A COUNTRY BY COUNTRY LOOK AT THE EU ELECTIONS

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

With the European elections results coming in overnight there are some surprises, but many predictable outcomes. The elections have ramifications for Europe’s position in the world because the more Europe is unstable and fractured by infighting, the less it will play a role in world affairs. In addition, the more extreme parties in Europe will fuel the continued cycle of the instability, likely exacerbating the inability of the continent to act as a whole on policies, leaving such issues as immigration and security in the hands of states that have deepening societal divisions.

Here is a quick glance at what we know so far on Monday.

Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party remakes map of UK politics

The pro-Brexit leader Nigel Farage, who appeared to leave politics after the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, led a new party to a surprising thirty percent of the votes in the UK European elections. These elections weren’t supposed to even happen because the UK was already supposed to have left the EU. His message was that his party wants to take responsibility for leaving the EU and that if the ruling Conservatives don’t act then they will be crushed at the next polls.

The Conservatives already were humiliated in the EU elections in the UK, receiving less than ten percent. The Liberal Democrats performed well with almost 20 percent of the vote while Labour slipped to 14% and the Greens grabbed 11%. It’s clear that a coalition of Labour, the Greens and Liberal-Democrats, with the Scottish Nationalists, likely could run the UK after the next general election. For now it is the EU that will be getting Farage back.

Germany goes Green

In Germany the centrist and historically dominant Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost votes to the Green Party. The Greens took twenty percent of the vote while the right wing AfD took ten percent. For Germany, any notion that right wing parties might do well always conjures up comparisons to the past. But the reality is that there is no massive swing to the far-right in Germany, yet. Instead the major parties are simply being weakened. The smaller leftist Die Linke party, for instance, took five percent of the vote. Liberals took another five percent.

Le Pen wins, again, in France

Marine Le Pen’s National Rally defeated President Emmanuel Macron’s party by a whopping 23.3% to 22.4%. This is supposed to make us all gasp that Lep Pen has “won,” but she hasn’t really won anything. Macron has been beset by massive protests by the “yellow vests” and French politics is fickle. They tend to dislike their presidents. The Le Pen phenomenon has continued for twenty years in France. In 2002 Jean-Marie Le Pen received 17% in the presidential election. Marine Le Pen got 33% of the vote in 2017. So her 23% isn’t a win, it’s a loss for her party. It just looks good in comparison to Macron’s failure. The real winners, in a sense, in France were the Greens with 13% of the vote, an increase from last time. See a pattern here with the Greens doing better in Germany and the UK?

Italy’s one third

A third of Italians voted for the Lega, Matteo Salvini’s party that is popular in the north of the country. Another 23% voted for the social democrats while only 16% chose the Five Star Movement, a new party that had got around a third of the vote in the 2018 elections. It appears that Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia got 7% of the vote. One supposes that means former Italian leader Mr. Berlusconi is back in politics, something he has been trying to achieve for the last few years. The end result in Italy is that although the right wing is doing well, they are still divided and kept at a third of the votes.

Sweden’s moderate politics

Not so long ago Sweden thought that it might be swept up in populist politics with the rise of the Sweden Democrats. The wave appears to be cresting as they now have 15% of the vote, a continual rise from 2018 when they had 13% in national elections. But the rest of Sweden’s politics is predictable. The Moderate party got 16% and the center-left took 23%. The Greens now have 11%.

Flemish Nationalism rises in Belgium

The new Flemish Alliance, which had 20% in the 2014 vote got only 13% in the EU elections, but its more far-right Vlaams Belang got 11%. On the left the socialists took 10%, the French speaking Greens 7% and the Flemish speaking Greens another 7%. Flemish socialists also got 6%. All in all the politics in Belgium is so divided that it’s hard to make any real conclusions, besides the obvious fact that the Flemish right is rising. Previously the the Vlaams Belang had only around 3% of the vote. But a previous incarnation of the far-right, the Vlams Blok, once got 12% of the vote in 1994 and 15% in 1999. So the new far-right Flemish speakers have merely gone back to what they used to have.

