Sami Abu Shehadeh
Middle East Eye / June 6, 2022
Speaking to the Knesset, the European Parliament president failed to address Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.
The address delivered by the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, to the Israeli Knesset last month might have been one of the least responsible speeches I’ve ever heard from a foreign leader with regards to Israel.
Coming from Malta, a country that has traditionally expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and representing a block that has pushed a values-based foreign policy, rule of law and accountability, Metsola could have been expected to speak truth to power.
Instead, we heard the opposite: a European surrender to Israel’s policies of annexation and apartheid, as denounced by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Paying lip service to the two-state solution at the end of her speech did not change the fact that Metsola failed to mention the terms occupation, colonization or annexation, nor did she discuss Palestinian rights, international law or UN resolutions.
Her message was clear: Europe-Israel relations will not be affected by Israel’s systematic crimes and violations of Palestinian human rights. She adopted the Israeli Zionist narrative completely – something I would have expected from an Israeli official delivering a speech to the European Parliament, and not the other way around.
Metsola missed no opportunity to reaffirm her position, ignoring that Israel is not a country only for Jews, but one where 20 percent of the population is made up of Palestinian citizens. She showed great admiration for former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who infamously said there was “no such thing as Palestinians”, and did not address the more than 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, including the racist ban on Palestinian family reunifications approved in March.
Metsola did not even mention Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al-Jazeera journalist shot by Israeli forces last month, and made no public call for justice. Her speech was all about reassuring Israel that apartheid won’t harm bilateral relations.
Lack of credibility
Metsola also spoke of common values and Europe’s deep bond with the state of Israel. Did she even think about how Palestinians would feel about this? What values are shared? The denial of rights? Colonization? Opposition to equality? Demolition of homes? Separation of families? If she meant justice and equality, then she knows very little about Israel.
Unfortunately, Metsola is not alone in her position. Whenever the EU implements any kind of accountability in the Israel/Palestine context, it is always against the Palestinian people. Oliver Varhelyi, Hungary’s member of the European Commission, has criticized the content of Palestinian textbooks and pushed a freeze on European aid to Palestine. He is not a lonely anti-Palestinian voice in the EU.
The question of Palestinian textbooks is a political talking point used by those who oppose the very existence of Palestine, but as an Israeli lawmaker, I never heard any European requests to review the Israeli textbooks that systematically negate the existence of the Palestinian people and deny the Nakba.
When it comes to Israel, the word of rightwing think-tanks and even settlers seems to have more weight in Brussels than the reports of international rights groups on Israeli apartheid. Even the EU Court of Justice ruling on the labelling of settlement products is not being implemented. So what credibility could Europe have when it comes to taking a position on the two-state solution?
To most European countries, the savage attack by Israeli forces at Abu Akleh’s funeral cannot be justified, and many were surely shocked to see thousands of Israeli Jews chanting “death to Arabs” during the recent Jerusalem flag march. Such scenes cannot be separated from the daily realities of occupation and laws promoting a system of Jewish supremacy on both sides of the 1967 border.
Europe, Israel’s main trade partner, has enough tools to bring about change, including by implementing Article 2 of the EU-Israel trade agreement, which conditions its implementation on respect for human rights. Peace is a construction based on justice. If Europe continues to avoid holding Israel accountable for its systematic crimes and violations, the status quo of apartheid will remain intact. Those are not the values we were told Europe stands for.
Sami Abu Shehadeh is a member of the Israeli Knesset representing the Joint List