Persistent campaigning by the Palestine solidarity movement has turned Veolia into something of a toxic brand. From Manchester to Melbourne, local authorities have been quizzed about their dealings with the French corporate giant because of its role in constructing a light rail system for illegal Israeli settlements in Jerusalem.
The controversy has affected Veolia's bottom line, resulting in the loss of contracts worth €10 billion (£8.6 billion) over the past six years. So it recently turned to the Brussels bureaucracy for moral – or, perhaps more accurately, immoral – support.
On 31 October, Antonio Tajani, vice-president of the European Commission, opened the "Go4 Europe" business conference in Tel Aviv. On promotional material that Tajani and his aides almost certainly read, Veolia was listed as one of the event's four "platinum sponsors". As Tajani used the occasion to laud Israel's "business-friendly environment" (his words), he gave his tacit blessing to companies such as Veolia that have seized the opportunities presented by an apartheid state.
Tajani cannot profess ignorance of how the gathering served a propaganda function. The founder of the annual conference, Edouard Cukierman, is a self-declared "economic Zionist", according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. As well as being active in the technology industry, Cukierman works in the media division of the Israeli military, a force that has a tenuous relationship with the truth (to put it mildly). He is the son of Roger Cukierman, a former head of CRIF (the representative council for Jewish institutions in France), one of the most influential groups in this continent's Israel lobby.
Nominated to the EU executive by Italy's then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008, Tajani is a key ally for Israel in Brussels. For the 14 years before that appointment, he was a standard-bearer of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in the European Parliament. During his time there, he joined the steering committee of the European Friends of Israel, a network of elected representatives who can be relied on to champion Israel, regardless of what it does.
Tajani used his Halloween trip to engage in the "greenwashing" of Israeli apartheid. By visiting an electric cars firm, he helped depict Israel as a country that is serious about harnessing its innovative powers to reduce pollution. He failed to acknowledge how Israel is in reality an environmental villain, that steals precious water resources from the West Bank's Palestinians to fill swimming pools and sustain elaborate floral displays in illegal Jewish-only settlements.
Along with Ireland's EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Tajani is in charge of administering the Union's multi-annual programme for scientific research. Israel is the most active non-European participant in this programme; Israeli universities and private firms are currently involved in 800 EU-financed research activities with a total value of €4.3 billion. On his Tel Aviv visit, Tajani indicated that he wished to expand the research cooperation with Israel even further now that a revamped version of the EU programme, titled Horizon 2020, is being planned. As it is likely to have a budget of about €80 billion between 2014 and 2020, it is safe to assume that many Israeli entrepreneurs see it as a cash cow. The amount would be an increase of some €27 billion over what the Union allocated to research between 2007 and 2013.
The EU's scientific research activities seldom grace the pages of our newspapers. Yet if journalists bothered following the money trail, they would realise that the programme's beneficiaries include Israeli companies that supply the weapons and surveillance equipment used to systematically violate an entire people's rights.
David Cameron's apparent antipathy to Brussels notwithstanding, Britain is also an enthusiastic participant in the EU's research activities, many of which link up UK-based academics and businesspeople with their Israeli counterparts.
BAE, a company known to arm such repressive regimes as the Saudi royal family and Indonesia under Suharto, is taking part in an EU-financed project exploring how pilotless drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – can monitor Europe's borders. Israel Aerospace Industries, one of two manufacturers of the pilotless drones with which Gaza's 1.6 million civilians were attacked in late 2008 and early 2009, is also involved in OPARUS (Open Architecture for UAV-based Surveillance Systems), as that project is named. What this means is that the Union is taking advice from companies that facilitate war crimes on how to pursue a racist agenda of keeping foreigners out of Europe.
The Israeli Institute for Technology in Haifa – generally known as the Technion – believes that innovation should aid Zionism. It has boasted of developing a remote-controlled bulldozer, explicitly intended for use in destroying Palestinian homes so that the land on which they are situated can be handed over to Israeli settlers. The Technion is a significant player in the EU's research programme. Considering its determination to wreck Palestinian houses, it is perverse that the Technion is involved in a €4.4 million scheme called Responsible Infrastructure and Building Security (RIBS). This project is being coordinated by University College London; its stated objective is to help defend important sites "against hostile reconnaissance, intruders and hazardous attack".
The Technion is involved, too, in an EU-funded project with the Police Service of Northern Ireland called CommonSense, which is focused on the detection of bombs with special sensors.
Since I began writing about how Israel milks the EU's science funds two years ago, I have been told repeatedly by Brussels officials that the research in question is strictly civilian. Frankly, those assurances are dishonest. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the EU's main institutions agreed to finance research of a "security" nature. The objectives of this research were decided in consultation with the arms industry. In theory, this research is not supposed to lead to the development of actual weapons systems. In reality, there is nothing to stop the fruits of it from having military applications. To contend that the EU is helping Israel invent tools of repression that will be used against Palestinians in the future is not in the least bit fanciful.
A glance at the aforementioned Israel Aerospace Industries' website is sufficient to learn that its core business is the production of weapons, although it dabbles in "green" technology. Anyone who believes that its real interest in UAV research projects is benign must be naive in the extreme.
By embracing Israeli arms companies so tightly, the EU is flouting the spirit and more than likely the letter of the 2004 International Court of Justice ruling on Israel's wall in the West Bank. The ruling stipulated that governments and public bodies must not render any aid or assistance to the wall as it violates international law. IAI's subsidiary Tamam provided a surveillance system, based on technology installed in helicopters, for that wall. Continuing to allocate research subsidies to IAI is tantamount to approval of its role in equipping an illegal structure.
The high level of cooperation between European universities and Israel is something that should be challenged by every teacher and student who believes in basic principles of justice. An exemplary decision was taken in November by the King's College London Student Council, when it voted to condemn the participation of that university in an EU nanotechnology project that also includes Ahava, an Israeli company producing cosmetics in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. The previous month, the University of London Union also condemned the collaboration of British universities with Ahava; as the ULU is the largest student's union in Europe, the significance of the move should not be underestimated.
Hopefully, these are the first steps in a major battle aimed at expelling Israel from the EU's research programme.
Palestinian organisations fighting a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel issued a call in October for all European universities to cease cooperating with Israeli partners. The organisations contended that the involvement of Israeli arms companies in the EU's research programme contravened the association agreement that underpins the Union's relations with Israel. Now in force for more than a decade, that accord says unambiguously that all cooperation with Israel is conditional on respect for human rights.
Inserting human rights clauses in the trade and political contracts it signs with foreign governments is standard EU practice; indeed, Brussels officials tend to describe such clauses as non-negotiable. Words, of course, are meaningless if they are not acted on. The EU is not only refusing to take action against Israel, it is busily conniving in Israel's crimes.
Heaping research subsidies on Israel's war industry is an affront to the notion that science should serve the public good. If there was more knowledge among Europe's taxpayers about how our money is going to companies that profit from the suffering of Palestinians, I am convinced that most decent people would be outraged. The only barrier to that outrage is a lack of awareness. With enough consciousness-raising, the barrier can surely be removed.
David Cronin's book Europe's Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation is published by Pluto Press.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.