Puigdemont gets a seat in Spain

The Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont secured a seat in Spain while another group supporting local regions, Ahora Republicas, got 5% of the votes. Its leader Oriol Junqueras has been in imprisoned on charges of “rebellion.” The populist Vox party got 6% of the vote in Spain. Overall Spain’s politics are largely dominated by the normal parties with the socialists getting 32% and the center-right People’s Party getting 20%. Another center-right Citizens party got 12%.

Orban’s Hungary

Viktor Orban continued his dominance of Hungarian politics, taking more than 50% of the vote in the EU elections there. He has been the leader of the Fidesz party for years and a dominant figure since the late 1990s. It is the only European country where a party got over 50% of the vote.

Poland goes for two big parties

Poland looks the way western European countries used to look in its voting pattern for two large parties. Forty-three percent chose a right wing conservative party called Law and Justice, while 38% chose the European Coalition. In general Poland’s politics have not fractured like many other countries in Europe.

Austria’s Greens and Freedom Party

Austrian politics also looks relatively normal in the EU election, with the People’s Party taking 34% and the Social Democrats taking 23%. The Freedom Party, with is more right wing, has 17% and the Greens 14%. This looks like the 2017 Austrian legislative elections in which the Freedom Party got 20% and the Greens got 12%. Basically there is no news from Vienna.

Romania’s socialists lose out

In Romania the center-right National Liberal Party got 27% of the vote while the Social Democrats got only 24%. A centrist party called USR-PLUS got another 18%. The Social Democrats had 45% of the vote as recently as 2016. They now have been handed a major defeat. Romania matters to the Eu because it has 32 seats in the 751 parliament, making it one of the larger members in the 28 member block. Germany, Italy, France and the UK are the largest, followed by France and Poland.

Ireland also goes Green a bit

Ireland largely voted for the parties one would expect, Fine Gail got 29% and Fianna Fail got 15%. This represented a defeat for Fianna Fail while the Green Party grabbed 15%, much more than in the 2016 elections in Ireland. Sinn Fein got 13%, which is exactly what it got in 2016. No big surprises here, except for the Greens.

Netherlands says goodbye to populism

The Party for Freedom (PVV) once had 16% and 13% in EU elections in 2009 and 2014. But it slipped to a dismal failure in the 2019 elections, illustrating the far-right nationalism may not be on the march. It came in second with 13% of the vote in the 2017 general elections in Holland. But the Dutch decided on more traditional politics this election, sending Labour to the EU with 19% of the vote and the People’s Party with 14%. The Greens got 10% of the vote. The surprising failure of the populists and nationalists in Netherlands may point to a turning point in that country and others. After almost two decades, since the days of the Pim Fortuyn List, politics in the low country seem a bit more traditional.

The article was published on The JPost


How Sweden supports terror against Israel

Swedish aid to Plestinian Arabs is not peaceful, to put it mildly. Supporting anti-Zionist plays that turn history on its head for unsuspecting Western audiences and calling it aiding culture, is a way to make peace unattainable.

In Sweden there is an ongoing discussion about whether Sweden is funding Palestinian terrorism or not. The truth is that Sweden supports Palestinian projects and NGOs promoting terrorism and violence. By doing so Sweden is in fact guilty of encouraging violence and extremism in the Palestinian society.The Swedish aid is not peaceful and we need to protest how it has been misused.

For years Sweden has, unfortunately, been promoting violence by funding NGOs which encourage violent resistance to the Israeli presence in the Middle East.

In Jenin, a town in the Palestinian controlled part of the disputed territories in Samaria there is a theatre called the Freedom theatre (TFT). The theatre very actively promotes BDS against Israel, glorifies terror and takes part in campaigns aimed against Palestinians who choose peaceful co-existence with the Israeli society.

Sweden supports TFT with hundreds of thousands of shekels every year. According to the theatre’s annual report of 2015 the Swedish government  payed salaries and student grants to the staff at the theatre for about  NIS 152 083 and supported  TFT with NIS 204 449 in total in 2015. In 2016 TFT received NIS 244 000 from Swedish funds. The money is transferred through PPAN a Palestinian BDS network which has been given over NIS 8 million from generous Sweden since 2016. This money cover the  TFT’s performances in Jenin’s refugee camp. And last year over 12 500 Palestinian children and adults watched its performances.

