The Electronic Intifada / June 15, 2022
Honorary doctorates sometimes get handed to the least honorable people.
This week the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev gave such an award to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s head. Based on her acceptance speech, the only degree which von der Leyen really deserved was an “MD” – a master’s in deception.
Von der Leyen had the audacity to present cooperation with Israel as a step towards “decarbonizing our energy mix.”
The “world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable, connecting Israel with Cyprus and Greece” will “over time” result in “electrification from renewable sources,” she claimed. Both the cable and a “gas and clean hydrogen pipeline” for the Eastern Mediterranean were, von der Leyen added, a “great example of democracies sticking together not only in times of conflict but mostly to fight this huge enemy that we have, and that is climate change.”
It would be foolish to trust von der Leyen’s assurances.
Environmental destruction is indeed a huge enemy for humanity. But why would fossil fuel giants want to fight it?
Breaking free ?
Von der Leyen portrayed energy cooperation with Israel as a way to “break free of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels.”
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Victoria Nuland, a US State Department veteran, does not believe that the EastMed pipeline will allow Europe to find a replacement for Russian gas swiftly enough.
Nuland has long been determined to keep Brussels bureaucrats in their place.
Back in 2014, a recording was leaked of Nuland dictating whose opinion mattered about Ukraine. “Fuck the EU,” she said at that time.
Von der Leyen displays the kind of deference which Nuland demands. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Commission boss has stressed her “unity” with the US.
By groveling to Israel this week, von der Leyen will surely have pleased Joe Biden’s administration. Her comments involved the kind of duplicity that American politicians have got away with for way too long.
At Ben-Gurion University, she complained about “authoritarian regimes beyond our borders.” To avoid any doubt about which regime she was focusing on, von der Leyen then singled out Russia.
The EU and the US have a selective approach to authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes which buy Western arms and humor Western businesses are regarded as valued partners.
As part of her trip, von der Leyen signed a trilateral agreement on energy cooperation between the EU, Egypt and Israel.
Under Abdulfattah al-Sisi, Egypt is the epitome of an authoritarian regime. Thousands are now in jail for expressing views with which al-Sisi and his handlers disagree.
Egypt plays an essential role in blockading Gaza, too, but that does not appear to have been on von der Leyen’s agenda.
Von der Leyen also paid a visit this week to Mohammed Shtayyeh from the Palestinian Authority, which detains and tortures Palestinians to keep Israel and the EU happy.
Shtayyeh patted von der Leyen on the back over Europe’s nominal commitment to the search for peace and justice.
That was a sick joke.
For the past year, the EU has withheld funding for Palestinian hospitals. There is nothing just about depriving cancer patients of treatment.
Although von der Leyen has trumpeted a decision allowing the funding to resume, she has never denounced – at least not publicly – the man who blocked the funding, Hungary’s EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi. Her silence is inexcusable considering that she is Várhelyi’s boss and could exert considerable pressure on him if she so desired.
Palestinian rights barely got a mention from von der Leyen this week. The only notable exception was when she stated that the EU “strongly condemns” the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
As condemnations go, it was a cowardly one. Von der Leyen did not acknowledge that there was a clear culprit in this killing – the Israeli military.
Nor did von der Leyen say anything this week about the violence of the Israeli police during Abu Akleh’s funeral.
Von der Leyen has described aggression ordered by Vladimir Putin as “barbaric” and called Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine “terrifying.”
But she would never dare to use such strong words when alluding to Israel.
That said, every EU criticism of Israel rings hollow. The same police force which baton charged Abu Akleh’s pallbearers participates in EU-financed research activities.
In her Ben-Gurion University speech, von der Leyen praised Israel as a “global trailblazer for science and innovation.”
Von der Leyen did not draw attention to the murky aspects of the EU-Israel partnership this week. Rather, she advocated that the partnership should be put to use in the fight against climate change.
Once again, von der Leyen omitted some important details.
The Israel Electric Corporation is a major participant in the energy projects that von der Leyen endorsed. The same company is actively involved in Israel’s theft and colonization of the West Bank.
If the projects are completed, energy generated in settlements which violate international law will be imported into Europe.
There is something obscene about suggesting that Israel is keen to solve the world’s environmental problems. That kind of obscenity is exactly what we should expect from someone who merits a master’s in deception.
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