One of the few good things about having a belligerent boor as US president is that it has prompted the media to be less obsequious.
When Donald Trump describes much of Africa, Haiti and Central America as “shithole countries,” CNN describes him as racist.
When Trump says something that is patently false, journalists write that he has lied.
It would be wrong, though, if adversarial reporting or commentary is confined to him. Every politician or institution who seeks to mislead should be exposed.
Vera Jourova, the European Union’s justice commissioner, is one such politician.
On a number of occasions in the recent past, she and her entourage have told lies about campaigners who demand justice for Palestine.
Using the EU’s freedom of information rules, I obtained a briefing paper drawn up for Jourova that reeked of dishonesty.
The paper was written by Brussels officials ahead of a visit that Jourova undertook to Jerusalem in June last year. It alleges that anti-Semitism “functions as [an] essential link for right-wing, left-wing and religious (Christian and Muslim) extremist ideologies blaming the Jews or ‘Israel’ as [a] Jewish collective for every evil in the world.”
Not surprisingly, the officials failed to provide any evidence of that “essential link.”
Palestine is an important issue for many campaigners who also believe in wealth redistribution and public ownership of key services and industries – left-wing ideas that Jourova’s advisers seem to dismiss as “extremist.”
Yet insisting that the oppression inflicted on Palestinians must end is entirely different to claiming that Israel lurks behind “every evil in the world” – a claim that no principled and well-informed activist would make.
Jourova’s briefing paper is largely based on a dubious definition of anti-Semitism, rubber-stamped by a little-known body called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
That definition conflates robust criticism of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, with bigotry against Jews.
The definition has been invoked to stifle free expression: last year some British universities cited it when imposing bans or restrictions on awareness-raising events known as Israeli Apartheid Week.
Nonetheless, Jourova’s briefing paper argues that the definition is not an “infringement on free speech.” The paper adds that the “definition clearly says that when someone denies Israel’s right to exist, he must live with the fact that someone else may call him an anti-Semite. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.”
The definition is far more ambiguous than Jourova’s advisers imply. And it certainly does not state that people who question Israel’s “right to exist” must live with being called anti-Semites.
The word “must” is not included in the definition or its accompanying memorandum. But the memo suggests that examples of anti-Semitism “could” include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” by “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Moreover, the briefing paper’s claim that the “non-legally binding” adoption of the definition by the EU and some of its governments does not infringe on free speech is highly disingenuous: Jourova calls for the definition to be “used widely” for training police, teachers and other officials.
It’s one thing to be falsely called an “anti-Semite” in, say, an online argument with a random person, but quite another to smeared as one by a government official or a law enforcement agency that might use the definition to charge you with hate speech for opposing Zionism. Why must any citizen in a free society have to live with that?
Jourova’s briefing paper contains at least one fact amid the fiction: “Israel strongly advocated for the definition.” That is the crux of the matter. Rather than being a tool for protecting Jews around the world, the real objective of the definition is to shield Israel from questions about its legitimacy.
As I have previously documented, the definition was written by a consortium of pro-Israel lobby groups (originally as part of an EU-sponsored initiative).
It is significant that Jourova and her entourage have interpreted – or perhaps misinterpreted – the definition in the way they have.
Israel came into existence after the mass expulsion of Palestinians. A state that was formed as a result of ethnic cleansing does not have an inherent right to exist. Pointing that out does not make someone guilty of anti-Semitism – no matter what Jourova and her entourage may think.
This is not the first time that Jourova’s advisers have smeared Palestine solidarity activists.
Separate briefing notes prepared for Jourova earlier in 2017 painted a false picture of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement by insinuating that it favored discrimination against Jews.
A similar insinuation can be found in the paper prepared for her aforementioned trip to Jerusalem. “BDS activities leading to incitement, discrimination and hatred against Jews in Europe are unacceptable,” the paper states. No evidence is provided to show how BDS campaigning causes such hostility.
Jourova works closely with Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator.
Von Schnurbein has gone even further by alleging it is anti-Semitic to describe Israel as an apartheid state or to view Zionism as a racist ideology.
Perhaps von Schnurbein is unaware that when South Africa was under white minority rule, its leaders identified enormously with Israel. Hendrik Verwoerd put it bluntly when he was South Africa’s prime minister in 1961. “Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state,” he said.
More recently, a UN report from 2017 concluded it is “beyond reasonable doubt” that Israel commits the crime of apartheid.
Israel and the US couldn’t handle that truth, so they attacked the report and its authors.
The EU’s representatives are little better. They, too, seem intent on replacing the truth with lies.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 24 January 2018.