Like Qatar, Israel buys influence in Brussels

Katharina von Schnurbein, an EU official with extremely close connections to the pro-Israel lobby (European Commission)

David Cronin

The Electronic Intifada  /  December 14, 2022

A World Cup scandal is rocking the foundations of the European Union, judging by some reports.

It has the ingredients of a tawdry thriller.

A prominent lawmaker has been arrested. Bags of cash have been seized in police raids.

Qatar is accused of paying key figures in the Brussels bubble to burnish its labor rights record as preparations were underway for the football tournament.

Amid all the shock apparently caused by the scandal, it should be noted that there is nothing unusual about foreign states trying to buy influence in the EU institutions.

The transparency watchdogs incensed by Qatar’s alleged corruption have been silent when Israel and its supporters have twisted arms in their favor.

Israel’s tactics bear some similarities to those of Qatar.

One of the complaints against Qatar is that it has “invited” politicians on junkets. Israel and its lobbyists are quite fond of issuing such invitations.

Yet some of Israel’s tactics are more foul. That is especially the case when it comes to how Israel shapes the EU’s agenda on anti-Semitism.

Shamefully, Israel has weaponized the suffering which European Jews have endured historically to try and muzzle critics of the oppression which Palestinians face today.

Echoing Israel

The EU’s willingness to accommodate Israel can be discerned in an event held last month.

The event was billed as a “civil society forum” on anti-Semitism. Although the term “civil society” normally refers to organizations unaffiliated to governments, representatives of Israel and its lobbying network played a large role in this conference.

The groups represented at the event are listed in a document – see below – obtained via a freedom of information request.

Many of these groups explicitly side with Israel when it kills Palestinians in large numbers. They include the American Jewish Committee, the European Coalition for Israel and B’nai B’rith.

Another participant, the Netherlands-based Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI), has just admitted to spreading false claims that the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq is involved in terrorism.

Israel’s foreign ministry took part in the conference, too.

Arguably more worrying was how an EU official attending the event was happy to echo Israel’s propaganda.

Ana Gallego, head of the justice department in the European Commission (the EU’s executive), told the forum that “we have witnessed a rise in anti-Semitism among right-wing, left-wing and Islamist extremists.”

Gallego did not cite any evidence to back up her allegation that left-wing “extremists” are becoming more bigoted.

That was not surprising. She was not making a statement of fact but facilitating Israel’s dishonest attempts to portray the left-leaning and vocally anti-racist Palestine solidarity movement as motivated by a hatred of Jews.

Given the nature of the forum, Gallego was able to parrot a lie without expecting to be challenged for doing so.

A briefing note prepared for her – see below – contained several “defensives.” None of them alluded to her claim about left-wing “extremists.”

Exclusive

While “civil society” is theoretically a broad and inclusive term, the forum on anti-Semitism appears to have been an exclusive gathering.

In my freedom of information request, I asked for any documents drawn up for the forum setting out the eligibility criteria which participants were expected to meet. The European Commission – which convened the forum – replied that it did not have any document of that nature.

No groups that focus their work on Israel’s crimes against humanity figure among its list of participants.

Until now, the European Commission has followed a deliberate policy of barring such groups from its deliberations on anti-Semitism. Jewish opponents of Israel have, in particular, been snubbed.

The EU’s activities in this field are guided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Pointing to that definition, EU officials have argued that it is anti-Semitic to describe Israel as an apartheid state or denounce Zionism – the state’s ideology – as racist.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, sounds more absurd each time she tries to promote the IHRA definition.

During a recent exchange of views with Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur on the occupied West Bank and Gaza, von Schnurbein claimed she could not see how using the definition “stands in contradiction to supporting Palestinians and defending their human rights.”

It is hard to believe that von Schnurbein is unaware of how the definition has become a tool for silencing Palestinians living in her native Germany.

Earlier this year, seven journalists were fired by the state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle after the notorious pro-Israel lobbyist Ahmad Mansour alleged that comments they made on the internet breached the IHRA definition. Two of the journalists – both Palestinian – have successfully contested their dismissals in court.

Von Schnurbein regularly hangs out with Israel’s diplomats and lobbyists. She has enthusiastically backed Israeli aggression, notably its May 2021 attack on Gaza.

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