So what kind of plays does TFT perform that would promote Sweden’s official peaceful goals with development aid? Are these plays about peace, building bridges between people or ending violence?

No, no and no.

’The Siege’ is the title of one popular play TFT recently has been touring with in Palestinian towns and in  the US.

The play is based on an event that took place between April 2 and May 10, 2002, during which 39 armed terrorists occupied the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, taking 200 civilians and 46 monks, even children, hostage. According to some testimonies the terrorists used pages in the Bible as toilet papers and kept the food in the church for themselves while the hostages starved.

The Palestinian terrorists booby-trapped the church with 40 bombs and threatened to blow the holy site up and kill the hostages. The terrorist later agreed to leave the church as they were promised to be sent to freedom in Europe and Gaza.

However in ’The Siege’ the terrorists are portrayed as action heroes defending their homeland.  Terrorists like Ibrahim Moussa Abayat contributed  their narrative to the script. He is also featured in the promotional video clip for the play.According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abayat was involved in shooting attacks and killings of several Israeli civilians. On the poster advertising the play an actor playing one of the terrorists is seen smiling posing with a rifle.

Another play TFT is performing is ’Return to Palestine’. The play centres around Jad, a Palestinian Arab, who grew up in the US. One day he travels to the ‘Palestinian territories’. According to the Palestinian Authority Maan News Agency in the end of the story Jad reaches the conclusion that the land needs blood and sacrifice for its survival and for a free life. In an interview with Maan News Agency, Shireen Jarrar, secretary of the board of directors of the Freedom Theatre, says that the play presents a very beautiful message to all expatriates. She also says that the message of the play carries an invitation to the Palestinian Arab expatriates to ”return and challenge all difficulties”.  The performance is funded not only by  Sweden but by the PA ministry of Culture.

‘Return to Palestine’? I call it an invitation to terror and violence as the main character of the play concludes that violence (blood and sacrifice) is the way forward.

Terror organizations like PFLP have met with TFT. In 2014 it met with the terror organization. During the meeting TFT staff revealed to PFLP that TFT not only graduates artists, it also graduates ”performing resistance fighters”. The younger generations in towns like Jenin who come to TFT shows will be encouraged to perform acts of violence and terrorism as TFT portrays Palestinian terrorism as heroic and its terrorists as poor victims.

Some prominent members of  TFT have a background in terror organizations.

Palestinian online newspaper Donia Al-Watan has interviewed the late TFT member Rabea Turkman,  who was a Fatah militant in the Al Aqsa martyrs’ brigades since the age of 16.

Al-Watan asked Turkman if the theatre is an alternative to armed struggle. His answer was that the theatre is not an alternative to armed struggle but a complement to that. He also added to his answer, that in all revolutions art has been a form of resistance, without denying armed struggle.

So TFT does not see its ”cultural resistance” as an alternative to armed activities, it is merely a complement to terror activities. The cultural resistance is not replacing the armed struggle  but rather serves as a tool to keep the people fed with the ideas of armed struggle and hostility towards Israel. In Europe and the US ”the Palestinian cultural resistance” has the goal to change our Western perspective of Palestinian terrorists from viewing them as terrorists to viewing them as victims, freedom fighters and heroes. The end goal is to make Israel lose support in Europe and the US.

Another member of the Al Aqsa martyrs’ brigades active in the theatre is one of its co-founders, Zakaria Al-Zubeidi. He is described in Palestinian media as a local leader of the Fatah armed wing.During the second intifada he was the terrorists’ bombmaker. But he is also the co-founder of the local branch of the Fatah armed wing in Jenin. TFT also reveals that Al-Zubeidi allegedly has been hiding 50 weapons. The theatre in addition to this states that staff, students, and board members have been arrested multiple times.

