Emma Bonino, Italy’s new foreign minister, has been lobbying for Israel to be admitted into the European Union for more than a decade.
In 2001, Bonino and fellow members of the Radical Party launched a campaign in favor of Israel’s immediate membership of the bloc, which then incorporated 15 countries.
As the call was made during the second intifada, it could only be interpreted as a gesture of support for the murderous tactics used by the Israeli military against Palestinians, with the full blessing of Ariel Sharon’s government.
Radical Party activists that I have quizzed about the initiative argued that because Israel was a democracy it should be welcomed into the EU. This indicates that Bonino and her acolytes had fallen under the spell of Israeli spindoctors, who repeatedly insist that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. (The historian Ilan Pappe has demolished that propaganda by labelling Israel a herrenvolk democracy — a democracy for the masters only).
Bonino was a member of the European Parliament (MEP) at the time her campaign was undertaken. In that role, she had a duty to scrutinize if Israel was honoring the terms of an “association agreement” it had signed with the EU, which came into effect in 2000. That agreement stipulates that any trade preferences granted to Israel would be conditional on its respect for human rights. Bonino did not appear perturbed by how Israel was flouting that legally-binding accord.
“My friend Peres”
Bonino is known to have cordial relations with Shimon Peres, the current Israeli president. On the surface, the alliance is a puzzling one. The Radicals purport to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, whose image adorns the party’s logo. Almost certainly, Gandhi would have despised the war crimes committed by Peres, particularly the 1996 massacre of 102 civilians that he authorized in Qana, Lebanon.
Speaking in 2004, Bonino recalled a 1995 visit to “my friend Shimon Peres” (then Israel’s prime minister). Bonino said, “I — who was then a bit disenchanted with Europe because of the events in the ex-Yugoslavia — found a Peres, who said ‘you have started from coal and steel, and we have to start from water resources, as an element of common management’.”
This inference that Peres is committed to regional integration in the Middle East overlooks his pivotal role in nurturing Israel’s arms industry (including its quest to develop nuclear weapons), and how he has helped ratchet up tensions with Israel’s neighbors.
Bonino has taken a progressive and brave stance on a number of issues: abortion rights; equality for homosexuals; the decriminalization of drugs.
Her bravery has, alas, deserted her on some key foreign policy issues. In 1999, for example, she supported NATO’s attack on Serbia — an operation which involved the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium.
In 2011, she signed an appeal urging the EU to set up an “arm’s length equivalent to the National Endowment for Democracy” as part of its response to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The NED is an American-funded organization designed to make sure that governments in the wider world protect US interests.
Bonino’s call was endorsed by Ana Palacio, the former Spanish foreign minister who backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It should be interpreted primarily as a plea to ensure that the elites in the Middle East remain receptive to Western demands, rather than as a cri de coeur for genuine democracy.
Italy has been one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in the EU over the past few years. Silvio Berlusconi, its prime minister at the time, even claimed that he did not notice Israel’s massive wall in the West Bank when he visited Bethlehem in 2010. The main beneficiaries of this craven and buffoonish attitude towards Israel have been Italy’s arms merchants. Last year the country’s top weapons company, Finmeccanica, won a $1 billion contract to supply Israel with training jets.
Bonino is not a buffoon but she offers a continuation of this craven attitude towards Israel. Gandhi would be ashamed.