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.
Why the European Parliament, and other EU institutions, need to take a strong position on the movement calling for a boycott of the State of Israel.
Brussels took upon itself the Snakes and Ladders task of building a common European position on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pushing in the last five years for a hands-on approach designed to ensure a return on the European political and economic investment in the region.
This policy of “differentiation,” in Brussels jargon, reflects the European Union’s self-professed determination “to take any action to preserve the two-state solution on the ground” by making a distinction in its bilateral agreements with Israel between Green Line Israel and Palestinian territories. So far, the policy has yielded two sets of EU Guidelines, on Israeli participation to Horizon 2020 in July 2013 and on indication of origin of products, respectively EU labeling of settlement products, in November 2015.
Doves in Israel, and around the world, anticipated that the EU’s new policy would expose the allegedly pro-Palestinian grassroots movement for what it is, an umbrella of organizations and individuals that deliberately question the legitimacy of the State of Israel and that represent a hotbed for anti-Semitism.
There was hope that once there was a clear EU policy distinction between the State of Israel and its settlements in the territories, the voices calling for a boycott of Israel would change their tune and start lobbying Brussels to instead begin exerting its economic leverage to foster a vibrant Palestinian civil society and an accountable Palestinian political leadership.
Instead, the EU’s policy is becoming the thin end of the wedge that BDS activists use to access EU institutions, employing Trojan horse tactics that seek nothing less than a complete severance of economic, cultural, scientific ties with Israel.
High Representative Federica Mogherini has repeatedly reassured Prime Minister Netanyahu of “the EU’s opposition of boycotts against Israel”. And in all other bilateral forums, committees and subcommittees with Israel, EU officials are all singing from the same sheet: The policy of differentiation does not constitute a boycott of the State of Israel, but merely an implementation of existing EU legislation.
I could question the good will and intention of the EU diplomats, who selectively isolate one of the core issues of the conflict, as if it exists in a vacuum, or the zealous use of “existing EU legislation” for a still in progress European foreign policy. It is not the purpose of this piece, however.
I would like to draw attention to the fact that the line between diplomatic pressure put on the government of Israel on the issue of settlements and a fully-fledged boycott of the Israel is getting more and more blurred as BDS activists are offered shelter under the EU’s freedom of speech. Europe cannot afford itself to go down that path,regardless of the stalemate in the peace process.
BDS leader Omar Barghouti is frequently invited to address members of the European Parliament, the Delegation for relations for Palestine (DPAL), and other forums, and offered the public space to openly call for the boycott of Israeli products, academic exchanges and other types of sanctions.
His crude tactic of trying to “make the occupation unbearable” comes at the cost of demonizing and entire population and infringing on their civil liberties by seeking their isolation in trade, cultural exchanges, academic cooperation and security.
Mirroring the institutions’ impulse for “a continued, full and effective implementation of EU legislation,” one cannot but wonder why does EU shy away from substantiating its rejection of BDS. This position has been articulated on multiple occasions, including in MEP Martina Anderson’s answer on the question of the legitimacy of the BDS movement: “The EU rejects the BDS campaign attempts to isolate Israel and is opposed to any boycott of Israel.”
Similarly, European Council President Donald Tusk, in his first visit to Israel in August 2015, ahead of the publication of EU guidelines on labelling, reassured Prime Minister Netanyahu that “we have to avoid words like boycott because for sure this is not the intention of Europe. No country in Europe wants to boycott Israel.”
Concrete action needs to be taken by Brussels. The EU’s guidelines on the eligibility of Israeli entities participation to Horizon 2020 from July 2013 did not dissuade BDS activists who are lobbying members of the European Parliament from continuing to question, three years later, the participation and allocation of funds to the Israel Ministry of Public Security through LAW-TRAIN, an EU-funded project on drug trafficking.
Similarly, another European legislator addressing the European Commission on its Patronage of WATEC Italy 2016, questions the participation in the fair of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company. Furthermore, an entire political group finds it “balanced” to call for an end to all cooperation between Israel and the European Defence Agency, and to allow no funding to Israeli entities through Horizon 2020.
Unmistakably, Europe is going through a period of social disorder marked by disenchantment with mainstream politics, and one does not need further proof following Sunday’s results in the French presidential elections.
As such, for the sake of preventing further scapegoating tendencies and radicalization, I would like to make the following recommendations:
- Allocate resources and establish a task force within the European Commission that would monitor and investigate the impact of BDS on the European communities, possibly under Commissioner Vera Jurova (Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality);
- Issue a notice to all member states, asking them to monitor the activities of BDS supporters and take further legal action in line with the Council Framework decision from November 2008 that “racism and xenophobia are direct violations of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and rule of law” and to take measures to punish the following intentional conduct: Publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by race, color, religion descent or ethnic origin;
- Prevent EU taxpayers’ money to fund any entity that calls for the boycott of the State of Israel;
- Issue a notice on BDS supporters’ access to the EU institutions and a disclaimer for any organizations or entities that call for a boycott of Israel.
European political leadership, as well as EU policy makers, should indeed “take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.” They should not allow, under any circumstances, their policy to be misused and ultimately abused by BDS activists operating under the pretext of freedom of speech and association.
The above recommendations would ensure that the EU’s stated aim of getting a meaningful return on its investment would encounter many more ladders than snakes going forward.
This article was written by Teodora Coptil, a consultant specializing on the EU’s policy for 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. it was also published on Ynet.
One of the founders of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been arrested for concealing large sums of money from tax authorities.
Police say Omar Barghouti, founder of both the BDS movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, was arrested on suspicion he committed tax evasion over the past decade, concealing $700,000 in earned income from tax authorities.
During a raid of Barghouti’s house, police say they found credit cards and purchase records confirming the allegations against him. After being taken into custody, Barghouti was transferred to Haifa for interrogation before being released on bail.
Investigators say Barghouti received the money from a company in the Palestinian Authority which sells and rents ATM machines, where Barghouti has served as director. The BDS co-founder also received large sums of money from speaking tours around the world. In both cases, Barghouti is believed to have concealed the hidden incomes in banks outside of the reach of Israeli tax authorities – one in the United States and one in Ramallah.
The Qatari-born anti-Israel activist was raised in Egypt but received permanent residency status after he married an Israeli Arab woman. Barghouti currently resides in the northern Israeli town of Acre (Akko) and studied in Tel Aviv University – despite his own calls to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Barghouti has openly advocated for the destruction of the Israel as a Jewish state and the end of Zionism. Barghouti rejects the two-state solution, and has compared Israel to both Apartheid-ridden South Africa and Nazi Germany.
The Article was published on Arutz Sheva website