Saturday, April 9, 2011

Rumours that Israel has fallen out of favour in Europe exaggerated

Is Binyamin Netanyahu really as tough as he would like us to believe? The prime minister’s European tour this week was restricted to Germany and the Czech Republic, two countries where he is guaranteed softball treatment from the political elite and the media.

Yet it would be wrong to think that everyone in those two countries has made a “Welcome Bibi” placard. On Tuesday evening, I shared a platform in Prague with Eva Nováková from the International Solidarity Movement. Nováková hit the headlines in January 2010, after she was taken from an apartment where she lived in Ramallah by Israeli soldiers. The following day she was deported, allegedly because she had overstayed her visa. (Her lawyers have mounted a challenge against the deportation in the Israeli Supreme Court. Israeli forces, the lawyers argue, had no legal power to apprehend a woman in a West Bank city nominally under full Palestinian control).

Since arriving back in Prague, Nováková has turned her attention to business links with the occupation of Palestine. She can regularly be seen protesting outside a shop that sells products made by Ahava, the cosmetics firm based in Mitzpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Even though the Czech government likes to champion political dissidents abroad, it prefers to ignore courageous home-grown troublemakers like Nováková. Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech foreign minister, has been kicked out of Cuba for embracing opponents to Fidel Castro, yet is uncharacteristically reticent when it comes to Israel’s systematic denial of basic rights to the Palestinians.

According to Schwarzenberg, the Czech Republic and The Netherlands are Israel’s most steadfast allies in the European Union. In January this year, he told The Jerusalem Post: “Whereas 10 or 20 years ago, there was a vast majority of EU countries who were definitely for Israel, now we can really rely on two countries.”

As it happens, he was misrepresenting the EU’s position. All of the Union’s 27 governments have embraced Israel in recent years. Britain, for example, is in the process of rewriting its universal jurisdiction law, which theoretically allowed for foreign war criminals to be tried in the UK’s courts. The weakening of this law is a direct response to pressure from Israel. In late 2009, Tzipi Livni chickened out of visiting London, when she discovered a warrant had been issued for her arrest at the request of Palestine solidarity campaigners.

Netanyahu is reportedly using his stopovers in Berlin and Prague to voice concern about Freedom Flotilla II, which will sail towards Gaza next month.

To their disgrace, some EU governments are helping Israel thwart this new initiative to break the medieval siege on Gaza. Demetris Christofias, the Cypriot president, stated during March that a 2010 order banning ships from travelling to Gaza via Cyprus remained in place.

So while Netanyahu mightn’t deign to set foot in most of the EU’s countries, he can still twist their leaders’ arms. Rumours that he has fallen out of their favour seem to be exaggerated.

·First published by Mondoweiss (, 8 April 2011

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