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Has the Tory government authorised Israeli ‘black-ops’ in Britain?

September 10, 2016 at 10:50 am

Israel is stepping up its war against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The BDS campaign is seen as a “strategic threat of the first order” against Israel, now replacing even Iran in the demonology of Israeli propaganda.

A recent committee hearing in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, revealed the latest details of its dirty war against this entirely non-violent human rights movement which aims to build global solidarity with the Palestinian people. The well-connected Israeli security correspondent Yossi Melman reported on Sunday about a transparency committee hearing which heard testimony from Sima Vaknan-Gil, the director of the strategic affairs ministry.

Although it was set up over a decade ago with the purpose of agitating against Iran, the main priority of the ministry these days is to combat BDS. Its 2016 budget to do this is $45 million.

At the committee hearing, Vaknan-Gil (a former head of Israel’s military censorship office) spoke in the militaristic terminology that has become typical of Israeli officials’ attitude towards BDS. The ministry, she said, wants to “build a community of warriors” in its “war” against BDS, and that Israel needs to “strive for victory.” She also spoke of Israel’s need to conduct its affairs with “a lot of secrecy” in order to win this “battle.”

This is unsurprising. Melman’s report made it clear, once again, that Israeli spy agencies are heavily involved in the anti-BDS campaign. He pointed out that the ministry’s intelligence section is run by a former security services operative and gets help from “a special unit” within Aman, the Israeli military intelligence agency. It is also assisted by Shin Bet, the domestic secret police service, which is notorious for its torture and abuse of Palestinian prisoners as well as for endemic and indiscriminate violation of the civil rights of the entire Palestinian population.

Aman and Shin Bet were revealed previously to have been working against BDS activists around the world. The facts revealed by Melman, though, show that Israel is raising the ante. According to the journalist, the ministry of strategic affairs is involved in “special operations” or “black ops” which may include “defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists” as well as “infringing on and violating their privacy.”

His reference to death threats is timely. As I wrote here a few weeks ago, Palestinian human rights workers assisting the International Criminal Court in The Hague with its Israel file have recently been subjected to such sinister campaigns.

It is in this context that we must view this week’s visit to Britain of the Israeli government minister responsible for what is going on, Gilad Erdan. As the strategic affairs minister, the Jerusalem Post reported, Erdan was set to meet several of his British counterparts, including Communities Minister Sajid Javid.

We already know that the Conservative government is extremely hostile to BDS. Earlier this year, Tory spin doctors generated headlines suggesting that it would be illegal for public bodies to engage in BDS. However, close scrutiny of the rule change revealed that there was no new law at all, and BDS would still be possible, even for local councils and universities.

There is no doubt that the change was intended to make it harder for “respectable” public bodies to boycott Israel. Nevertheless, the first court case in Britain to cite the so-called “ban” in June failed in the High Court.

Erdan has promised “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS activists, and imposed a travel ban on BDS National Committee co-founder Omar Barghouti. The Israeli minister has threatened that BDS activists will “pay the price.” The Jerusalem Post reported that he said of his visit to London, “I’m going there to battle the boycott and delegitimisation in every arena, and to discuss with members of the British government – which is also committed to fighting boycotts – ways to strengthen our cooperation against the anti-Semitic boycott campaign.” (Emphasis added.) A meeting with a Home office minister is reported to have been expected by Erdan.

Was his line about fighting BDS in “every arena” a reference to those rather sinister “black ops” against human rights activists? Has Israel been seeking permission to carry out some sort of covert anti-BDS campaign in Britain? This is the same national government, after all, which apparently authorised one of its Mossad agents to assassinate Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali in London in 1987. Perhaps even more disconcerting, has the Tory government led by Theresa May agreed to such murderous activities taking place on British soil?

According to Melman’s analysis, the Israeli threats in The Hague were likely to have been a “shot across the bow”. If sending death threats to human rights workers and their families (along with a photo of their home) is a mere warning shot, one wonders what the real thing will look like.

Correction: The caption to the photo above initially stated that the police were arresting “Palestinian activists”. In fact, the activist in the centre of the photo is an Israeli, not a Palestinian.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.