An argument trotted out by European Union representatives to “justify” engaging with Israel is that they regularly raise concerns about human rights abuses.
The argument is premised on a fallacy. Far from pushing difficult questions onto the agenda at every available opportunity, the EU dodges topics that are deemed too sensitive for reasons of political expediency – as previously unpublished documents illustrate.
The documents contain talking points prepared for Carlos Moedas, the Union’s science commissioner, ahead of a 2016 visit to the Middle East.
Moedas was advised by officials planning his trip to avoid comments about Israel’s settlement activities when he met Ofir Akunis, Israel’s science minister.
Akunis had earlier alleged that EU guidelines on labeling goods from settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights would “encourage terrorism.” He called such labeling “a dark stain on the moral fabric of Europe, which bears witness to the fact that the lessons of history have not been learned.”
“We suggest not raising this issue formally unless the Israeli side raises it,” the briefing for Moedas stated.
“Jewel in the crown”
Moedas used his trip to celebrate how Israeli firms and institutions avail of EU research grants. Scientific cooperation is the “jewel in the crown” of the EU’s partnership with Israel, according to his notes.
A few years ago, a controversy erupted over Israel’s participation in the EU’s science program Horizon 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and many of his colleagues protested against how the EU issued guidelines in 2013 stipulating that firms and universities based within Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights would be ineligible for research grants once Horizon 2020 was launched the following year.
Since that row was resolved, the EU has keenly promoted how Israel benefits from such funding. Emanuele Giaufret, the Union’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, tweeted recently about how Israel has pocketed nearly $534 million from Horizon 2020 so far.
During that 2016 trip, Moedas gave helpful suggestions about how Israel may play a bigger role in the EU’s research activities. He was particularly eager that Israel should become more involved in a scheme for low-carbon energy.
His advisers neglected to point out that it is fundamentally unethical to propose energy cooperation with a state that has bombed Gaza’s only power plant and stolen solar panels used by Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
Moedas paid a follow-up visit to the Middle East in May this year.
Briefing notes prepared ahead of a meeting arranged between him and Benjamin Netanyahu contained no reference to abuses of Palestinian rights. That was despite how the discussions were held amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza – exacerbated by Israel’s drastic limitations on the supply of electricity to the territory.
Instead, Moedas was urged to inform Netanyahu that Israel had received around $2 billion in EU science funding over the previous 20 years. Moedas was also advised to express pride in the strength of the EU’s cooperation with Israel – the phrase “jewel in the crown” was repeated.
Obtained under freedom of information rules, the briefing notes identify ordinary people as the “biggest challenges” to the EU’s relationship with Israel.
“Public opinion is dramatically shifting towards [a] greater call for accountability” and against subsidizing firms “perceived to be involved in violations of international law,” one briefing paper states.
The terminology here is deceptive. Elbit Systems – a recipient of EU grants named in the document – has not simply been “perceived” as being involved in Israel’s crimes. It has most definitely been involved.
Israel’s biggest weapons producer, Elbit has supplied drones used in attacks on Gaza. It has also provided surveillance equipment for Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank – a project ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.
The EU continues to shower Elbit with millions of dollars in “research” funding despite the recent revelation that the firm is helping Israel evade an international ban on cluster weapons.
The notes for Moedas offer an especially farcical defense of a controversial EU-funded project named LAW TRAIN.
Focused on interrogation techniques, that project connects various European bodies with Israel’s police – a force headquartered in occupied East Jerusalem and known to systematically torture Palestinian detainees, including children.
Hooking up with the Israeli police force is acceptable – in the view of Moedas’ advisers – as the Union’s representatives “regularly” raise “possible cases of torture and abuse” in discussions with the Netanyahu government.
“The EU considers that cooperation and engagement with Israel, which make such dialogue possible, are more effective than isolation or boycotts,” the briefing paper states.
The facts tell a different story. The number of children locked up by Israel has risen from an average of 192 per month in 2011 to 375 per month last year. Most children detained by Israel experience physical abuse, human rights groups have documented.
If torture and detention of children are on the increase, then the EU’s approach of “engagement” and “dialogue” is clearly not proving effective. The ordinary folk demanding tougher action have evidently got things right.
Why won’t the elite admit the obvious?
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 November 2017.