the London BDS blog). The London event was said to include Michael Weiss of the Henry Jackson society and Douglas Murray of NGO Monitor (both of whom are also slated for the Manchester even). But the day before, Ms Marks wrote to Mr Levy canceling his ticket. When he wrote again asking why, she was not very helpful: “we are not obliged to give a reason.”
On the phone, I asked Ms. Marks which media outlet would be attending. She replied at first that they had a “big selection” of journalists coming, so she couldn’t go through the list on the phone. Pressed on this point, she said Qube “can’t give out that information”. I asked whether or not there any Palestinian media attending, but she dodged the question, saying they “can’t go through” that.
She reiterated that I would receive a reply either way by the end of the day. She said if my application was successful, she would send me an email with a ticket.
I expressed concern that their website at that point stated applications would be closing by 2pm, and that the end of the day may be too late. I pointed out that I hadn’t paid for it yet. She replied it was free for press to attend anyway. Thus she confirmed other journalists will be given press passes.
Come six o’clock, the promised email had not materialized. So I called again. All I got was a voicemail message stating that applications had now closed. Today at 3.12pm I received the following email:
I regret that your application to attend has been unsuccessful.
The Big Tent for Israel
I wrote back asking for the reason behind this decision, but have yet to receive a reply.
Since it’s technically a private event, organizers of “The Big Tent For Israel” are entitled to invite whoever they want. But the question must be asked: is the pro-Israel case so weak it cannot stand up to critics? Clearly, I come from a critical perspective, but would still have covered the event accurately and honestly.
In relation to this question, the conference’s website tells us quite a lot, especially the line-up for the day.
The opening plenary’s panel includes Ivan Lewis MP, Reut’s Eran Shayshon, Histadrut chief of staff Yakov Triptou and Israeli settler Itamar Marcus. It also includes a video message from mining tycoon Mick Davis, a trustee of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.
Lewis was foreign office minister for the Middle East under the previous Labour government. He is also a member and former vice-chair of lobby group, Labour Friends of Israel. According to The Independent, his appointment “raised eyebrows in the Foreign Office” as he had been one “one of the most outspoken political supporters of Israel’s military assault on Gaza.”
Judging from the 2010 report’s preamble, Shayson headed the team responsible for its authorship. According to a Reut website, his team “deals with the Palestinian challenge”.
South Africa-born executive Davis is connected to the recent Adam Werritty scandal, Werritty himself told the recent inquiry [PDF] by the head civil servant Gus O’Donnell. Davis was one of the donors to Pargav, the company controlled by Werritty. Former defence minister Liam Fox was forced to step down last month after it was revealed that Werritty (best man at his wedding) was posing as his advisor, although he had no approved formal role. Werritty used Pargav funds “to fund travels across the world” according to an article in the Guardian Wednesday (the article was removed from the Guardian website Friday “pending investigation”, but is mirrored here and here).
Marcus is the founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch. He lives in the illegal West Bank settlement of Efrat, according to transparency lobby SpinWatch. He was one of the interviewees appearing in Islamophobic film “Obsession”. Marcus also spoke at the 2008 “Facing Jihad” conference in Jerusalem, on the same day as Islamophobic Dutch MP Geert Wilders.
Zionist anti-Semitism under “The Big Tent”
“The Big Tent” program itself is also concerning. One of the workshops is titled: “Every Jew is an Ambassador for Israel, why don’t we use them?” According to a definition on the website of the Community Security Trust, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is an example of anti-Semitism.
One of the speakers at this workshop is Lorna Fitzsimons, former Labour MP and chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). A company owned by BICOM’s chairman and main donor Poju Zabludowicz was another of the donors to Werritty’s Pargav.
On the phone, I put it to Ms Marks that this workshop’s title is anti-Semitic. She refused to comment on the contents of the program, which she said she was not involved in writing: Qube “don’t have any details on the actual program,” she claimed. I asked her if she personally thought the title was anti-Semitic but she declined to comment.
