The Electronic Intifada / April 29, 2021
Racist attitudes are apparently overlooked when displayed by influential lobbyists.
The European Leadership Network, a pro-Israel group, has cultivated a warm rapport with numerous politicians and diplomats in recent years.
Those relations appear sufficiently strong that no major objections are raised when a representative of the group expresses extremist views.
Earlier this month, Arié Bensemhoun, head of the European Leadership Network in France, claimed that “there never was a Palestinian people.” The whole concept, he suggested, was “an invention of anti-Semites” who failed to digest that the Nazis did not exterminate all Jews.
Bensemhoun was not only denying the existence – and right to exist – of an oppressed people, he was clearly abusing the Holocaust.
Although the remarks have gone largely unnoticed, they ought to be of interest to Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s ambassador to Tel Aviv. Just last week, he was pictured speaking to Israeli students as part of an event organized by the European Leadership Network.
In an email message, I asked Giaufret if he would reconsider his relationship with the European Leadership Network now that Bensemhoun’s extremism had been brought to his attention.
Giaufret did not respond to my query.
Peter Stano, the EU’s foreign policy spokesperson, stated that “of course, we don’t agree with them” – Bensenhoum’s comments.
Stano nonetheless indicated that Giaufret would continue working harmoniously with the European Leadership Network.
“We are interacting with partners to advance the awareness about the EU’s principles, positions and views,” Stano added. “It is in our interest to interact with a wide variety of partners and stakeholders to be able to put across the positions, policies and argumentation of the EU.”
The trouble is that the positions taken by Emanuele Giaufret are frequently indistinguishable from those of Israel and its supporters.
Giaufret tends to downplay or ignore racism.
The Israelis who have gone on the rampage in Jerusalem over the past week have made their desires plain. Their main slogan is “Death to the Arabs.”
For some reason, Giaufret is unable to condemn pogroms targeting Palestinians.
He did not even acknowledge that Israelis were at fault. Rather, he referred to “violent clashes” without specifying where the violence originated.
His choice of words effectively apportions blame to those Palestinians who fought back after they came under attack from Israeli thugs cosseted by the forces of occupation.
It is a demonstrable fact that diplomats working for the EU collectively and for its individual governments show favouritism toward the pro-Israel lobby.
In March, a group of such diplomats participated in a propaganda tour of Israel’s boundary with Lebanon. The trip was arranged jointly by the Israeli military and the European Leadership Network.
Israel’s military has repeatedly invaded and bombed Lebanon.
For many people who grew up during the 1980s – like me – Israel will always be synonymous with the massacres in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
Those massacres were carried out with the full cooperation of Israel’s military.
Yet when the same military gives a presentation to diplomats who have just stepped off helicopters – as it did in March – it can convince them to feel sorry for poor little Israel.
The emphasis of the trip was on the tunnels dug by Hizballah, an organization that was established as a direct consequence of Israel’s aggression toward Lebanon.
Needless to say, those double standards were not analysed in a video promoting the trip. It featured diplomats being wowed by Israel’s soldiers and lobbyists.
Arié Bensemhoun’s work with the European Leadership Network is not confined to domestic French affairs.
Earlier this month, he hosted an online conference on the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe Israel’s international law violations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Billed as a “virtual summit,” the event was aimed at convincing policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to oppose that investigation.
While other representatives of the European Leadership Network may be more guarded in public comments, Bensemhoun cannot be considered a maverick.
His claim that there never was a Palestinian people recycles an old myth. According to that myth, Palestine was “without a people” before the Zionist colonization project began in earnest.
Newt Gingrich parroted the same lie while trying to convince the US Republican Party that he should run for president nearly a decade ago. Gingrich then described Palestinians as an “invented people.”
Not content with one whopper, Bensemhoum told another one recently in the same batch of tweets. He alleged that “it is the Arabs who occupy Judea and Samaria” – the name Israel gives to the West Bank.
Bensemhoun’s inference that Palestinians are maintaining a military occupation, rather than Israel, is risible. And yet the EU takes him and his organization seriously.
Significantly, Bensemhoun’s Twitter outburst was sparked by some bland utterances from Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party.
This illustrates how Israel’s supporters are adopting a maximalist approach. They are insisting that politicians and civil servants side entirely with the oppressor.
Emanuele Giaufret and everyone else who proves accommodating toward these extremists must be denounced in the strongest possible terms.
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