[IHRA] EU partners with hate group to commemorate Holocaust

Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar was deliberately shot and killed by an Israeli sniper as she performed her duties in Gaza on June 1, 2018 (Ashraf Amra - APA Images)

Ali Abunimah 

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 27, 2021

The European Union is commemorating this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day alongside a group that applauds Israeli war crimes, including the shooting of unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip.

On 1 February, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, will be taking part in a memorial event with B’nai B’rith, a Jewish communal organization and Israel lobby group.

Other participants include EU anti-Semitism chief Katharina von Schnurbein and Audrey Azoulay, head of the United Nations cultural body UNESCO.

Von Schnurbein has asserted the importance of learning lessons from the German-led European Christian genocide of millions of European Jews.

The Holocaust “did not occur in vacuum,” she said. “It was caused by bystanders who were silent and kept silent in the face of injustice.”

The participation of top EU officials in this event indicates, however, that not only are these officials willing to keep silent, they are also willing to lend their prestige to an organization that cheers for injustice while smearing and dehumanizing victims and truth-tellers.

Racism and bloodlust

B’nai B’rith’s racism and bloodlust towards Palestinians is second to almost no other Israel lobby group.

In February 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council released the report of an independent commission of inquiry into Israel’s systematic killing of unarmed Palestinians during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza.

B’nai B’rith’s enraged response was to attack the UN commission for “defaming Israel with the outrageous lie that Israel targeted ‘people with disabilities’ ” during “Hamas-organized riots.”

According to B’nai B’rith, the mass demonstrations were characterized by Palestinian violence, including targeting “Israeli soldiers with explosives and sniper attacks.”

B’nai B’rith justified Israel’s killing of civilians by asserting that “violent aggressors are not ‘protesters’ and marauding young men are not innocent ‘children.’”

These characterizations contradict the facts revealed during the investigation.

“More than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by military snipers, week after week, at the protest sites by the separation fence,” the UN commission stated.

The investigators examined the circumstances of each and every one of the 189 Palestinians killed during the protests between March and December 2018.

They found that 183 of the Palestinians killed were shot with live ammunition.

“Thirty-five of these fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics, and two were clearly marked journalists,” the UN commission stated.

The commission found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.”

One of those health workers was Razan al-Najjar, a volunteer who was deliberately gunned down by a sniper while attempting to treat a wounded protester.

The UN commission also addressed Israeli claims – regurgitated by B’nai B’rith – that this slaughter was justifiable self-defense on the part of Israel.

The commission said it “took note of the Israeli claim that the protests by the separation fence masked ‘terror activities’ by Palestinian armed groups.”

The investigators “found however that the demonstrations were civilian in nature, with clearly stated political aims” and that “the demonstrations did not constitute combat or military campaigns.”

Even the EU – which rarely criticizes Israel and never holds it accountable – welcomed the report.

It noted that the UN commission had identified “reasonable grounds to believe that there is possible unlawfulness of the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces against demonstrators.”

Attacking truth-tellers

As well as justifying Israel’s mass killings of Palestinians, B’nai B’rith is adamant that there should be no accountability.

In December 2019, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, finally concluded after five years of preliminary examination that Israeli personnel should face a formal investigation for war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

B’nai B’rith’s dismissive and bigoted response was to call it a “Palestinian canard” that Israel had committed war crimes.

“Clearly, Bensouda cannot tell the difference between war crimes and Palestinian propaganda,” B’nai B’rith stated.

The lobby group attacks virtually any international body or official who dares challenge Israel’s impunity.

During Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, former US President Jimmy Carter and former Irish President Mary Robinson penned a joint call for an immediate end to the violence.

The two well-respected figures urged a political process that would include recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor on the entirely reasonable grounds that the group “cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise.”

It is based on similar logic that the Irish peace process could not advance without including the IRA. Similarly, the US concluded that it cannot end its involvement in Afghanistan without negotiating directly with the Taliban.

Both groups, like Hamas, were always regarded by Western governments as “terrorists.”

But B’nai B’rith would have none of this. It accused Carter – the midwife of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty – and Robinson of “bias against Israel.”

And in an indication of B’nai B’rith’s tenuous grip on reality, the group claimed that “no army in the world has been more careful in preventing and limiting civilian casualties than the Israel Defense Forces.”

By the end of the 2014 Gaza war, Israel had killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, among them over 550 children.

That death toll amounted to more than one in every 1,000 Gaza residents.

Urging escalation against Iran

There appears to be no issue where B’nai B’rith does not take the most extreme pro-Israel line.

It applauded Donald Trump’s “peace plan” that endorses Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

It even declared itself “outraged” when the EU took the minimal step of requiring that goods made in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements be labeled as such.

B’nai B’rith also rejected another cornerstone of EU policy: the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Instead of a negotiated international agreement with Iran, B’nai B’rith demanded “ever-tightening sanctions, combined with diplomatic isolation and the credible threat of military force.”

Close observers of B’nai B’rith will be surprised by none of this.

As I’ve reported previously, B’nai B’rith is so extreme that it denies the existence of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. It even sent a mission to support Israeli soldiers conducting the 2014 massacre in Gaza.

It is obviously perverse to join with such a group in any activity purporting to oppose injustice.

Anti-Semitic EU policy

Yet it is symptomatic of an EU approach that equates Holocaust remembrance with pandering to Israel lobby groups.

This week, for instance, the EU co-sponsored another Holocaust commemoration with the European Jewish Congress, an organization that spreads anti-Muslim bigotry.

It is all part of the EU’s implicitly anti-Semitic policy of equating Jews with supporters of Israel while snubbing Jews who uphold Palestinian rights and refuse to identify with the state.

This goes hand in hand with the EU’s collaboration with Israel lobby groups to redefine anti-Semitism to mean criticism of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.

This cynical approach to Holocaust remembrance goes both ways: Israel has long tried to co-opt the memory of millions of murdered European Jews to justify its crimes against Palestinians.

In the latest insult to the memory of victims, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently nominated a genocide supporter – a former general linked to war crimes – to head Israel’s official Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Of course, none of the EU officials who preach incessantly about the need to “learn from the past” uttered a word of protest.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books