In common with most pro-Israel events in the UK these days, the venue of “The Big Tent” is not being publicly advertised. “The conference venue will be advised in due course” says the website. This seems to be an attempt to avoid BDS activists protesting against the event, or getting a view from the inside.
An activist source tells me the venue is probably Manchester Conference Centre, but I could not verify this. I put it to Ms. Marks that this was the venue but, unsurprisingly, she had no comment.
The Reut Institute
The 2010 Reut report that “The Big Tent” is centered on is titled: “The Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy: London as a Case Study”. The report says London “has been referred to as the ‘Mecca of Delegitimization.’ Londoners have played a key role in all major recent delegitimization campaigns, including the Durban conferences, the Gaza Flotilla, and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) Movement.”
Reut is notorious for advocating in 2010 that Israel should “sabotage” the BDS movement.
Israel has threatened to cut the supply of water and electricity to the Gaza Strip if rival Palestinian movements, Fatah and Hamas, establish a unity government.
“The foreign ministry is examining the possibility of Israel pulling out of the Gaza Strip in terms of infrastructure,” AFP quoted Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as telling the daily Yediot Aharonot’s website on Saturday.
Ayalon, a Knesset (Israeli parliament) deputy for the leftist Yisrael Beitenu party, said a Palestinian unity government “would put an end to any hope for a peace agreement” with Tel Aviv.
On Thursday, acting Palestinian Authority (PA) Chief Mahmoud Abbas (leader of Fatah party) held talks with Hamas Political Bureau Chief , Khaled Meshaal, in the Egyptian capital Cairo, where they announced a new era of partnership between the rival Palestinian factions.
The talks seriously irked Israeli leaders who decided to maintain a freeze on the transfer of tens of millions of dollars in tax monies to the PA, to further increase the strain on Ramallah-based authority.
The transfer of funds, which make up a large percentage of the PA’s monthly budget, was frozen in November by Tel Aviv, after the Palestine won full membership of the UN cultural organization, UNESCO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had in January threatened to cut off water and power to the long-blockaded Gaza Strip.
Israel continues to control the supply of water to Gaza and 70 percent of the territory’s electrical power. The rest of Gaza’s electricity needs are supplied by neighboring Egypt and local power plants, which rarely receive enough fuel to operate under Israel’s blockade.
Israel has tightened its crippling closure on the Gaza Strip since 2007, defying international calls to lift the blockade.
Pakistan says it will press ahead with its Iran gas pipeline deal despite a strong opposition by the United States, Press TV reports.
Pakistan’s Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said on Friday that Islamabad will not accept any dictation regarding its internal affairs from any foreign country, adding that importing gas from Iran is in the country’s best interest.
The remarks came as a reaction to earlier pleas by Washington’s Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter that the Pakistani government abort its multi-billion dollar gas pipeline project with Iran.
“Pak-Iran gas pipeline is not a good idea….However, the plan to get gas from Turkmenistan is a better idea,” Press TV correspondent quoted Munter as saying on Friday.
The USD 7.6 billion gas pipeline deal, which was signed in June 2010, aims to export a daily amount of 21.5 million cubic meters (or 8.7 billion cubic meters per year) of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan.
Last month, Pakistan’s Minister of Oil and Natural Resources Asim Hussain said the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline would be inaugurated before the end of 2013, one year ahead of the original schedule.
Maximum daily gas transfer capacity of the 56-inch pipeline, which runs over 900 km of Iran’s soil from Asalouyeh in Bushehr Province to the city of Iranshahr in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, has been given at 110 million cubic meters.
Iran and Pakistan finalized the details of the deal during bilateral talks held in Tehran in October 2007.
The deal comes in the face of Washington’s efforts to isolate Iran economically through UN Security Council sanctions and its own unilateral penalties over Tehran’s nuclear programs.
Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas resources after Russia with available gas reserves estimated at over 33 trillion cubic meters.
In addition to exporting gas to Turkey, Armenia, and Pakistan, the country is currently negotiating gas exports to Iraq.
Interview with Mohammad Marandi, professor of University of Tehran
Britain the United States have imposed new sanctions on Iran’s banking system and energy sector after the UN nuclear agency’s recent report on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, circulated among the 35 members of the agency’s Board of Governors on November 8, accused Iran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear program.
Iran said the new round of sanctions imposed on the country over its nuclear energy program are fruitless.
Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry has also denounced the new sanctions as “unacceptable and illegal.”
The Russian ministry’s statement also warned against the adverse affects of fresh anti-Iran sanctions, saying, “We believe that the constant strengthening of sanctions has long ago gone beyond the bounds of decisions on non-proliferation tasks surrounding the Iranian nuclear program.”
Press TV has interviewed Mohammad Marandi, professor of University of Tehran, to discuss the issue further.
Press TV: Are these sanctions, to begin with, actually legal?
Marandi: They are definitely not legal –just like many previous sanctions– because the Americans and the Europeans along side with the Americans are trying to impose their will upon the international community, they’re basically trying to force third countries not to do business with Iran and this is not new; this has been going on for many years but more or less it has not had the sort of effect that they have been looking for. They have been trying to increase sanctions but there really is not much more left that they could do.
The Iranians have more or less over the last decades moved away from trading with Europe and the United States and the sectors in which the Americans are now trying to put pressure on –meaning petrochemicals and oil and gas– these are sectors which are in high demand throughout the world. So Iran definitely will have customers and Iran has –because of the sanctions– developed its own industry for building petrochemical plants as well as facilities for producing oil. So the fact has minimized over the years and indeed it caused Iran basically to learn to look for alternative partners than the West. In some ways, it actually benefited Iran.
Press TV: And when we look at the countries involved, as you mentioned, Western countries –but in particular it is the United States, the UK and France– they are basing this on the most recent IAEA report that came out which in itself is controversial and has been labeled as being politically motivated. So it is kind of confusing when you have a report that is inconclusive because Iran has been transparent and then based on that, they come out and impose these sanctions.
Marandi: I think for the international community it is quite clear that the IAEA chief [Yukiya Amano] does not have any credibility and that the new report is based on very old information that goes back to a simple laptop that the Americans claim proves that Iran’s peaceful nuclear program has a military aspect to it. The Iranians said that this laptop –which the Americans say they obtained many years ago– the Iranians said it should be shown to computer experts to see if it is authentic. The Americans refused to give it to the IAEA or to give it to independent computer experts to analyze and –as the Iranians point out– this shows that it is a fabricated piece of evidence.
So the report itself does not contain anything new but the United States and the Europeans, in their rather irrational hostility towards Iran which to a large degree has to do with their rapidly declining fortunes in the Middle East and beyond, they continue to pursue hostile policies towards the Iranian people.
One of the interesting things is that this is probably the worst public diplomacy move that the Americans can make because they and the Europeans are obviously trying to hurt ordinary Iranians, trying to make ordinary Iranians suffer and that of course is itself a violation of human rights. But the problem is that they have really lost their influence over the country and Iran has many alternatives. You see rising powers in Latin America, in the Far East and in the Indian sub-continent which need Iran and the more Iran trades with them, in fact, the more reliant they become upon Iran.
Press TV: When you talk about diplomatic gestures made by the West, we remember when Barack Obama came into office, he said we are going to keep that dual track approach towards Iran, on the one hand, we are open for talks, on the other, sanctions. Of course it has been more of the sanctions and the negative approach that they have had towards Iran where they have exercised more in terms of any action than any diplomatic push towards trying to resolve any type of standoff. So put that into context for us if you can –a little wrap off of how the current US administration has approached Iran.
