The Electronic Intifada / March 2, 2023
The European Union’s support for Israel has become more extreme in recent times. One ghastly case of that extremism involved the Brussels bureaucracy halting aid to Palestinians with cancer and other serious illnesses.
Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary’s member of the European Commission (the EU’s executive), is the main culprit.
During 2021 and much of last year, he vetoed the release of around $230 million in funding earmarked for the Palestinian Authority. Among the many consequences was that large numbers of medical patients were denied treatment.
The sole reason cited by Várhelyi for his obstructive behavior was that he did not like what Palestinian children were being taught at school. Almost all aid had to be frozen – by his reasoning – because a few textbooks were not sufficiently deferential toward Israel.
Documents obtained through a freedom of information request provide some context on his wanton cruelty.
In March 2021, Várhelyi’s top aide László Kristóffy held a discussion with several diplomats on the question of Palestinian textbooks.
A briefing paper prepared for Kristóffy ahead of that meeting summarized a study on Palestinian textbooks financed by the EU and conducted by Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute. The study had not then been published, yet Kristóffy’s paper gave a flavor of the findings.
According to Kristóffy’s paper, the school books analyzed “affirm the importance of human rights in general.” Some material was nonetheless “deeply problematic,” the paper claimed.
“The textbooks display a narrative of resistance and antagonism which rarely uses the term ‘Israel’ and includes one-sided representations of the Israeli ‘other,’” the paper added. “This includes the nature and quantity of portrayals of violence, with some textbooks presenting instances where violence perpetrated by Palestinians is portrayed as a legitimate means of resistance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
The briefing paper then pointed to textbooks for Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem, which the Israeli authorities had amended.
Israel’s revisions, the paper stated, were “marked by the removal of content that refers to the conflict and the occupation, references to Palestinian identity and national symbols, and entire chapters on regional and Palestinian history.”
Such amendments were “also not helpful,” according to Kristóffy’s paper.
The European Commission has redacted similar briefing papers prepared for Olivér Várhelyi himself. Yet the versions of them which have been made available do not contain the mild rebuke of Israel in Kristóffy’s paper.
Coexist with colonizers ?
In July 2021, Várhelyi had a one-to-one discussion with Charlie Weimers, a far-right Swedish lawmaker and a staunch supporter of Israel.
A briefing paper drafted for Várhelyi ahead of that meeting complained that Palestinian textbooks “display an antagonism towards Israel.”
In October that year, Várhelyi met Haim Regev, Israel’s ambassador in Brussels.
A paper drawn up for that conversation suggests the EU has exerted strong pressure on the Palestinian Authority and its education ministry over the content of the school curriculum.
“However complicated the conflict, the Palestinian Authority must ensure the highest standards in fostering a culture of peace and coexistence paving the way for a future where the conflict can be solved through negotiations leading to a two-state solution,” that paper stated.
The paper emphasized the EU’s “unequivocal commitment to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority” so that school material complies with United Nations standards of “peace, tolerance, coexistence and non-violence.”
It has long been documented that the EU and the US have pushed the Palestinian Authority to be Israel’s toady. Mostly, this has been through “security coordination” between the PA and Israel’s military occupation.
These papers reveal that senior EU figures are happy for Israel to dictate what happens in classrooms, as well as checkpoints.
What exactly do Várhelyi and his advisers want Palestinian children to be told in school?
That they must love their oppressors? That they must coexist with their colonizers?
Although the EU funds Palestinian education in general, it does not pay for textbooks – as Várhelyi knows well. That makes his obduracy over their content inexcusable.
Put simply, the content of the books isn’t his business.
There is a comical absurdity to the messaging from the European Union.
Yet there is nothing funny about how Várhelyi went so far to please Israel that he starved Palestinian cancer patients of treatment.
Várhelyi finally allowed the aid he had blocked to be distributed in the second half of 2022.
He does not seem to have been chastened by his eventual climbdown.
It is a safe bet that Israel and its lobbyists view Várhélyi as their favorite EU commissioner.
In November, he was given an award by the European Jewish Association, a leading pro-Israel group.
One reason cited by the group for bestowing the “honor” was Várhélyi’s efforts to equate criticism of Zionism – Israel’s state ideology – with anti-Semitism.
Over the past few months, he has held talks with a number of pro-Israel lobbyists.
The scant details for those talks made available by the European Commission indicate that they were focused on how anti-Semitism should be fought.
It is more likely that he is assisting Israel with its cynical and grotesque efforts to make Jewish trauma a cudgel for beating Palestinians and allies of their struggle.
Várhélyi has also welcomed the return of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister.
Netanyahu heads the most overtly racist government since Israel’s inception. The firebrands now sitting as ministers surely regard Várhélyi as their number one buddy in Brussels.
David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada; his books include Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel and Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation