The Electronic Intifada / October 29, 2020
Donald Trump’s eagerness to please Israel has been obscene, yet entertaining.
At times, it has been impossible not to watch in a combination of horror and amusement as a president smashed up the conventions of diplomacy.
In 2017, Trump admitted that he did not care whether there would be a single or two-state solution, making the inane observation “I like the one that both parties like.”
The following year, he boasted that he had reduced the price of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Never mind that Trump treats UN resolutions as toilet paper, he still has an eye for real estate bargains.
And now Trump has questioned whether Joe Biden could have brokered a “normalization” pact between Israel and Sudan. As well as selling the deal as a triumph for peace, Trump sought (unsuccessfully, in this instance) to land a few punches on “Sleepy Joe.”
For purely selfish reasons, I wish that EU policymakers displayed some of Trump’s bravado. Whereas he makes me giggle, their conduct has turned me into an incorrigible grump.
Last week, it was reported that Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, is teaming up with Israel’s weapons industry. Israel’s leading arms exporter Elbit Systems and a partnership involving Israel Aerospace Industries and the multinational Airbus have been awarded a combined total of around $118 million from the agency.
Warplanes tested on Palestinians will more than likely be used to help stop refugees reaching Europe’s shores – although that is a detail you would have missed if you read The Guardian’s story about these contracts.
The manifest bias of authorities and the media towards Israel makes the case for a boycott of its goods and institutions even more pressing.
The snag is that these authorities are actively trying to undermine the boycott.
During the summer I filed a complaint with Margaritis Schinas, a vice-president of the European Commission.
My complaint focused on a little-noticed but significant 2019 speech made by Schinas in which he claimed that “anti-Semitism has many forms, ranging from anti-Zionism to Holocaust denial and distortion; from a discriminatory comment towards a colleague in the workplace to severe threats to a person’s life.”
I requested that Schinas explain why he was equating Zionism, a political ideology developed in the late 19th century, with Judaism, a much older religion. I reminded him that Zionism was used in the 1940s as a pretext for the mass dispossession of Palestinians and that, today, it underpins a system of racism against Palestinians.
Moreover, I alerted Schinas to how – since his speech was made – an important ruling had been issued by the European Court of Human Rights
In its verdict – delivered during June this year – the court explicitly defended the rights of campaigners to call for a boycott of Israel.
The court even asserted that speech relating to the boycott of Israel requires “a high level of protection.”
I contended that if the court ruling is taken seriously, then criticism of Israel’s state ideology – Zionism – must be considered protected free speech.
Schinas did not respond to my complaint himself. He tasked Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, with doing so.
Von Schnurbein, who has smeared campaigners for a boycott of Israel, did not actually address the points that I raised. Her letter – see below – made no mention whatsoever of the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.
Rather, she referred to how the EU is guided by a definition of anti-Semitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. She omitted that the definition was actually drafted by pro-Israel lobby groups and how they are using it to try and shield Israel from accountability.
Von Schnurbein also pointed to a 2018 opinion poll published by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. In her words, the “survey highlights that Israel-related anti-Semitism is the most common form of anti-Semitic discrimination and abuse experienced by Jewish Europeans.”
Irrespective of what von Schnurbein thinks, opinion polls are not actually a substitute for court rulings.
The EU is preparing to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into its own rulebook.
The European Court of Human Rights – which is separate from the European Union – oversees compliance with that convention. If EU representatives really mean what they say about wishing to uphold a human rights convention, then they must respect rulings from the court.
The findings of an opinion poll do not provide them with cover to disregard judgments that they don’t like.
Besides, the objectivity of the team conducting the 2018 survey is in doubt.
Its project director was Jonathan Boyd from the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Boyd is a strident pro-Israel advocate, who fails to draw distinctions between Zionism and Judaism.
In his column with The Jewish Chronicle, Boyd has mused on how young Jews can be inculcated with a devotion to Israel. Ahead of Britain’s general election last year, he alleged that the Labour Party had a major problem with anti-Jewish bigotry, even though that problem had been invented to undermine the then leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
That said, the 2018 survey should not be dismissed.
One of its findings was that 43 percent of Jews who took part felt they were blamed for Israel’s actions either all the time or frequently. Another 36 percent felt they were occasionally blamed.
There is a clear message here: Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians may also be harming Europe’s Jews.
If the EU’s authorities were really as concerned about anti-Semitism as they purport to be, then they would be putting pressure on Israel so that it ends the oppression and everyone could breathe more easily.
They could combine that work with raising awareness about how Jews around the world must not be held responsible for what Israel does.
As it stands, the EU authorities are doing the exact opposite.
By buying Israel’s weapons – as Frontex has just done – they are making oppression lucrative, thereby helping it to persist. And by treating Zionism as indistinguishable from Judaism, they are promoting ignorance.
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