TFT also has cultural activities for children, which may look innocent on the surface. The ”soft” activities with small children however are there to create a positive image of TFT and to divert attention from TFT’s focus on graduating ”performing resistance fighters” and showing solidarity with terrorists.

TFT is just one of many many organizations Sweden is currently funding with millions of shekels from the Swedish tax payers’ money. Another organization is the anti-Semitic Miftah which until just recently made neo-Nazi material available on it’s webpage (now removed). Miftah has also been promoting violence in its contests for youths.Yet another organization Sweden funds is the Abu Dis Youth Club which honors acts of terrorism with championships and teams named after terrorists while hosting PFLP events inciting the youths to violence.

Sweden needs to wake up and realise that its foreign aid projects in the Palestinian territories are immoral and wrong. So on November 5I invite the Swedish tax payers to protest the irresponsible way in which Swedish development aid has been used. We will protest the government for inciting to violence with its destructive aid policy. For the very first time in history a demonstration against the Swedish government’s anti-Israel policies will take place in the heart of our democracy, outside the Swedish parliament.

May the truth liberate the Swedish people and ignite democratic resistance against Sweden’s immoral and destructive aid policy that creates terrorists instead of peacemakers.

Tobias Petersson is the director of Swedish think tank Perspektiv på Israel (Perspective on Israel)

The article was published on Arutz 7 website


European Secretariat cuts funding to radical NGO

Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Netherlands cease funding of NGO that inaugurated PA girls center named for notorious terrorist.

On August 21, 2017, the Swiss Government confirmed that the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (the Secretariat) – a joint funding mechanism of the governments of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands – is suspending funding to the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee(WATC). SonntagsZeitung, the Swiss weekly which broke the story, has noted that the countries are launching an investigation into funding to the organization. WATC received $530,000 in core funding from 2014-2016.

The decision follows WATC’s role in inaugurating a women’s center in named after Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who murdered 38 Israeli civilians in a 1978 terror attack. Denmark subsequently demanded WATC return Danish funds and froze funding to the Secretariat, pending review. The Netherlands also suspended cooperation with WATC until further notice.

The decision to halt Secretariat funding comes on the heels of a Swiss June 2017 resolution, passed by the Swiss Council of States, which directs the government to “amend the laws, ordinances and regulations” to prevent funding to NGOs “involved in racist, antisemitic or hate incitement actions.”

“We commend the Secretariat’s decision to review its funding to WATC,” stated Olga Deutsch, Director of NGO Monitor’s Europe Desk. Deutsch continued, “NGO Monitor has documented extensive Secretariat funding to groups that promote extremism and radicalization, including to WATC.”

NGO Monitor notes that the Secretariat is a primary funder of NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Secretariat supports over 40 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, including groups that have glorified terrorism, have alleged links to EU-designated terror groups, promote anti-Semitism, and/or are active in anti-peace BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) and lawfare campaigns against Israel.

Deutsch added, “The Secretariat’s review of funding to WATC marks a dramatic and positive change in European policy. We note a greater awareness of the necessity to scrutinize and evaluate the activities of grantees, and hope to see a thorough review of other organizations as well.”

The article was published on Arutz 7


The real Israel

A lot has already been said about the Swedish government’s Middle East policy and I will not get dug down in my past criticism of it. After spending a couple of days in Israel together with colleagues from the European Parliament, I would like however to underline a clear observation; The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström’s anti-Israeli statements have damaged the image of Sweden more than we so far have realized.

That the Israeli government´s representatives, parliamentarians and media began speaking about a flaring diplomatic crisis is one thing, but when the general public and ideological supporters of Wallström react in the same way it illustrates the seriousness of the situation. In fact, Sweden’s reputation has been destroyed as a result of Wallström´s actions and some of the foremost critics are her own Social Democratic Party friends in the Israeli Labour Party.

In the meetings and conversations that I participated in, both in the Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish government’s actions have been a recurring topic. This was clearly expressed in Knesset’s Vice President, Social Democrat Nachman Shai, who explained that Margot Wallström not only has hurt her own image, but also Israel´s:

”What we are talking about is a terrible mistake. Tell her that we are hoping for a quick generation shift in Swedish Social democracy.”

