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Terry Crawford-Browne - The Hassle Factor: International action against money laundering could quickly collapse the Israeli economy

 Street News Service 31 October 2019

Terry Crawford-Browne is a former international banker who during the mid 1980s became a peace activist, and is better known for his opposition to the arms acquisition package, known as the “arms deal.” He is also secretary of the South African organising committee for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. His second book, Eye On The Diamonds is to be published early next year. (1420 Words) - By Terry Crawford-Browne


The international banking sanctions campaign against apartheid South Africa was successful thanks to "the hassle factor."  Typically, South Africa was generating one percent of corporate profits, but was consuming ten percent of executive management time.

The United Nations in 1977 decided that abuses of human rights in South Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security.  It had also found that apartheid was a crime against humanity.

Apartheid South Africa simply became "too much hassle," and so in 1990 was abandoned by the American and British governments to negotiate a post-apartheid constitutional democracy.  The prospect was thankfully averted of a racial bloodbath in which millions of people would have died and the economic infrastructure destroyed.

With the concurrent collapse of the Soviet Union, apartheid South Africa could no longer use the "communist bogey" to maintain the support of its sponsors. Apartheid in South Africa also resonated with the American civil rights campaign.

Even the United States government in October 1989 issued an ultimatum demanding the end of apartheid by June 1990.  That was the background to President FW de Klerk's speech on 2 February 1990 in which he announced the release of Nelson Mandela.

The record shows that sanctions initiated by the US and other governments against Cuba, Iraq, Zimbabwe and other countries have been dismal failures. Even worse, "targeted sanctions" have inflicted misery upon the very victims of oppression that they were supposedly intended to assist.

That is why the sanctions strategy against apartheid South Africa was driven by international civil society, not governments.

Access to seven New York banks was crucial in the 1980s because of the role of the US dollar as settlement currency in foreign exchange markets.  Without access to the New York payment system, trade even with countries other than the US, such as Japan or Germany, would have become virtually impossible.

In terms of the "adopt-a-bank" strategy, the American Episcopal (Anglican) Church gave Morgan Guaranty and the Bank of New York the choice of the banking business of apartheid South Africa or its pension fund business.  The Roman Catholics adopted Manufacturers Hanover, and the Presbyterians similarly challenged Chemical Bank.

The New York City Council told banks in New York to choose between its payroll account and apartheid South Africa.  Some quite bizarre antics accompanied the campaign.  I remember a "prayer breakfast" and toyi-toying with the Reverend Jesse Jackson on the Park Avenue sidewalk in April 1989 before we stormed Citibank's annual general meeting.

The apartheid government allocated R2 billion in an attempt to counter the movement in New York, but a student activist announced:  "sanctions will remain until Mr Mandela says so!"  Whatever the twists and turns, apartheid South Africa was sunk.  It was a lesson in "people power!"

Now "fast forward" to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which acknowledges and looks to the South African experiences two decades ago. At the present time, Palestine is the pivotal issue of international relations.  The Arab Spring of 2011 equates to perestroika and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The era of US hegemony in the world is fast fading. Israel has become "a hassle" even for the Americans. In these circumstances, US Army strategists increasingly describe their alliance with Israel as a liability rather than an asset.

Israel's arsenal of 300 nuclear weapons that purportedly makes it militarily impregnable, in fact, are utterly useless. Instead, they convey the signal that Israel is a threat to international peace and security.  Egypt and Turkey, its recent strategic allies, are now hostile and arguably more important to the Americans.

Perhaps surprisingly, Israel is even more vulnerable to banking sanctions than was apartheid South Africa during the 1980s. Given the belligerent and increasingly isolated Israeli government, non-violent economic warfare becomes an option to avert a potential catastrophe in the Middle East.

After six decades since Israel was established in 1948, the country is a highly militarised dictatorship masquerading as a democracy.  Again there is a parallel with apartheid South Africa, which also pretended to be a democracy albeit for whites only.

