The Electronic Intifada / January 10, 2023
The Israel lobby is not entirely monolithic.
Some of its players oppose particular policies. Others applaud one obscenity after another.
Arié Bensemhoun, head of the Paris office with the advocacy group called the European Leadership Network, is in the latter category.
Bensemhoun has defended Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister, following his recent incursion of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
The incursion cannot be dissociated from the stated intention of Israel’s new government to assert Jewish supremacy throughout historic Palestine.
Members of Ben-Gvir’s party are recommending a “last war” against Palestinians. A “last war” sounds eerily like a “final solution.”
Israel’s genocidal ambitions are becoming increasingly clear to everyone paying attention. Yet Bensenhoum has suggested that the real objective behind Ben-Gvir’s invasion was to advance religious freedom.
Ben-Gvir is an admirer of Baruch Goldstein, who infamously massacred Muslim worshippers in Hebron.
To imply that Ben-Gvir is now a champion of religious liberty is perverse.
It is by no means the first time that Bensemhoun has made outrageous comments. In 2021, he alleged that there “never was a Palestinian people.”
Far from being a marginal figure, Bensemhoun wields considerable clout. He recently accompanied a grouping of elected representatives as they visited the Middle East.
The lawmakers belong to Renaissance, the party of Emmanuel Macron, the French president.
While they behaved exactly as one would expect – by spreading myths about Israel being a “beautiful democracy” – one of Bensenhoum’s colleagues in the European Leadership Network hinted that such jaunts are not merely “fact-finding” missions.
Emmanuel Navon, head of the group’s Israel office, welcomed the visitors by noting that France is a “key military actor” in the eastern Mediterranean region and the Gulf.
Navon has previously argued that the Abraham Accords – normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries – offer an “opportunity to expand and formalize defense cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean.”
Four European Union states – France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus – could take part in such cooperation, along with Israel, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, according to Navon.
“Defense cooperation” is almost certainly a euphemism for joint military exercises and weapons trading.
Eager to please
Navon’s enthusiasm for military cooperation might explain why the EU has developed a strong relationship with his organization.
In October, the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv teamed up with the European Leadership Network to host a conference.
Documents obtained following a freedom of information request indicate that the EU officials in attendance were eager to please the Israel lobby.
Andrea Pontiroli, a senior diplomat in the EU’s Tel Aviv embassy, gave what he called a “sneak preview” of an opinion poll that had not then been published.
Undertaken by the research agency Gallup, it found that “a whopping 72 percent of respondents consider EU-Israel relations as good and only 24 percent as bad,” Pontiroli said. The proportion of Israelis who regarded ties with the EU as “very good” had doubled from 10 percent to 20 percent over a year, he added.
“I hope that we will all do our part to ensure that these positive trends are sustained and continue to grow,” he said. “Because the EU-Israel relationship is strong, deep and mutually beneficial and it only makes sense that this also be reflected in public opinion.”
Michael Mann, head of the Middle East division in the EU’s diplomatic service, did not strike quite an upbeat tone in his comments to the same event.
“Let us be frank,” Mann said. “The situation is exceedingly bleak. The situation on the ground is deteriorating. The perspectives for a two-state solution, which is the only viable one, are growing dimmer.”
Mann claimed that “throughout the gloom, there are occasional glimmers of hope.” He cited last year’s maritime boundary agreement between Lebanon and Israel as “a great step forward.”
That deal theoretically allocated one gas field – known as Karish – to Israel and another – called Qana – to Lebanon.
The finer points actually allow Israel to profit from both fields. Israel will be able to get royalties from exploiting part of the Qana field through a side agreement with the French fossil fuel giant Total.
The only hopes likely to be realized by the deal are those of the Israeli establishment and the energy industry. Both hope to become richer and more powerful.
The EU diplomatic service censored the documents – see below – I had requested under freedom of information rules.
A note prepared for Mann “contains a piece of information concerning an exchange that took place between representatives of the EU and the state of Israel in a format that was not intended to be made public,” the diplomatic service stated. Releasing that information, it added, would “risk harming the possibility of maintaining an environment of mutual trust” in discussions between the EU and Israel.
Even though the European Leadership Network is not an official governmental body, EU diplomats have, in effect, admitted that they are sharing secrets with it.
Asked to explain why he was giving details deemed sensitive to a lobby group, Mann would only say that “the information concerned the support expressed by representatives of the last Israeli government for the Middle East peace process.”
There is something rotten and anti-democratic about this whole business.
Professional lobbyists are privy to details withheld from human rights activists, journalists and other mere mortals. The EU’s pandering to Israel’s backers is becoming more extreme.
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