EU adds Hezbollah’s military wing to terrorism list


The European Union agreed on Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist, a move driven by concerns over the Lebanese militant group's involvement in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria and the Syrian war.

The powerful Lebanese Shi'ite movement, an ally of Iran, has attracted concern in Europe and around the world in recent months for its role in sending thousands of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, an intervention that has turned the tide of Syria's two-year-old civil war.

Britain and the Netherlands have long pressed their EU peers to impose sanctions on the Shi'ite Muslim group, citing evidence it was behind an attack in the coastal Bulgarian city of Burgas a year ago that killed five Israelis and their driver.

Until now, many EU capitals had resisted lobbying from Washington and Israel to blacklist the group, warning such a move could fuel instability in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Hezbollah functions both as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia with thousands of guerrillas under arms.

Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said the decision was “hasty” and could lead to further sanctions against the movement that would complicate Lebanese politics.

“This will hinder Lebanese political life in the future, especially considering our sensitivities in Lebanon,” he told Reuters. “We need to tighten bonds among Lebanese parties, rather than create additional problems.”

The blacklisting opens the way for EU governments to freeze any assets Hezbollah's military wing may have in Europe.

“There's no question of accepting terrorist organizations in Europe,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said in a statement that the EU had taken an important step by “dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act”.

In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria was an important factor behind the EU vote.

“A growing number of governments are recognizing Hezbollah as the dangerous and destabilizing terrorist organization that it is,” he said.

QUESTIONING EFFECTIVENESS

By limiting the listing to the armed wing, the EU was trying to avoid damaging its relations with Lebanon's government, but the split may complicate its ability to enforce the decision in practical terms.

Hezbollah does not formally divide itself into armed and political wings, and Amal Saad Ghorayeb, who wrote a book on the group, said identifying who the ban would apply to will be difficult.

“It is a political, more than a judicial decision. It can't have any real, meaningful judicial implications,” she said, adding it appeared to be a “a PR move” to hurt Hezbollah's international standing, more connected with events in Syria than with the case in Bulgaria.

Israel's deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin welcomed the step, but said the entire group should have been targeted.

“We (Israel) worked hard, along with a number of countries in Europe, in order to bring the necessary materials and prove there was a basis for a legal decision,” he told Israel Radio.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to allay concerns about the practical impact of the decision, saying it would allow for better cooperation among European law enforcement officials in countering Hezbollah activities.

Hezbollah parliamentary member al-Walid Soukariah said the decision puts Europe “in confrontation with this segment of people in our region”.

“This step won't affect Hezbollah or the resistance. The resistance is present on Lebanese territory and not in Europe. It is not a terrorist group to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe, which is forbidden by religion.”

TRICKY RELATIONS

The Iran-backed movement, set up with the aim of fighting Israel after its invasion of Lebanon three decades ago, has dominated politics in Beirut in recent years.

In debating the blacklisting, many EU governments expressed concerns over maintaining Europe's relations with Lebanon. To soothe such worries, the ministers agreed to make a statement pledging to continue dialogue with all political groups.

“We also agreed that the delivery of legitimate financial transfers to Lebanon and delivery of assistance from the European Union and its member states will not be affected,” the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Already on the EU blacklist are groups such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, and Turkey's Kurdish militant group PKK.

Their assets in Europe are frozen and they have no access to cash there, meaning they cannot raise money for their activities. Sanctions on Hezbollah go into effect this week.

Hezbollah denies any involvement in last July's attack in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian interior minister said last week Sofia had no doubt the group was behind it.

In support of its bid to impose sanctions, Britain has also cited a four-year jail sentence handed down by a Cypriot court in March to a Hezbollah member accused of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

The decision also comes at a time of strained relations between the EU and Israel after Brussels pushed ahead with plans to bar EU financial aid to Israeli organizations operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

EU foreign ministers held a video conference with Kerry who announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had tentatively agreed to resume peace talks after three years.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Oliver Holmes, Stephen Kalin and Reuters Television in Beirut; Editing by Will Waterman

Long live the Reds? The unlucky legacy of the Hollywood blacklist


Too often these days we hear the tireless phrase “They just don’t make ’em like they used to” when it comes to the movies.

Film historian David Spaner blames the blacklist.