I was a peace monitor in 2009 and 2010 for the World Council of Churches' EAPPI programme.  From 4am until 7:30am, four-days-a-week, we collated statistics at the Jerusalem and Bethlehem checkpoints for the UN and other international organisations.

We were there to provide a watching, international presence, but quickly learned that the checkpoints and the "apartheid wall" have nothing to do with "security."  They are there to humiliate the Palestinians and to create a sense of paranoia amongst Israelis, but also to steal Palestinian land and water.

Our secondary duties were to give moral support to Palestinian communities under attack by 500 000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  As South Africans, both black and white, we were appalled. Pervasive surveillance cameras and the Israeli system of blue and green ID cards make the hated passbooks of so-called "petty apartheid" seem utterly primitive.

The West Bank and Gaza are "grand apartheid" Bantustans, but even less economically viable than Bophuthatswana or Venda.  The Russell Tribunal on Palestine will meet in Cape Town in early November to consider whether Israeli treatment of Palestinians meets the international law definitions of apartheid as a crime against humanity.

The military establishment and hugely corrupt financial cronies apply "national security" to trump all legal, political, economic and moral considerations. Roughly 30% of the Israeli economy is war-related. Israel's surveillance and drone technology is the most advanced in the world. There is massive war profiteering from the Occupation of Palestine.

Israeli elites are making huge profits, and have no interest in a peace settlement with Palestinians.

According to WikiLeaks, the former US Ambassador to Israel in 2009 described his host country "as the promised land for organised crime."  Similarly, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) noted that whilst the Israeli government has dedicated considerable efforts to fighting domestic corruption, there is a lack of commitment to tackling international corruption.

Human rights abuses and money laundering are invariably inter-connected. Money laundering is now regarded as a major international security problem, which the UN estimates annually exceeds US$1 trillion.

Banks are the means by which money laundering "legitimises" the proceeds of blood diamonds, drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Israeli organised crime is disproportionately involved under the guise of "national security."

A heavy Israeli footprint can repeatedly be discerned and confirmed, most especially in Africa where law enforcement is weak. The Democratic Republic of Congo lurches from one catastrophe to the next, but the pattern has emerged of privatised armies plundering natural resources required by the Israeli armaments industry.

The operations of the so-called "Israeli mafia" are not only immensely profitable, but are politically protected and encouraged. Assassinations, corruption, money laundering and outright terrorism are all "justified" in the national interest.  Mossad, the Israeli secret service, has its tentacles in most African countries.

An estimated ten million Congolese people have died in "Africa's First World War."

The International Monetary Fund has placed Zimbabwe on its alert list, noting that weak law enforcement makes that country a money laundering playground. Human Rights Watch and Partnership Africa Canada have identified three Zimbabwean banks - Banc ABC, Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe and Premier Banking Group - as complicit in the sale of the Marange "blood diamonds."

International activists are certain that Israeli nationals are behind Zimbabwe's Marange diamond fields, and the associated abuses there of human rights. Interpol is investigating whether Lev Leviev - Israel's challenge to De Beers and the Oppenheimer family - is laundering blood diamonds through Namibia.

Thanks to computerisation, banking technology has advanced dramatically since the 1980s.  Instead of lobbying pressure and toyi-toying that was needed then, all that would bring the Israeli economy to its knees is a computer programme suspending transactions to and from Israeli banks.

Banking is the lifeblood of any economy.  This gives the Palestinian BDS campaign an opportunity to leverage bank transfers into political demands to end the Israeli occupation.

New York is no longer the pivotal centre for international bank transfers. The SWIFT system domiciled in Belgium links 9 000 financial institutions.  Without access to SWIFT and the international payment system, Israeli banks would "cease to exist," and the Israeli economy would implode.

Given the crisis facing the banking industry, the last thing with which bank executives need to be identified is in turning a blind eye to money laundering by Israeli organised crime.

Israel is simply becoming "too much hassle."

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