Following the Event with the Leader of BDS Mr. Barghouti at the European Parliament

No, Mr. Barghouti – BDS is not a matter of freedom of speech, not when your misrepresentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict imposes upon my social consciousness by demanding me to undertake actions that adhere to a set of lies, and ultimately boycott peace.

BDS leader Omar Barghouti was offered a platform at the European Parliament for the first time last Wednesday at an event organised by an S&D MEP Ana Gomes, despite protests from the S&D leadership who eventually distanced themselves publicly by ordering EP security forces, shortly into the panel, to enter the room and take down the socialist banner.

Seasoned politician, widely respected among her peers for her opinionated positions, MEP Ana Gomes has built for herself a reputation of a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. While it is commendable for any politician to be consistent with one’s beliefs, MEP Ana Gomes exercised her hosting duties in a disquieting contradiction with her socialist values and her self-proclaimed “love for her Jewish friends” by calling “the Israeli settlements the real cancer of the international community”, while barely finding the strength to utter the word “Israel” by the end of the panel.

She was adamant to underline that as a result of “a very perverse lobbying” the Palestinian issue has not been discussed “that much”, however, she is happy to have overcome “the intimidating tactics” and “lies that misconstrue” that sought to prevent her from holding this event.

Leaving aside the inaccuracy of ascribing, yet again, everything that is wrong in the world to Israel, the use of such divisive language that resembles more of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” by an elected member of the House, though even by the looks of it an isolated one, should not be waved off as “misspeaking”. MEP Ana Gomez must be exhibiting forms of selective memory, since she expressed herself discontent on the recent visit to Iran, noting that “human rights questions were evaded by their counterparts”. How many times can one “misattribute” the word “cancer” to Israel during a one-sided panel that calls for boycotts of Israel; apparently, for this member of the House at least a dozen.

Europe Israel Public Affairs, where I head the Public Affairs department, has been part of the “perverse lobbying” MEP Ana Gomez was referring to by openly calling on the political leadership of the House not to give credibility to a voice that has gone on record, all the while yet again yesterday opposing EU policy on a number of issues, including the two-state solution.

Oddly enough, the only reason why Mr. Barghouti, now a charismatic leader with a poised demeanour, was in the position to deliver a message in the European House was because his alma mater, Tel Aviv University, has protected his freedom of speech and education, and awarded him a degree.

Mr. Barghouti addressed some of the questions raised by a couple of pro-Israel voices by clarifying from the start that he does not respond to questions that he finds demeaning to the debate on account of their personal nature.

As much as Mr. Barghouti enjoys taking the higher moral ground by claiming to embody the struggle for Palestinian self-determination, he knows very well that politics are personal, and his appeal to grassroots followers is a proof of his ability of making politics personal.

Ultimately, it is more convenient for the BDS agenda to complain to the international forums that do not hold them accountable than to put the Palestinian house in order.

Mr. Barghouti, your bid for boycotts of Israel, from the sanctity this House confers, is personal when you urge me to adopt a reductive narrative that focuses exclusively on the settlements, a misrepresentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, withholding facts, denying Israel’s legitimacy and creating bias.

Mr. Barghouti, you are making it personal when I enter my supermarket in Belgium, and a BDS sticker placed on a product tells me that the only way I can express solidarity with the Palestinians is by boycotting the one partner they need to achieve peace.

Mr. Barghouti, it is personal when you ask me to defer my intellectual integrity by boycotting an agreement or academic exchange with the Hebrew University for the sake of a movement that does not even support the two-state solution.

Mr. Barghouti, your politics are personal as they seek to corrupt my very own freedom of choice and my integrity with lies.

And this is what the EU institutions and the EU leadership refuse to acknowledge – the expression of calls for boycotts fails to be protected under the freedom of speech and association the moment it starts to pre-condition the European citizen through a series of misrepresentations or lies to undertake an action that is not an expression of his/her freedom of choice as a consumer but that of propaganda.

Mrs. Ana Gomes, why does Mr. Barghouti’s freedom of speech have to come at the expense of my freedom of choice?

Teodora Coptil is a consultant specializing in the EU’s policy for the MENA region and head of institutional relations at Europe Israel Public Affairs, a Brussels-based NGO advocating for a strategic EU-Israel bilateral relation and accountability of EU aid going to the Palestinian Authority.