The Electronic Intifada / February 17, 2023
For once, I can bring some good news: The Israel lobby is having headaches.
A bribery scandal known as Qatargate means that elected representatives in Brussels do not want to be caught under the influence of pressure groups.
The push for greater transparency appears to have jeopardized a new initiative supporting the Abraham Accords – normalization deals between Israel and several Arab countries.
Roberta Metsola, the European Parliament’s president, had indicated that she would attend the launch of the so-called Abraham Accords Network, later this month. Yet when I contacted Metsola’s office, her spokesperson replied, “According to the information that I have, there is no such meeting taking place.”
The event’s cancellation would be a setback for David Lega, a Swedish member of the European Parliament (MEP), who had been appointed leader of the network. In a recent video, he stated that forming the cross-party alliance had taken two years of work.
The video gives an insight into how dodgy lobbyists meddle in EU affairs.
Lega stated that he received “inspiration” to form an alliance promoting the Abraham Accords while on a trip to the Middle East. The trip was arranged by the European Leadership Network, a pro-Israel group.
A core objective of the alliance would be finding “new ways to gather majorities” within the European Parliament, Lega stated.
That in itself is troubling.
The tacit purpose behind the Abraham Accords is to encourage greater weapons sales between Israel and other states in the Middle East, while taking Palestinian rights off the agenda. Lega wants the European Parliament to throw its weight behind those efforts.
Doing good ?
But what’s really revealing is what Lega has to say about Qatargate and its implications. He and other pro-Israel advocates are clearly nervous by the allegations that Qatar paid vast amount of cash to some lawmakers before the World Cup.
“People are scared right now and they want to show that they are doing things to prevent this,” Lega said. “My worry is that the boundaries that they put up will not affect people wanting to cheat, only us who want to do good.”
Far from doing “good,” Lega has spread some of Israel’s most pernicious lies.
Along with a few colleagues, he has defamed Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist.”
And he has claimed that anti-Semitic material is widely used in Palestinian schools. The Israel lobby has been peddling that myth for ages.
The aforementioned trip that gave Lega “inspiration” to work more diligently on promoting the Abraham Accords took place in November 2021. Breaking the European Parliament’s rules, Lega failed to register his participation in the trip at the time, the Belgian newspaper Le Soir has reported.
Le Soir has found that Israel is among the top three main destinations for trips undertaken by MEPs at the invitation of external organizations.
Although Lega broke the rules regarding one of those junkets, he has made official declarations after taking part in trips organized by two other pro-Israel groups, B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee.
He has declared, too, that he discussed the Abraham Accords in various meetings at the European Parliament’s headquarters with diplomats and lobbyists.
Regardless of whether it hands cash to MEPs, there is voluminous evidence that Israel and its lobby groups are buying influence in Brussels.
They have gotten away with doing so until now – perhaps partly because some of the most senior figures in the EU hierarchy have allowed themselves to be charmed and compromised by Israel.
Last year, Roberta Metsola addressed Israel’s national assembly, the Knesset, in her capacity as the European Parliament’s president. She stayed two nights at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, with the Israeli state picking up the tab.
Qatargate has bounced Metsola into pledging new measures to ensure that the European Parliament is “not for sale.”
Her commitment to transparency and probity is belated.
Following her Knesset speech, I made a freedom of information request asking to see all briefing notes she had consulted while preparing for it.
The European Parliament has so far refused to release those documents.
The culture of secrecy in Brussels is a major problem, one that arguably enables corruption. Until the culture changes, assurances that politicians are not for sale will be worthless.
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