Marandi: It has been more or less an arrogant approach in the sense they assume they have the right to punish Iran whenever they see fit and use international organizations to do so and then try to force Iran to speak to them under duress –therefore giving concessions.
What they basically want is for Iran to be like Saudi Arabia –to be a client regime. But again Iran is too strong and too powerful for the US and for the Europeans to make it kneel and the world has changed dramatically over the past few years; more Iranians than ever before are traveling to countries outside of Europe and the US for trade, for studying, even for entertainment and sightseeing. So I think this Euro-centric mold –where the white European males who have been running the world for the last few centuries– this is beginning to break and we see major signs of it in Europe and the US, even now, through economic crises, through the protests that are going on throughout the US, and I don’t think time is really on their side.
A Turkish newspaper has unveiled that French military forces are training armed Syrian rebels to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
According to Milliyet, as cited by IRNA, France has sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to coach the so-called Free Syrian Army — a group of defectors operating out of Turkey and Lebanon — in an effort to wage war against Syria’s military.
The report added that the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”
The Turkish daily said that the three have informed the US about training and arming the Syrian opposition.
According to Milliyet, a group of armed rebels are currently stationed in Turkey’s Hatay Province near the border with Syria.
The report comes as an earlier report had revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have reportedly tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli in order to help fuel unrest in Syria.
Reports also said that French intelligence agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March, with demonstrations being held both against and in support of President Assad.
Damascus says the unrest has been largely incited by elements that are well-paid and armed by foreign powers. Hundreds of people, including members of the security forces, have been killed in the turmoil.
The opposition and Western countries accuse Syrian security forces of being behind the killings in the country, but the government blames what it describes as outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups for the deadly violence, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.
AMMAN — Tens of thousands of Jordanian citizens rallied on Friday in Suweima village in the Jordanian Valley, only 25 kilometers away from occupied Jerusalem, in support of the holy city.
Ibrahim Al-Keylani, delivering the Friday sermon at the village, said that the Jordanians were displaying solidarity with their Palestinian brothers.
He championed resistance as the only hope for the liberation of the holy Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem, warning that the holy city was the target of a systematic Judaization campaign at the hands of the Israeli occupiers.
Participants torched Israeli flags and replicas of the alleged Jewish temple, which the Jews were seeking to build in place of the Aqsa mosque.
In Cairo, around 5000 Egyptians held a similar rally at the Azhar mosque to declare solidarity with Jerusalem and the Aqsa mosque on the international day for solidarity with occupied Jerusalem.
A statement delivered on behalf of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, said that Jerusalem was a red line and that Muslims would never allow anyone to harm it.
Tayyeb asked Muslims worldwide to mobilize efforts and to confront the Israeli Judaization of Jerusalem.
Khalil Al-Hayya, a political bureau member of Hamas, told the rally that Arabs and Muslims should stand united to liberate Jerusalem, adding that the Israelis were planning to destroy the Aqsa mosque.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has strongly condemned a NATO airstrike on a border post, which killed at least 28 Pakistani soldiers, Press TV reports.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday that it also lodged a complaint in the strongest terms with NATO and the US over the attack, a Press TV correspondent reported.
“On his [Gilani] directions, the matter is being taken up by the foreign ministry, in the strongest terms, with NATO and the US,” the ministry said.
The incident occurred when a NATO helicopter targeted a security forces checkpoint known as Salala on the Mohmand Agency in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border early on Saturday. The strike also left 15 Pakistani soldiers injured.
The Western alliance said it was aware that an incident took place and it is still in the process of gathering information to investigate the attack.
In retaliation, Islamabad has blocked NATO supplies to Afghanistan.
Dozens of trucks carrying goods and petroleum supplies for NATO forces were stopped in the Torkham border area of the Khyber tribal region in northwestern Pakistan.
Pakistan has repeatedly condemned airstrikes against its troops near the border with Afghanistan. While the strikes supposedly target militants, they usually claim the lives of civilians and Pakistani soldiers.