For a moment, it was thought, to borrow a phrase, the “end was nigh” when former British prime minister Tony Blair announced last month that he was stepping down from the Quartet (European Union, United Nations, United States and Russia) for peace in the Middle East. But to the disappointment of many, just as he was about to leave his job as the Middle East envoy, or Quartet representative, Blair officially changed his mask. He managed to secure himself a new mask to operate from behind. He is proving to all of us that he is there to stay: To the annoyance of many, he is not going to leave the world stage. Blair is to become, as from next month, the chairman of an organisation commonly known to be at the forefront of global bodies that unquestionably defend Israel.
He is joining the relatively new organisation, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR), largely founded, and mostly funded, by a prominent Russian Jew, multi-billionaire businessman Moshe Kantor. ECTR is proud of being a leading body that has campaigned for tougher laws on extremism and anti-Semitism in Europe. Blair — UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007 and the second-longest serving premier after the late Margaret Thatcher — is taking over the leadership of ECTR from former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, another European leader known for his sympathy towards Israel. Kwasniewski, not dissimilar to Blair when it comes to issues of mixing personal business interests with politics, partnered, as an EU envoy to Ukraine, with Hunter Biden (son of Joe Biden, the US Vice-President), in the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. As Ukraine’s ‘biggest private gas firm’, Burisma Holdings Ltd says on its web site that Kwasniewski “was appointed director of the company in 2014”.
Blair, as head of ECTR, will chair a board that includes former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, widely declared a staunch defender of Israel, and ex-Swedish prime minister Goran Persson, another known supporter of Israel. When still in office, in 1998, he had initiated international discussion with the view to establish an inter-governmental organisation for Holocaust education. His initiative resulted in the founding of the ‘Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research’. This organisation now has 31 member states, including Israel and the US.
Recently, explaining his new role, Blair jointly wrote an article in The Times with Kantor, saying Europe was facing “dangerous times”, and peculiarly predicting a rise in anti-Semitism similar to the one that preceded both World Wars. They said: “Economic decline fuels instability”, stating that the only three times in the past century when the gross domestic product growth in Europe went below 1 per cent was just before “World War One and World War Two and last year”. This kind of statement is deliberately used to serve the purposes of both writers of psychologically creating a ‘state of panic’ among the elites and decision-makers in Europe. Such an approach to such a sensitive issue as anti-Semitism would most certainly help them, in the immediate term at least, to raise funds for the benefit of ECTR. In the long term, the organisation will undoubtedly benefit from having a ‘heavyweight’ politician such as Blair on board to help it expand its network of relations worldwide.
Blair and Kantor, who is also the president of the European Jewish Congress (a well-known pro-Israel organisation as listed in the Jewish Chronicle yearbook), highlighted in their article a 2015 report on “global anti-Semitism incidents” by the ‘Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University’. “Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, but one infecting the whole society and needs to be tackled for the sake of all of us”, they said. “Globalisation is pushing us closer together so the effects of racism and discrimination increasingly undermine the fabric of society, states, international organisations and other actors must join together to tackle hate and intolerance.”
However, Blair is not leaving the Middle East entirely. He comforted those who will “miss him” that his “services” will remain available for those in the region who are willing to pay handsomely “at times of need”. Somehow, he managed to leak to the media that he would “remain active” in the region in an “informal role” and was fully committed “to assist the international community in its work with Israel and the Palestinians to bring about progress on the two-state solution”. Blair will unfortunately maintain his usual crowds in the area despite his miserable failure as the Quartet’s representative continuously for eight years. A recently published book raised this question: “What would come first, his business contracts or his role as mediator” when Blair meets rulers and officials at his favourite places in the Middle East, Asia and Africa? The authors of the book, Blair Inc. The Man behind the Mask (John Blake Publishing Ltd, London 2015), chart for the first time ever the former prime minister’s life after he left office on June 27, 2007. His many roles included a diplomatic envoy, businessman, media commentator, promoter of interfaith dialogue and philanthropist. Now, as chairman of ECTR, Blair will not get a salary, but his billionaire partner Kantor agreed to handsomely “donate” an annual payment to Blair’s ‘Faith Foundation’.
This article by Mustapha Karkouti, a former president of the Foreign Press Association in London, originally appeared in Gulf News