Lobby gets EU advice on censoring Israel’s critics

EU anti-Semitism coordinator Katharina von Schnurbein (File)

David Cronin

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 15, 2021

Katharina von Schnurbein should really be known as the muzzle of Brussels.

Since becoming the EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism more than five years ago, she has repeatedly attacked the Palestine solidarity movement. Smears have been her main tactic; censorship appears to be her strategic goal.

Through a freedom of information request, I learned that von Schnurbein has advised pro-Israel advocates about how to shape new legislation on policing the internet.

In June last year, von Schnurbein agreed to discuss the EU’s Digital Services Act – then being drafted – with B’nai B’rith, a group that has backed Israel’s colonization of the West Bank and other war crimes.

In an email message – see below – she suggested that the pro-Israel lobby should submit a paper to EU officials preparing the law. “A joint contribution by those Jewish organizations that published the 10-point plan on anti-Semitism in 2019 would be very welcome,” she wrote.

Her focus was instructive. All four organizations which put their names to the 2019 plan are hardcore supporters of Israel and its state ideology Zionism.

Although she is nominally dedicated to “fostering Jewish life,” von Schnurbein has never respected the breadth of opinion among Europe’s Jews. She and her colleagues have refused to allow Jews critical of Israel take part in the EU’s deliberations on anti-Semitism.

Strident

Under the guise of fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, the 2019 plan was an attempt to persuade the Brussels institutions that they should pursue a more strident pro-Israel agenda than they do already. One recommendation was that the EU should make its relations with foreign countries conditional on them not being hostile to Zionism.

In other words, the EU was told that it should only have political and economic links with states that accept an ideology under which Palestinians were dispossessed during the 20th century and are still discriminated against during the 21st.

The four organizations in question are the European Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith.

As recommended by von Schnurbein, these same groups submitted a joint paper on the Digital Services Act later in 2020.

That paper pushes the definition of anti-Semitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The new EU law should provide guidance on how “anti-Semitic content” can be identified and countered by internet firms, with the aid of the IHRA definition, according to the lobby groups’ paper.

The IHRA definition conflates opposition to Israel’s racist policies with hatred of Jews. So there can be little doubt that the real objective of these lobby groups is to have material telling the full truth about Israel censored.

The Digital Services Act was formally proposed by the EU’s executive, the European Commission, in December.

One of its objectives is to set common rules for the EU’s 27 countries for dealing with online content deemed illegal.

The aforementioned paper from the pro-Israel lobby demands that the new law must not only apply to big players like Facebook and Twitter but to all internet companies, “including alternative platforms.” The effects of that approach on free expression could be far-reaching.

As an experienced Brussels official, von Schnurbein knows well how the law-making business works.

It is significant that she offered advice to B’nai B’rith a number of months before the Digital Services Act was actually put forward. This meant that lobbyists had ample time to influence the initial version and decide on what they wish to achieve as the proposed law is debated by the European Parliament and EU governments.

Dishonest

Von Schnurbein’s job description – given to her when she took up the coordinator post in 2015 – does not mention Israel. By striving to censor opponents of Israel’s apartheid system, she is overstepping her mandate.

Some of von Schnurbein’s previous comments have been blatant lies.

She has, for example, alleged that the American singer Matisyahu has been singled out by Palestine solidarity activists because he is Jewish. In reality, Matisyahu has been challenged because he has raised funds for and endorsed violence by the Israeli military.

If civil service regulations were applied properly, von Schnurbein would be disciplined for her dishonest and highly partisan behaviour. Yet she enjoys support from the EU hierarchy.

I have complained to that hierarchy about von Schnurbein. Barbara Nolan, head of the division in which von Schnurbein works, dismissed my complaint as being “without foundation.”

Even though von Schnurbein’s job description does not refer to Israel even once, Nolan insisted she “performs her duties in line with the responsibilities she has been assigned.”

In a ruling last year, the European Court of Human Rights stated that a call for boycotting Israel is free speech and “requires a high level of protection.”

Nolan claimed that the EU “stands firm” in upholding the case law of the court, including the verdict on boycotting Israel.

Yet she and her team clearly do not regard defending the right to advocate boycotts of Israel as a priority.

After receiving Nolan’s letter, I made a freedom of information request for briefing material she has studied on the ruling from the European Court of Human Rights and its implications. No such material exists, I was told.

Assurances about protecting free speech are worthless when issued by Brussels officials. Behind closed doors, they are actively helping lobbyists suppress the truth about how Israel is wedded to racism.

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