A good government group in Europe has put out a report exposing p.r. and lobbying efforts on behalf of repressive regimes.
A report released today by research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) sheds light on how dictators and repressive regimes are paying European PR firms and lobbyists to push their agenda and mask their dire human rights records [titled] “Spin doctors to the autocrats: how European PR firms whitewash repressive regimes.”
Among the problems swept under the rug: torturing dissidents, smearing critics, disappearing opponents, slave labor, “whitewashing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s… catastrophic handling of Boko Haram ahead of next month’s elections,” and Presidential candidate for Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta hiring a PR firm to discredit accusations by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity. The list of repressive regimes includes Russia, Rwanda, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, Georgia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Code d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bahrian, Ethiopia, and Israel.
Israel’s PR goals are (p. 43 in the PDF): “redefining ‘occupied’ territories, fighting the boycott.” Its friends are seeking to rebrand the country as a haven of technology not a site of conflict and colonization. We’ve seen that in the U.S. too, of course.
The chief focus of the report is the European Friends of Israel, which has as members 1000 friendly parliamentarians across Europe and calls itself the largest parliamentary group of its kind. EFI was launched with funding from the Israeli arms industry, according to the new report. EFI held packed briefings offering a “surreal” picture of the last Gaza onslaught, saying that Israelis were creating “inspiring stuff” to “make the world a better place” and that Israelis experienced “the worst of the recent war in Gaza.”
Right next door to the European Commission [in Brussels] are the offices of the European Friends of Israel (EFI), one of the largest pan-European parliamentary groups of its kind, with 1000 members of parliament from across the continent at national and European levels.
Set up to “improve the overall relationship between the European Union and Israel”, EFI brings together every national parliaments’ Israel friendship group from the EU’s 28 member-states, and a new Israel friendship group within the European Parliament. …
Its most recent published financial data is its 2012 budget, listed as €400,000. In [Irish journalist] David Cronin’s extensive research on EFI for Spinwatch, he says that its status as an ‘informal grouping’ means it doesn’t have to reveal how it is funded. Cronin also describes the extensive arms industry connections with the EFI; IAI (then called Israel Aircraft Industries), one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Israeli military for example, was among the sponsors of the EFI’s launch in September 2006.
During Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014, ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the EFI held packed briefings in the European Parliament… EFI has been keen to reframe the image of the country as not just being defined by conflict, sometimes to the point of surrealism. A press release post ‘Operation Protective Edge’ full of “inspiring stuff” based on Israeli innovation says, “Whilst thousands of rockets rained down on the country during the latest conflict, Israelis have – between running to bomb shelters – been creating technologies and devising strategies to make the world a better place.”
A recent EFI parliamentary event describes life for Israelis on the border with Gaza, who experienced “the worst of the recent war in Gaza, with quite literally thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately at the citizens of Sh’ar Hanegev”. Aside from events and briefings at the European Parliament, EFI also organises trips for parliamentarians to Israel. It has also been very pro-active in promoting the EU-Israel Agreement Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) agreement. Cronin says, “Helping to steer an EU-Israel trade deal through the European Parliament has undoubtedly been EFI’s biggest achievement in its relatively short history.”…
Cronin documents how the EFI exerted a “hellish pressure” according to one MEP [member of the European Parliament] on parliamentarians not to block ACAA, and how they pushed the benefits to the European public of the improved access to Israeli medicines that ACAA would usher in. The ACAA was passed but bans financial ties with illegal Israeli settlements. The EFI has been lobbying to lift this ruling.
Hellish pressure is of course reminiscent of descriptions of the Israel lobby on Capitol Hill. Another group is based in the US and has a much bigger budget than EFI but is also aimed at whitewashing the settlements:
Israel Allies Foundation [IAF] is a US-based organisation with an office in Brussels. It lists its budget in the EU transparency register as €1,500,000. According to its website it “works with parliaments around the world to mobilize political support for Israel based on Judeo-Christian values.” It was founded in 2004 by Israeli politicians seeking support from the “Christian world”.,,
MEP Magdi Cristiano Allam and MEP Roger Helmer, both members of the IAF caucus in the European Parliament, went on a ‘fact-finding mission’ to the occupied territories paid for by IAF. They tabled parliamentary questions challenging the European Commission Israel Grants Guidelines of July 2013 which do not allow EU funding to go to the occupied territories, arguing these areas were not under occupation.
IAF pledged to step up its lobbying in response to the guidelines.
Some of the report’s history on Israeli PR effort shows how much money is involved fighting boycott pressure:
In 2011 Israel was looking for PR firms in ten countries in order to improve its international reputation, particularly the way Europe perceives the country. According to PR newsletter the Holmes Report the contract worth seven figures focuses on “national industries and characteristics that are often obscured by the focus on war and conflict. These include the country’s booming high-tech sector, along with Israel’s culture, economy, food and music.”
The unprecedented PR move came amidst an increasingly vocal movement to boycott Israeli products, particularly strong in Europe, and a Palestinian campaign for UN recognition of statehood.
The Holmes Report “understands that Euro RSCG PR [now Havas PR] has been tapped for the UK and France. Other firms thought to be involved are Kreab Gavin Anderson, Burson Marsteller and CNC, in Belgium, Italy and
Germany, respectively. In addition, firms have also been hired in the Nordics, Spain, Netherlands and the Czech Republic.” The total budget was estimated at $3.26 million a year. Indeed, Havas PR reports on its website that
one of its clients is the Embassy of Israel in the UK.
The EU’s Transparency Register data from 2013 showed that the Israeli Mission to the European Union paid €150,000-€200,000 to the PR agency Kreab Gavin Andersen, though not the dates of the contract…. The PR firm was tasked with convincing MEPs that blocking ACAA [trade agreement] was not the best way for them to show their objection to the expansion of Israeli settlements.
The British country rebranding firm Acanchi (see Rwanda case study) [page 17; Rwanda is accused of war crimes but it is being marketed as an international success story] was also contracted to create a new Brand Israel in 2008. According to Ido Aharoni, the foreign ministry official who commissioned the programme, “Our research shows that Israel’s brand is essentially the conflict.” He continued, “Even those who recognize that Israel is in the right are not attracted to it, because they see it as a supplier of bad news. The conclusion is that it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right.”
There’s that old expression, it’s better to be lucky than good. Better to be attractive than right.