ROME: A leading European Union strategist may be in denial about the full extent of her relations with the Israel lobby.

Nathalie Tocci doubles up as director of the Rome-based “think tank” IAI and as an adviser to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief.

The IAI – with whom Tocci has worked since 2006 – is viewed as something of a partner by the European Leadership Network, a self-described “pro-Israel advocacy” group.

According to a briefing document prepared by that group, the “seeds were sown” lately for an annual forum of “strategic dialogue” between Italy and Israel.

The IAI and the European Leadership Network are cooperating on this “important endeavor which could hopefully be realized by the end of this year,” the document added.

Tocci sought to contradict that claim. “No such project exists,” she stated by email.

Her denial should be treated with skepticism.

The European Leadership Network is forming a series of alliances with “think tanks” similar to the IAI, as well as with government ministries. And Tocci had a prominent role in a conference hosted by the European Leadership Network last year.

Since then, she signed a “declaration of honor” relating to her activities as Mogherini’s adviser. It requires Tocci to perform her duties “impartially and objectively.”

As Tocci claimed she was not involved in any projects with the European Leadership Network, she argued that no conflict of interests arose. She added that he work for Mogherini related to the EU’s “global strategy and its implementation, not the Middle East.”

Tocci was referring to the “global strategy” paper that she drafted and which was approved by the EU’s leaders in 2016. Her attempt to suggest that the Middle East is not relevant to her advisory work appears disingenuous.

One objective of the “global strategy” is “deepening cooperation” with Israel.

The choice of words in Tocci’s paper are noteworthy. The EU pledges to “promote full compliance” with international law in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the paper states.

“Promote” is a very different term to “demand.”

Tocci has also discouraged EU sanctions on Israel over its illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

She has suggested that such measures are not “achievable” in Israel’s case, even though the EU imposed sanctions on Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Tocci was more strident in the past. Hired by a human rights group, she wrote a hard-hitting analysis in 2009 on the EU’s response to Operation Cast Lead, a huge Israeli offensive against Gaza. In that study, she accused the Union of taking a “blind-eye approach to Israeli actions.”

Tocci is either a hypocrite or a sell-out.

In 2009, she criticized the EU for engaging in a fruitless “human rights dialogue” with Israel.

She also admonished the EU for the “rewarding of Israel irrespective of Israeli conduct” and noted that the bloc “has never sanctioned Israel for its illegal actions.”

The abuses of Palestinian rights committed by Israel have worsened in the interim, yet Tocci has seen fit to participate in pro-Israel propaganda activity masquerading as “dialogue.”

The European Leadership Network is not a forum for chin-rubbing. It is more like a fan club for Israeli war criminals.

Among its founders are Larry Hochberg, who previously chaired Friends of the IDF, which helps the Israeli military financially.

Nor does there appear to be anything progressive about the European Leadership Network. An internal paper it prepared after the results of the recent German elections signalled it may be willing to work with the far right.

Some high-profile figures in the Alternative for Germany – known by the acronym AfD – have resorted to Holocaust revisionism. Yet the AfD goes further in supporting Israel than the more “mainstream” German parties – by explicitly backing Israel’s colonization of the West Bank.

The European Leadership Network’s post-election analysis states it will be “interesting and challenging” to observe which AfD representatives join the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group.

Staff in the Berlin office of the European Leadership Network have recently been trying to find new recruits for that group. The post-election briefing does not rule out cooperating with the AfD.

Meanwhile, the European Leadership Network will be selling 2018 as the “year of Poland-Israel friendship.”

A “central event” of that year will be an exhibition dedicated to “Israeli hi-tech and military businesses,” according to a European Leadership Network brochure – see below. Ensuring that the display would be part of the Warsaw Security Forum was an apparently arduous task.

Zbigniew Pisarski, the forum’s chair, took part in “dozens of meetings and dinners” funded by a European Leadership Network donor, before being won over. He also visited Tel Aviv as a guest of the lobby group, where he fell “in love” with Israel, the brochure adds.

Alas, Pisarski did not reply when asked to confirm that he was romantically entangled with an apartheid state. His reticence prompts speculation about whether his love comes from the heart or – given all those free meals – the stomach.

(David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His new book is Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel (Pluto, 2017))

(Electronic Intifada)