Alongside this debacle, Israeli domestic politics are dominated by the country’s security situation. A special focus is of course on the Palestinian attacks against innocent civilians, attacks who are currently spreading terror among the population. Since the wave of terror began last year, over a hundred attacks have been conducted in which around thirty people have been killed and hundreds injured.

The functions of fundamental social institutions is being challenged and people’s daily lives have been limited. What previously was easy suddenly became impossible. At the same time, I was impressed by how well the society seems to work, how people’s concerns are taken care of and how quickly the necessary political decisions and measures have been taken. The handling of national crises in Israel is part of normality.

The security challenge is constantly present, and it also applies to the neighbouring countries, regionally and globally. Israel is surrounded by more or less hard line, hostile dictatorships ruling over their 450 million inhabitants. In addition a number of militant terrorist organizations are currently operating in Israel’s immediate vicinity; Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Sinai. All sharing the expressed purpose to destroy Israel.

This is relevant and important to recall in a political context where Israel is often portrayed as the stronger and militarily superior party. This is of course correct in relation to the Palestinians but in a broader perspective the country is in a vulnerable position facing the surrounding dictatorships and terror organizations.

After days of political discussions, meetings and field trips, I can conclude not only that the outside world´s perceptions of Israel’s security situation is at odds with reality. In the Swedish and European context it is almost only the occupation and the settlements that are discussed, which makes the picture incomplete. Other major events and phenomena are neglected or silenced.

People interested in foreign policy and media consumers seldom get to see the true Israel. A country with successful enterprises, entrepreneurship, research and education with empathetic and involved citizens.

Let me mention some of these citizens – people who daily are involved in shaping the Israeli society. Recently I met them in their different situations and places:

Salman Zarka, doctor at the Ziv hospital in Safed near the border with Lebanon and Syria. For years he has been responsible for projects treating victims of the civil war in Syria. Often the patients are people who were rescued by Israeli army patrols in the border areas.

When I met Salman Zarka he explained that the main focus is treating seriously injured and traumatized patients – both soldiers and civilians. So far, he and his team have been able to save the lives of 580 severely injured people out of the total of 3000 war wounded Syrians who so far have received care in Israeli hospitals.

”Most of them have learned at an early stage to see Israel as the worst enemy. But as a doctor and human being, it is my job to save lives, regardless of nationality”.

Gad Moshe Yarkony, Mayor in Eshkol in southern Israel. Born and raised on the Kibbutz Nirim, just a few kilometres from the border with Gaza, Yarkony lived for many years under attacks from Palestinian terrorist groups. In the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas he served in the Israeli army when a Palestinian rocket attack changed his life. Two of his closest friends were killed in the attack that also wounded himself. Hit by shrapnel both his legs are today amputated.

”The attack took place on the last day of the war. But I made a decision; to survive and work for peace with the Palestinians. From my hospital bed, I announced my candidacy for mayor.”

Yehuda Cohen, head of the Lipski company in Ariel in the West Bank. For several years Lipski is one of the leading manufacturers of plastic products in the region. The company is profitable, sales are steadily increasing and 20 per cent of what is produced is exported to Europe.

Half of Lipskis over a hundred employees are Israelis, half of them Palestinians. Yehuda Cohen said that staff turnover is low, and wages and employment conditions are the same for Palestinians and Israelis.

”For me, this job is a peace project. The owner of the company is considering moving the production because of the uncertainty regarding the EU’s decision on labelling of goods from the occupied territories. If so, I will not follow, since I want to continue working for coexistence with the Palestinians.”

Israel, like all countries is neither perfect nor flawless. But in all its simplicity, the meetings with Salman Zarka, Gad Moshe Yarkony and Yehuda Cohen, however complete the widely recognized and unfortunately one sided negative picture of the Middle East’s only democracy.

It’s time for that picture to change.

(This is an English translation of the blog post in Swedish ”Det verkliga Israel” published on this blog on February 13th 2016)

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