In his new book, “Shoot It! Hollywood Inc. and the Rising of Independent Film,” Spaner makes the case that the corporate values underpinning Hollywood’s political perfidy in the 1950s are to blame for a sustained assault on creative freedom — and perhaps, freedom in general — in the movie business.

Spaner argues that the studios’ willingness to enforce a creative exodus among the industry’s lefty best and brightest indeed left it irrevocably impoverished. 

“The blacklist had a huge effect on the quality of Hollywood filmmaking for decades, and Hollywood filmmaking has never entirely recovered,” he said recently over lunch at Nate ’n Al of Beverly Hills.

On any old weekend, a visit to the multiplex makes a convincing case that Spaner might be right. Almost everything the studios generate is commercialized and homogenized for a global audience. Movies are mostly either a remake (“Total Recall”), a franchise (“Batman,” “Twilight” “Harry Potter”) or a formulaic genre film that is so hackneyed and unoriginal it is as unwatchable as “The Watch.”

Films with a distinct sense of the local culture are becoming increasingly rare — think Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” — and, because art is ever beholden to box office, filmmakers who actually innovate like Allen and the Texas-born Wes Anderson now prefer to work in Europe.

Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer has acknowledged corporate Hollywood’s shame: “We make a lot of shitty movies,” he confessed to a Savannah Film Festival audience last November. “Every one of them breaks my heart.”

Meyer is frank about Hollywood’s fidelity to fortune. “It’s great to win awards and make films that you’re proud of,” he told the Guardian. “But your first obligation is to make money and then worry about being proud of what you do.”

The nonagenarian Norma Barzman would puke. The New York-born author and screenwriter is a self-described Commie who was blacklisted along with her husband, Ben Barzman, during the Red Scare. What was supposed to be a two-week vacation in Paris turned into a 30-year exile for the couple after they received a call from a friend warning, “Don’t come back. Don’t come back under any circumstances,” Barzman recalled.

Barzman was proud of her politics, which she had inherited from her father, a well-to-do textile importer who supported progressive causes.

“It permeated every part of my life,” she said. “What I wrote, the way I lived, my marriage, the way I brought up my children. Everything I did was political. I wanted to make a better world and I really believed one could.”

But in those days, that universal (and especially Jewish) value had Hollywood Jews deeply divided over the means to achieve it.

“A lot of people know that the Hollywood studio system was largely invented by Jews but not so many people know that the resistance to the Hollywood studio system was also largely invented by Jews,” Spaner said of the radical Hollywood left. “To me the Hollywood blacklist of the ’40s and ’50s was Jew-on-Jew violence.”

Spaner writes: “[The House Un-American Activities Committee’s] witch-hunters were bothered that so much studio talent was so New York, so intellectual, so smart-alecky, so left-wing … so Jewish — un-American” —and who HUAC spokesman John Rankin plainly called “enemies of Christianity” — “the frightened, essentially conservative studio heads, who were almost entirely Jewish, were at pains to distance themselves from their left-wing Jewish employees, and to prove they were first and foremost American, [so] they enforced the blacklist.”

After all, it was those leftist Jewish artists from New York who helped establish the guilds and labor unions that went toe-to-toe with the studios in order to enact fair industry practices. “The moguls stayed quiet during the organizing,” Barzman recalled. “The blacklist was Hollywood’s revenge.”

But if the moguls’ aim was to weaken the unions, they failed; and if sacrificing creativity was the means, how stupidly self-negating. What the blacklist era did accomplish, however, was institutionalizing self-interest at the expense of creative risk-taking and banishing radical politics that might tie Hollywood pictures to distinct social ideals.

Today Hollywood “liberalism” is mostly idle politics, Spaner said. “Before the blacklist, the activism of the ’30s and ’40s was an activism that had an actual critique of the capitalist system. That was driven out. So the activism that exists now is not an overall critique, it’s more around specific issues and specific candidates and a lot of it tends to involve fundraising by big-name, fairly liberal Hollywood stars.”

But Barzman has no regrets. During the seven years the U.S. government rescinded her passport, she took her seven kids to the south of France where they lived next door to Picasso, who became a friend. Her husband, whose U.S. citizenship was denaturalized, made a slew of movies all over Europe, and anonymously penned the script for “El Cid.”

After living the good life, I asked her why they returned to Los Angeles in the late ’70s. “My husband had the idea in his head he wanted to make it big in Hollywood,” she said wistfully.

Even after the business had broken his heart, he responded with love.