How Israel wins even when the EU doesn’t buy its lies

Olivér Várhelyi, a senior official in the EU Commission, meets with PA Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtayeh in Ramallah (Shadi Hatem - APA images)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 10, 2022

European countries aren’t buying Israel’s “terror” designations imposed against several Palestinian human rights and social services organizations last year, diplomatic sources told Israeli media this week.

Those organizations include Addameer, Al-Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

Israel accuses the groups of funneling funds to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist political party and resistance group.

That group is banned by Israel as well as the US and the EU because it has refused to recognize Israel and renounce armed resistance against the occupation and colonization.

All six targeted organizations have been working in Palestine for many years and have strong international ties.

Three of the groups are representing Palestinian victims in the International Criminal Court’s investigation of war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel’s blacklisting of the groups was raised by a new permanent UN commission of inquiry examining Israel’s system of oppression as a whole in its first report, published on Tuesday.

The commission “noted with concern the increasing attacks on and efforts to silence human rights defenders and civil society organizations advocating the protection of human rights and accountability.”

The UN human rights chief has stated that the “designation decisions were based on vague and unsubstantiated reasons” and that some of Israel’s justifications “refer to entirely peaceful and legitimate human rights activities.”

In April, a dozen independent UN human rights experts urged governments to resume funding to the blacklisted groups.

Not compelling

Diplomatic representatives from six countries told the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz “that Israel gave them materials meant to prove its claims against the organizations via diplomatic and intelligence channels,” the paper reported on Wednesday.

“It’s simple, we were given evidence, and we did not find it to be compelling enough,” one diplomat told Haaretz.

“Another said officials in most of these states believe the evidence submitted by Israel ‘does not meet the required threshold of proof of the transfer of funds,’” the paper added.

Though no European state has thrown its support behind the Israeli designations, only Belgium has publicly stated that there is no basis to Tel Aviv’s claims.

In a demonstration of extreme deference to Israel, the European Union has nevertheless suspended funding to two of the organizations – Al-Haq and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees – and other funders have delayed their contributions while they investigate Tel Aviv’s claims.

Diplomatic sources told Haaretz that it was unusual for the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, to freeze its support for Al-Haq, thereby taking a position straying from that of EU member states.

This means, in effect, that unelected officials in Brussels are imposing their own foreign policy on the elected governments of EU member states.

Diplomats told the paper that Olivér Várhelyi, a senior official in the European Commission, was behind the move.

Várhelyi is the driving force behind the EU’s withholding some $230 million in funding for Palestinian cancer patients and other critical services.

The payment has been delayed since last year “as the European Union continues to condition the release of the money on specific changes to Palestinian school textbooks,” the Norwegian Refugee Council stated last month.

Várhelyi was nominated to his post by Viktor Orbán, the far-right prime minister of his native Hungary who has circulated anti-Semitic tropes in election campaigns and conferred hero status on a Nazi collaborator – actual manifestations of anti-Jewish bigotry that Várhelyi has yet to condemn.

The Netherlands ended its support of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees altogether even though a government probe found “no evidence” of “financial flows” between it and the PFLP.

The Hague stopped its funding on the basis of UAWC staff and board members’ political affiliation in their personal capacities – effectively punishing an entire organization and all of its beneficiaries over the alleged political sympathies of some of its staff and board members.

‘Incalculable impact’

So while the European Commission’s anti-fraud office isn’t expected to probe the organizations, Israel “got what it wanted” in any case, as one diplomatic source conceded to Haaretz.

“This has undermined the work of these Palestinian organizations and has had an incalculable impact on the communities they support,” the UN experts said in April.

The Electronic Intifada sent a request to the European Union for it to state on the record its position on the Israeli designations.

Meanwhile, Israel has spied on and jailed directors and employees of the blacklisted groups.

Israel is attempting to deport Salah Hammouri, a lawyer with Addameer who is currently being held without charge or trial.

Israel has held Hammouri, who was born in Jerusalem and holds French citizenship, since early March and extended the administrative detention order against him for another three months earlier this week, on the same morning he was due to be released.

Tel Aviv seeks to revoke Hammouri’s permanent residency and forcibly transfer him from Jerusalem on the basis of “breach of allegiance” to Israel.

Israel deported Hammouri’s wife, Elsa Lefort, when she was seven months pregnant in 2016. Lefort, who is a French national, and the couple’s children are banned from entering the country.

Israel’s persecution of Hammouri has been raised with the International Criminal Court.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and Paris-based human rights federation FIDH told the court’s chief prosecutor that Hammouri’s case is a “stark example and a warning of new tactics” in Israel’s longstanding efforts to remove Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Israel has also imposed travel bans on staff members and it appears that the US has barred Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, from traveling to the country due to the Israeli designations.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada