The Electronic Intifada / January 22, 2021
This is a story about how European Union officials evade accountability when they are caught in a blatant lie for the benefit of Israel.
Earlier this week I wrote about a major legal victory for supporters of Palestinian rights in Spain.
In 2015, activists from the group BDS País Valencià called on a music festival to cancel a performance by Matthew Paul Miller, the singer who uses the stage name Matisyahu, because he had made anti-Palestinian statements and had helped raise money for the Israeli occupation army.
This month, a court in Valencia threw out hate crime accusations against the activists. The judges found that they were only contesting Miller’s presence in the festival because of his alleged views on Israeli policy, “not because of his Jewish status, religion or any other circumstance.”
The Spanish court also affirmed last June’s landmark ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that calling for boycotts of Israel because of its crimes against Palestinians is not anti-Semitic and is protected political expression.
Although the facts about the incident in Spain have been clear from the start, the recent ruling is a total vindication of the activists by impartial judges.
Yet in recent years, the European Union has smeared the activists, falsely claiming that they only protested Miller because he is Jewish.
This false charge of anti-Semitism was made by Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator, at a 2019 conference launching an Israeli government report smearing the Palestine solidarity movement.
It is repeated in a recently published EU “handbook” promoting the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.
This misleading definition, backed by Israel and its lobby, conflates criticism of Israel’s racism and war crimes against Palestinians, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.
While I was writing my story, I emailed von Schnurbein asking whether she would retract the false claims she made about the 2015 Matisyahu incident.
The reply came after I had already published my article, but not from von Schnurbein herself.
Instead, Christian Wigand, a spokesperson for the European Commission – the EU’s executive branch – wrote to me:
“We do not comment [on] court judgments in our member states. As for the Commission’s – and in fact the European Union’s – position on the BDS movement, which was reiterated by our coordinator Ms. von Schnurbein at the event you mention, our position is very clear and has not changed.”
I can give credit to Wigand for a masterful example of bureaucratic evasion, but not for much else.
I had not been seeking a comment on the court judgment per se, but asked whether von Schnurbein stood by her own statements grossly mischaracterizing the 2015 Matisyahu incident.
Nor had I asked for the EU’s position on the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement.
The opinionated von Schnurbein
Yet even if I did want a comment on the court decision itself, the last person who can claim that she does not speak about such matters is Katharina von Schnurbein.
As her Twitter feed shows, von Schnurbein has regularly commented on court cases – some of them while they were ongoing:
In at least one instance, she has publicly demanded that local prosecutors go after people for hate speech:
She also expresses her views on decisions of the European Court of Human Rights – which is part of the Council of Europe, a separate body from the EU:
She has even been taken to task for publicly criticizing an elected member of the European Parliament – a flagrant breach of the neutrality she should observe as an unelected civil servant.
So the claim that von Schnurbein, to whom my initial inquiry was directed, does not comment on court cases is a lie, told in an effort to avoid accountability for a previous lie.
I did respond to EU spokesperson Wigand making these points. I told him that I am asking a straightforward question and would like a straightforward response without resort to excuses and diversions.
Does Katharina von Schnurbein stand by her claim that the protests against Miller were motivated by anti-Jewish animus?
Since I have not had a further answer, I take this silence to mean that the EU and its anti-Semitism coordinator indeed firmly stand by her defamatory statements against the activists in Spain.
The citizens of EU states deserve better than to be bullied, smeared and lied about by bureaucrats in Brussels who appear to answer only to Israel and its lobby.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books