The Electronic Intifada / March 27, 2023
When transparency rules are weak, it is necessary to search for clues that lawmakers have been bought by particular interest groups.
Antonio López-Istúriz, a Spanish member of the European Parliament, appears to have enjoyed so much hospitality from Israel’s lobbyists that he now speaks exactly like them.
Among the tasks he has assumed is trying to convince colleagues that they shouldn’t get alarmed about the inclusion of extreme racists in the latest ruling coalition headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. “We must trust in the Israeli democratic system,” López-Istúriz argued earlier this month.
Declaring his devotion to a state that constantly tramples on Palestinian rights has become something of a habit for López-Istúriz.
Last year he even stated he was “proud of the impressive achievements” in Israel’s external relations following the Abraham Accords – normalization deals with a few Arab states.
López-Istúriz chairs the European Parliament’s committee for relations with the Knesset, Israel’s elected assembly. That does not give him a mandate to behave as an Israeli mouthpiece.
Quite the opposite. Under rules applying to such committees – or delegations as they are officially known – chairs are supposed to uphold the European Parliament’s positions.
Officially, the European Parliament is opposed to the construction and expansion of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Having taken that stance, the logical next step would be to demand that imports from the settlements are banned.
Not only would López-Istúriz never dream of advocating such a ban, he has even disagreed with labeling settlement goods accurately. Placing labels on goods to tell consumers exactly where they come from is a “big mistake,” he has claimed.
Asked by email if he had ever protested against Israel’s settlement activities, López-Istúriz dodged the question.
Instead, he stated that meetings of the delegation he chairs are livestreamed. “Therefore, you can check yourself that my position aligns with the ‘two-states solution’ [his quotation marks], which is the official one from the EU,” he replied.
He did not point to any evidence that he had taken a robust stance on Israel’s settlement activities – war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In theory, lawmakers in Brussels are straining every sinew at the moment to prove they are not influenced by foreign governments or lobby groups. Nobody wants to be associated with the scandal involving Qatar and the obscene amounts of cash it was caught giving to MEPs who did public relations work on its behalf before the World Cup.
Scraping the barrel
Israel’s supporters within the European Parliament are known to be nervous about the implications of Qatargate.
Some of them – notably López-Istúriz – are not nervous enough to mend their ways. This week, he is scheduled to host a visit by representatives of NGO Monitor, a right-wing Israel lobby group, to the European Parliament’s headquarters.
The purpose of the visit is to push for EU action against Samidoun, a group campaigning for Palestinian prisoners.
Benny Gantz – then Israel’s defense minister and previously the military general who oversaw the mass slaughter of civilians in a major 2014 attack on Gaza – designated Samidoun as a “terrorist organization” in 2021.
Since then NGO Monitor has been calling on EU governments and institutions to follow suit.
NGO Monitor constantly smears human rights groups and charities who dare to criticize Israel. Like its chums in the Israeli government, it wishes to criminalize the entire Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality, and cast aspersions on everyone who sympathizes with that struggle.
López-Istúriz can be relied on to scrape the barrel. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, he circulated a monstrous lie by alleging that boycotts of Israel are “anti-Semitic acts.”
Qatargate has drawn some attention to how some MEPs promote the interests of states who take them on all-expenses-paid trips.
López-Istúriz is clearly willing to dine for Israel.
He has gone on a number of junkets arranged by lobby groups.
One trip that should come back to haunt him – if the European Parliament’s stated intention of freeing itself from foreign influence means anything – took place around Halloween last year. López-Istúriz was treated to two nights in Tel Aviv’s Carlton followed by another two in Jerusalem’s Herbert Samuel Hotel.
The few details he has made available about his jaunt on the European Parliament’s website were that the trip involved a “discussion event and meetings” and that “meals were provided by the hosts.” The hosts, incidentally, were the European Leadership Network and the American Jewish Committee, both pro-Israel lobby groups.
It has become something of a tradition for López-Istúriz to go on junkets in late October or early November. During the same period in 2021, he also spent two nights each in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The bill for that visit was paid up by the aforementioned European Leadership Network. His declaration for that trip reads: “food and drinks provided in restaurants.”
In fairness to López-Istúriz, it should be stated that Israel and its lobby groups are not the only ones who have financed his excursions.
In September last year, he visited Egypt courtesy of its military dictatorship.
Cavorting with the Cairo authorities did not diminish his devotion to Israel. Nor should anyone expect it to.
Egypt stabbed Palestinians in the back by signing a “peace treaty” with Israel during the late 1970s. More recently, Egypt has cooperated fully with Israel’s siege of Gaza.
Luckily for López-Istúriz, his love for Israel has been reciprocated.
When the EU and Israel agreed last summer to resume a forum for high-level discussion called the Association Council after a lengthy hiatus, López-Istúriz took partial credit for the decision. Israel’s embassy in Brussels made a point of thanking him for his “continuous support.”
López-Istúriz advocates a “fluid dialogue” between the EU and Israel.
He may be an expert on such fluidity. On quite a few occasions, he has observed how the Israel lobby encourages dialogue by filling politicians with food and drink.
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