The Electronic Intifada / March 31, 2023
“Turmoil” is the word that has kept leaping out from headlines over the past few days.
The mainstream media apparently regard it as the best term to describe a saga featuring Benjamin Netanyahu as the main character. The latest episode left the Israeli prime minister looking much less of an invincible alpha male than before as he backed away – temporarily perhaps – from smashing up a judicial system that isn’t sufficiently deferential to him and his allies.
Luckily for them, many of Israel’s supporters in the West are immune to turmoil.
A “summit” called by the lobby group known as the European Leadership Network went ahead as planned – albeit with minor changes to its agenda – in Berlin this week.
The event followed the standard playbook: allege that everyone who Israel sees as an opponent – academics, activists or ice cream makers – is motivated by a hostility toward Jews.
Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Union’s coordinator against anti-Semitism, was much in demand at the “summit.”
She did not seem bothered by how a number of lawmakers had called on her to withdraw.
The lawmakers were angered by the inclusion of Amichai Chikli in the original program for the event.
Chikli has a penchant for racist outbursts. He has gone as far as to allege that an entire Palestinian generation has been raised “in the spirit of the Hitler Youth.”
While Chikli finally found himself unable to attend the “summit,” von Schnurbein wouldn’t dare disappoint the European Leadership Network.
She is a regular participant in that group’s activities and has signaled that she wants to keep things that way.
In a video discussion several months ago, von Schnurbein confirmed that she had already accepted an invitation for the European Leadership Network’s 2023 annual “policy conference.” A separate event from this week’s “summit,” it is scheduled to take place in Paris during May.
Documents obtained through a freedom of information request show that the European Leadership Network flatters von Schnurbein. It has expressed the desire to “honor” her work.
When the European Leadership Network sponsors tables at gala dinners, von Schnurbein is high on its list of favored guests, judging by these documents.
Under the EU’s staff regulations, she requires permission from the Brussels hierarchy to accept gifts “of any kind whatever” from outside bodies.
Von Schnurbein did not reply when asked if she had sought approval before agreeing to eat meals paid for by the European Leadership Network.
Shielded from scrutiny
The staff regulations state, too, that officials “shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, authority, organization or person outside his institution.”
Von Schnurbein routinely breaches the spirit and probably the letter of that rule.
Although her formal job description does not mention Israel even once, she is constantly helping that state and its professional advocates to weaponize anti-Semitism.
In another freedom of information request, I asked to see copies of all correspondence between von Schnurbein and the Israeli government since she began her current post in December 2015. The European Commission (the EU’s executive) replied that it had identified 21 documents relating to such correspondence.
After consulting the Israeli authorities, the European Commission refused to release those documents. Doing so, it claimed, “might undermine the protection of the public interest as regards protection of international relations.”
Keeping mum about the EU’s dealings with an apartheid state such as Israel does not serve the public interest. And, in any event, the unelected and anti-democratic European Commission’s efforts to present itself as a defender of the public interest have zero credibility.
Despite efforts to shield her from scrutiny, it is evident that von Schnurbein is pursuing Israel’s agenda. She is either taking instructions directly from that state and its supporters or can be relied on to regurgitate Israel’s talking points off her own bat.
I have challenged her on a number of occasions about her close connections to Israel.
She responded to one challenge in October 2021 by citing the EU’s strategy for combating anti-Semitism (which had just been published).
The strategy – heavily influenced by the pro-Israel lobby – does not say that she may ignore the EU’s staff regulations.
They stipulate that “an official shall abstain from any action and, in particular, any public expression of opinion which may reflect on his position.”
Von Schnurbein has broken that rule time and again. In May 2021, she even gave the thumbs-up to Israeli attacks on Jerusalem and Gaza.
If the regulations were properly enforced, she would have been disciplined – perhaps even dismissed – for applauding aggression.
But von Schnurbein need not fear being reprimanded.
She has held her current position for more than seven years now. The declared commitment of the European Commission to job rotation – moving managers between posts every five years or so – has been conveniently forgotten about in her case.
In an apparent attempt to appear balanced, the European Commission appointed a coordinator against anti-Muslim hatred on the same day it made von Schnurbein the coordinator against anti-Semitism.
Since then, at least three different people have held the post of coordinator against anti-Muslim hatred. They have been allocated fewer resources than von Schnurbein has been and at one point the post was left vacant for a long period.
The Brussels bureaucracy is clearly not fighting every form of bigotry with the same urgency.
Its work on anti-Semitism is being shaped by a lobby that exploits the Holocaust and other crimes against Europe’s Jews to erect a smoke guard around Israel so that it may continue oppressing Palestinians with impunity.
Anti-Semitism – as defined by Israel and its lobby – is a high priority. Anti-Muslim hatred is not.
And the rules applying to every EU civil servant have somehow been waived for the benefit of Katharina von Schnurbein.
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