The Electronic Intifada / February 8, 2023
It is easy for Israel’s representatives to seduce the European Union’s elite. Mouthing a platitude or two can do the trick.
Yair Lapid is the kind of politician who knows how to seduce. He comes across as suave and affable, so Western liberals overlook – or at least downplay – his solid commitment to violence and oppression.
An internal paper illustrates that Lapid, then Israel’s foreign minister, pressed the right buttons when he visited Brussels in July 2021. Lapid breezed into town, promising a “fresh start” to relations that had supposedly turned sour while Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister.
Lapid’s comments during that trip – together with Netanyahu’s removal from government – “opened a new window of opportunity” for resuming a high-level annual forum known as the EU-Israel Association Council, according to the paper.
The paper gives an insight into how the EU is prepared to clasp Israel ever tighter, based on the tiniest of concessions.
It was prepared as a briefing note for Margaritis Schinas, a vice-president of the European Commission, when he met Haim Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the EU, in November 2021.
The paper describes reconvening the Association Council – mothballed since 2012 – as a “shared objective” for the EU and Israel, while contending that “it is important to see some concrete progress on the Middle East peace process.”
The first part of the objective was later realized. An Association Council meeting was held in October last year – less than a month before an Israeli election which brought the dreaded Netanyahu back to power.
The second part – “some concrete progress on the Middle East peace process” – was only achieved at a cosmetic level.
Lapid – who had by that time begun his short stint as prime minister – claimed that he supported a two-state solution while addressing the UN General Assembly in September.
The claim should have been treated with derision.
Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has gone too far to make a viable Palestinian state possible. Like Netanyahu, theoretically his bitter foe, Lapid pushed the colonization further.
Unlike Netanyahu, he pushed it further while simultaneously seducing Western liberals. And so the official EU response was to “warmly welcome” his UN speech.
Far from being a man of peace, Lapid belonged to an extremely bloodthirsty government. Last year – during which Lapid switched from being foreign minister to prime minister – saw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israel’s military in the West Bank since 2005.
Just a few weeks before he spoke at the UN, Lapid ordered a large-scale attack on Gaza. He firmly rejected calls for accountability over the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Lapid insisted that no Israeli soldier would be put in the dock “just to receive a round of applause from the world.”
He evidently did not need to worry too much. Western liberals were willing to keep applauding him regardless.
Margaritis Schinas and his colleagues at the European Commission are among Lapid’s loudest cheerleaders.
Schinas has been given a portfolio named “promoting our European way of life” in the Brussels bureaucracy.
The name has rightly been condemned as a racist dog whistle. As Schinas is in charge of policy concerning refugees, it implies that people fleeing persecution and poverty are somehow a threat to the West’s “way of life.”
His reputation has been somewhat tarnished lately in an ongoing scandal known as Qatargate.
He has enjoyed swanning around in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, keeping mum about the repressive conduct of their rules.
Schinas has pursued a pro-Israel agenda, too.
He has alleged that criticism of Israel’s state ideology Zionism amounts to anti-Jewish bigotry. That allegation has been concocted by Israel’s supporters in order to prevent scrutiny of the doctrine under which ethnic cleansing and apartheid has been forced on Palestinians for many decades.
The briefing document prepared for Schinas ahead of his meeting with Haim Regev notes that Israel is among the few countries in the world that does not have a formal yearly dialogue on human rights with the European Union.
The absence of such a dialogue may have hampered discussions on such topics as child detainees over the past decade. Yet cooperation on other issues flourished – particularly on the fight against “terrorism,” a term Israel applies to all forms of resistance, armed and otherwise.
It is noteworthy that such cooperation intensified between 2009 and 2021 – when the dreaded Netanyahu was in charge.
Through a separate freedom of information request, I learned that Israel has been kept in the loop about the EU’s ever increasing militarization.
In December 2020, Jiří Šedivý, head of the European Defence Agency, had a meeting with Israeli representatives. The agency – which is tasked with bolstering the weapons industry – confirmed that “EU defense initiatives were discussed” at the meeting but refused to release any further details.
The European Defence Agency has long been obsessed with drones and is fully aware that Israel is a world leader in developing these killing machines – thanks in large part to how it can test them out on Palestinians living under occupation. There is a strong likelihood that drones came up at the December 2020 meeting.
Revelations that the EU is cooperating on military matters are deeply unsettling, if not surprising. They make a mockery of the frequent attempts by diplomats to appear empathetic toward Palestinians.
Many of those attempts are coordinated by Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the EU’s diplomatic envoy to the West Bank and Gaza.
After Al-Haq, a prominent Palestinian human rights group, had its offices raided by Israel in August, von Burgsdorff soon arrived on the scene to underscore his displeasure.
From another freedom of information request, I have learned that von Burgsdorff had already conceded months before then that his hands were tied.
In February last year, von Burgsdorff addressed representatives of numerous Palestinian organizations in al-Bireh, a West Bank city.
His speaking notes for the event show that he explained the rationale behind the EU’s weak response following Israel’s decision to put Al-Haq and five similar groups on a terror blacklist in October 2021.
“As these designations come from an associated country, the EU has to take them seriously,” his speaking notes – see below – read.
The importance of that line cannot be overstated.
Von Burgsdorff was pointing to the so-called association agreement between the EU and Israel which entered into force in 2000.
That accord effectively makes the EU and Israel formal partners. Because of it, the EU feels that it has to treat everything Israel does respectfully, even when – as in this case – human rights workers are being criminalized.
Von Burgsdorff should be reminded of this line each time he arranges a photo opportunity or another gesture of sham solidarity with Palestinians.
To hell with his crocodile tears.
He is part of a club which regards Israel as an ally. And he wouldn’t dream of undermining the sordid alliance.
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