Thursday, April 23, 2009

Updated and Expanded: The Anglo-American Pro-Hamas Lobby (see new postscript)

The following article is by my colleague at our Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center. What makes this piece a real scoop is that Dr. Spyer reveals how the EU is financing a group lobbying to gain Hamas and Hizballah--two terrorist and revolutionary Islamist groups tied to Iran--recognition, concessions, and support in the West. This is nothing short of a scandal.
[See a new postscript about the latest statements of Hamas]

By Jonathan Spyer

A meeting was meant to take place April 23 in the Grimond Room at Portcullis House, adjoining the House of Commons in London. The planned meeting, entitled "Talk with Hamas," featured that group's most powerful leader, Khaled Mashal, speaking from Damascus to an audience of parliament member and journalists.

But he never spoke because the video conference link didn't work. Still, the fact that the meeting was being held at all is the important point, and it shows the workings of the pro-Hamas lobby in London, and the West more generally.

This meeting was the latest event in an ongoing and organized campaign to break the Western boycott of Hamas and transform policy toward the organization. Much energy is being expended in the UK. But London is only a way station, with the real prize being the transformation of the US stance.

In turn, this campaign is part of a larger effort to change the way that the West sees Islamist movements - and by doing so to bring many of the arguments made by such movements into the mainstream.

Who is behind this effort? The invitation came from the office of Independent Member of Parliament Clare Short.

However, it was issued in the name of John, Lord Alderdice. This name immediately offers a pointer. Alderdice, a veteran Northern Irish politician, is head of the board of advisers of an organization called Conflicts Forum.

Conflicts Forum is jointly led by Alistair Crooke and Mark Perry. Crooke is a former British intelligence officer, while the US-based Perry is described by the organization's website as a "military, intelligence and foreign affairs analyst." It describes its aim as opening "a new relationship between the West and the Muslim world."

What this anodyne phrase means in practice is revealed in a remarkably frank document published by this group, in which it explains the means it intends to use to bring about the basic change in perception that will bring Hamas and Hizbullah into the mainstream.

The document notes the need to build a "link-up between activist groups and mobilizers of opinion in order to shift the debate on Islamism from a predominantly defensive posture to a positive assertion of Islamist values and thinking."

It suggests, "Articulation of Hamas's and Hizballah's values, philosophy and wider political and social programs....Being more proactive in statements and rephrasing discourse to focus on the positive aspects of Islamist ideology."

The Conflicts' Forum publication lays down a precise strategy for promoting Hamas and Hizbullah. The various public relations' devices include:

"Use influential individuals--key Muslim personalities...use the Internet, DVD, interviews, podcasts....Link with mass organizations in Western countries--social movements, trade unions - to challenge hegemonic discourse. Approach editors of established journals... with a view to the possibility of them doing a special issue on Islamist thinking or on particular issues."

Undoubtedly, the attempted video link between Hamas HQ in Damascus and the Grimond Room in Portcullis House was meant to be a worthy contribution to this extensive effort to "re-brand" Hamas and Hizballah.

The UK, and the EU as a whole, remain committed to the Quartet conditions which Hamas must meet to become a partner for dialogue. Hamas (or at least its "military wing") remains on the EU list of proscribed terror organizations.

A cursory observation of the backers of Conflicts' Forum, however, reveals a curious paradox. In January 2007, the group proudly announced that it had been awarded a grant of €500,000 by the EU, to develop "more inclusive and legitimate approaches to transforming the Middle East conflict." More specifically, the project entails the "engagement" of "faith-based movements."
So the EU, while currently opposing "engagement" with Hamas, also appears to be offering financial support to a body engaged in lobbying for the organization.

How important are the efforts of Conflicts Forum and its associated groups? Are initiatives such as Wednesday's planned meeting likely to have a tangible effect on policy?

Britain has, of course, already announced that it intends to hold talks with Hizbullah. On Hamas, however, no immediate significant shift in British government policy looks likely.

The Hamas Lobby is busy and active. It encompasses former senior diplomats such as Sir Jeremy Greenstock, as well as the Conflicts Forum nexus.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has praised the Egyptian role in managing dialogue with Hamas in the following terms: "Others speak to Hamas. That's the right thing to do, and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward."

A knowledgeable source noted that many in the Foreign Office consider that engagement with the group is a "matter of time."

Still, for as long as the United States remains firmly committed to insisting that Hamas first abide by the three Quartet conditions (committing to nonviolence, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements and obligations), the UK is unlikely to break ranks openly. Differences might well surface if a Palestinian coalition government that included Hams were to be formed. But this currently looks highly improbable.

Ultimately, the main obstacle to the success of Lord Alderdice, Clare Short and their friends in Conflicts' Forum may well be the nature of their client. Hamas leaders have an unfortunate tendency to be candid regarding their movement's goals. This makes presenting the "positive aspects of Islamist ideology" something of a challenge.

Hamas "Foreign Minister" Mahmoud Zahar, for example, speaking last week, stated bluntly that "[Hamas] will never recognize the enemy [Israel] in any way, shape or form."

A few months ago, the same speaker asserted that "they [Jews] have legitimized the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine....They have legitimized the killing of their people all over the world by killing our people."

Spinning statements of that kind into moderation would pose a challenge to the smoothest of PR operators. But as the planned Portcullis House meeting showed, Hamas possesses an experienced, well-oiled, well-funded (largely by the European taxpayer) lobby in the heart of London.

Dr. Jonathan Spyer, senior fellow, is my colleague at our GLORIA Center

Postscript [from Barry Rubin]: Just as distinguished and very well-mannered British apologists for Hamas were holding a meeting explaining that Hamas is misunderstood, the group continues its openly antisemitic and genocidal rhetoric. See for yourself.

In a recent booklet entitled The Zionist Holocaust, here is what Hamas has to say:

Page 10: "that country, the one called `Israel'...believes only in killing and destruction...some of its principles are endless fighting, shedding blood and corruption. For the Jews, all men are flocks of lambs [i.e., fit for slaughter], while only they [the Jews] are fit to live ...”

Page 221: The Palestinians have only two options, to surrender or wiping out Israel and the Jews.

Oh and the Introduction is written by Ismail Haniya, who is often referred to as a "moderate" and the leader of Hamas's "political wing."

[Memo to Haniya: That was very clever of you to hide the Hamas leadership and set up its command post in Shifa hospital. That way if Israel attacked you could accuse it of war crimes and since it didn't you were safe and could run your war from there. And you probably don't even have to worry about the Western media picking up the story.]

Finally, a recent report by Human Rights Watch--a group known for its hostility to Israel--shows that more than 130 Palestinians (and that is probably a vast underestimate) have either been murdered or maimed (deliberately shot in an arm or leg to crippled them) because, in the former case, they supported the Palestinian Authority and, in the latter case, they merely criticized Hamas.

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