In whose name does Dutch FM Rosenthal speak?

1 March 2011

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Appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with Uri Rosenthal, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, February 2011. (Mustafa Abu Dayeh/MaanImages)


In recent months, a number of Latin American countries have publicly expressed their recognition of Palestinian statehood. Given that a Palestinian state doesn’t yet exist, this recognition also amounts to supporting the Palestinian right to statehood. For Israel and defenders of its policies around the world, the “snowball effect” of nations recognizing this right is, unsurprisingly, unnerving.

One such defender is Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal. In an 8 February interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal argued why he believes international support for a Palestinian declaration of statehood “does no good” (“Dutch FM: Recognition of Palestinian state does no good”).

But what strikes me most about the interview is not the straightforwardness of his opposition. Rather, I am struck by what his opposition barely manages to mask: the hypocrisy of his rhetoric on “negotiations” and “democratic values;” a repressive attitude toward what he characterizes as “inflammatory language regarding Israel” within the EU; a betrayal both of the Netherlands’ strong record of commitment to international law and of his responsibilities as the representative of that commitment; and, ultimately, a glimpse of the hypocritical and increasingly repressive policies seen in the EU toward victims and critics of the State of Israel.

Part of what Rosenthal clearly opposes is a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Dutch policy is also changing along these lines: the Dutch parliament recently passed a resolution that calls for the government to oppose EU recognition of a Palestinian state. But Rosenthal doesn’t utter a word of objection to the unilateral steps taken by Israel.

Israel has illegally annexed East Jerusalem, demolished Palestinian homes there and elsewhere (and even entire towns — the military recently destroyed the Bedouin village of al-Araqib for the 18th time). It has confiscated vast amounts of Palestinian land to build its apartheid wall — the route of which was illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague — and to protect terrain for illegal settlements. In violation of international law, it encourages its civilian population to inhabit those settlements (which have eaten away at more than 40 percent of the West Bank), practiced brutal detention policies, restricted freedom of movement and other fundamental liberties, tried children in military courts, put the Gaza Strip under a state of permanent siege and killed more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza (including 352 children) during its winter 2008-09 bombardment.

The list of unilateral acts — the list of crimes —- goes on and on. Rosenthal claims to oppose decisions taken by governments without balanced, negotiated political processes. But if this were really true, he would understand the need to bring Israeli officials and military officers responsible for such crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague instead of defending
Israel’s actions in The Jerusalem Post.

Yet Rosenthal not only defends Israel in the Israeli press; he is also doing so under the auspices of, and with the responsibilities endowed to him by, his own parliament. Indeed, as The Jerusalem Post states, “Rosenthal, who is Jewish and married to an Israeli, was characterized recently by Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwartzenberg as one of the two most active supporters of Israel among EU foreign ministers.” And he defines himself as “among the ones” in the EU who “regularly try to warn against unnecessary inflammatory language” and its “disproportionate” application to Israel. He recommends a “restrained attitude” to his EU partners when it comes to potential initiatives regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; he staunchly disagrees with the suggestion that Israel’s image within the EU is “the lowest it has been in decades,” saying that there are many “balanced conclusions vis-a-vis the Middle East peace process.”

Such “restraint” not only condones policies that flagrantly violate international law and human rights, then, but also seeks to prohibit other EU countries from engaging in positive, proactive initiatives that might bring the conflict closer to an end. He is an influential proponent of the increasingly hypocritical EU stance on the Israeli occupation. This stance praises the meaningless concessions wrung out of diplomatic efforts (as Rosenthal praises Israel for becoming more “lenient” with respect to goods from Gaza, at the urging of the Dutch government) without recognizing that these band-aids only serve to prolong our occupation and subjugation.

Moreover, by defending Israel’s injustices through public office, Rosenthal thus makes his own country a partner in their perpetuation. The Dutch people are well-admired throughout the world as prioritizing human rights and international law; they, then, are being damaged and degraded by Rosenthal’s audacity. The Dutch people must know that their foreign minister is sacrificing the image of The Netherlands for the sake of Israel — that he is working hard to represent Israel’s interests while tarnishing those of his own country — and they should reject this insult, this injury.

While Rosenthal describes part of his work as to “warn” against “unnecessary inflammatory language” toward the Israeli state, this actually amounts to a justification of the government’s right to censor, repress criticism and create political blacklists. Rosenthal’s rhetoric and policies go hand-in-hand with those of Zionist lobbies like NGO Monitor and CIDI (The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel), which bully, harass and defame civil society groups exposing the truth about the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. (It is worth mentioning that a CIDI board member, Doron Livnat, is the director of Riwal, a European company that produces access equipment and rents large-scale cranes for construction sites, and which has assisted in building the wall and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Riwal’s headquarters in Dordrecht, Netherlands, was raided and searched by the Dutch National Crime Squad after Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, levied criminal complaints against its activities.)

For instance, NGO Monitor recently slammed ICCO, a Dutch international development organization, for financing The Electronic Intifada. (ICCO is also under fire from CIDI for supporting the Olive Tree Campaign “Keep Hope Alive,” realized by the YMCA/YWCA Joint Advocacy Initiative. NGO Monitor vilified The Electronic Intifada and condemned ICCO by association. Rosenthal’s response? “I will look into the matter personally,” he said. If ICCO’s funding proves to be true, “it will have a serious problem with me,” he warned.

Is this the level that Rosenthal — not to mention the lobbies who share his tactics of finger-pointing, threats and repression — has stooped to? Persecuting organizations and publications that support human rights and social justice for Palestinians as “delegitimizing” and “anti-Semitic,” publicly smearing them and seeking to sabotage not only their work but also their rights to free speech and free press? This is an appalling position for a democratic representative to have, ostensibly part of an apparatus designed to uphold those rights in the first place.

These targeted campaigns led by European lobbies against Palestinian and Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), publications and advocacy groups are particularly chilling in light of similar campaigns being initiated in the Israeli Knesset: specifically, its moves to establish a committee for investigating the funding sources of certain (politically targeted) NGOs. In his interview with The Jerusalem Post, Rosenthal declined to comment on whether this initiative was “undemocratic,” saying “There is no reason to hide anything. I am in favor of transparency,” and “a vivid and lively civil society, where NGOs are a part of it, is very important.”

Rosenthal’s ongoing contradictions, and their echo within the policies of European governments, are astonishing. He claims to support transparency, not to mention the vividness and liveliness of civil society, while only acting repressively against groups and individuals he disagrees with. He says, free of irony, that the presence of NGOs in civil society is “very important,” when he supports a smear campaign against NGOs in his own civil society. And he praises the ideals of civil society itself while simultaneously practicing another campaign — silence — when it comes to Israel’s repression of the NGOs whose existence he finds so valuable in abstract.

Foreign Minister Rosenthal’s pronouncements on the Israeli government are so blind, so brazen, so hypocritical and so unjust that I am sometimes surprised he can utter them comfortably in his own name. But when we consider his vocal and prominent role in the parliament of his own country, and in the political arena of others’, it is especially important for all communities and individuals he attempts to represent (Jewish, Israeli, Dutch, European, etc.) to say loud and clear: “Not in our name.”

Rifat Kassis is International President of Defence for Children International (DCI) and General Director of its section in Palestine. He is also Coordinator and Spokesperson of Kairos Palestine - A Moment of Truth.