EU, France bow to Israel’s ban on European officials

The European Union and the French government appear to be giving Israel a pass over its decision Monday to bar the entry of French and European elected officials who planned to travel on a solidarity mission to Palestine.

Israel’s interior ministry announced Monday that it was barring entry to seven officials scheduled to be part of a delegation made up of European Parliament members, national lawmakers and mayors.

Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan, who is tasked with thwarting the global movement for Palestinian rights, called the banned officials “senior politicians who consistently support the boycott against Israel and promote it.”

“Sovereign” decision?

The French foreign ministry did not condemn the Israeli action, but acknowledged, “we have taken note of this information.”

“In general, we want all French parliamentarians to have access to all of the interlocutors they wish to meet in order to conduct their fact-finding missions,” a foreign ministry spokesperson added in a statement emailed to The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday.

“We are paying close attention to this matter with respect to Israel as with respect to all countries that French elected officials visit.”

And in response to questions from Senator Esther Benbassa in parliament on Tuesday, a French foreign office minister said, “one can regret this Israeli decision, but it remains nonetheless sovereign.”

The minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, ignored that France does not in fact recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, even though Israeli forces continue to tightly control who can enter or leave the occupied territory.

EU’s timid response

The European Union also refrained from any direct criticism of Israel.

A spokesperson for the 28-member bloc emailed The Electronic Intifada on Tuesday that “the EU will continue to seek clarifications from Israel about the potential impact of their current policy on EU citizens and civil society organizations and hopes that the current policy will not curtail freedom of expression.”

And while effectively giving Israel a pass, the EU gratuitously echoed Israel’s attack on the French officials. The spokesperson added: “The EU rejects any attempts to isolate Israel and does not support calls for a boycott, while it upholds its policy of clearly distinguishing between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied by it since 1967.”

That policy amounts only to lip service, since the European Union continues to shield Israel from any consequences for its violations of international law.

The EU’s timid response to Israel, which has received at least half a billion dollars in European taxpayer aid in recent years, contrasts with the fierce reaction when Russia banned the entry of a number of European lawmakers in 2015.

The European Union condemned the Russian measure as “totally arbitrary and unjustified” and the European Parliament retaliated by banning visits from Russian officials.

“Denial of democracy”

The French newspaper L’Humanité reported that the officials banned by Israel this week planned to join a 100-strong French delegation to show solidarity with political prisoners including Marwan Barghouti and Salah Hamouri, a Palestinian-French human rights defender held by Israel without charge or trial.

The banned officials include Communist Party Senator Pierre Laurent and European Parliament members Patrick Le Hyaric (Communist) and Pascal Durand (Green).

Another banned official, Clémentine Autain, a member of the French parliament, represents La France Insoumise, the political movement of former left-wing presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mélenchon has voiced support for sanctions on Israel, and called for an end to France’s repression of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

Calling it “shocking and unacceptable,” La France Insoumise condemned the Israeli ban as “a denial of democracy and liberty.”

Israel also banned three French mayors: Azzedine Taibi, Éric Roulot and Patrice Leclerc.

In response, Sharon Abraham-Weiss, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, called the Israeli interior ministry “a commissar standing at the gate and deciding for the country’s citizens and for the residents of the occupied territories, who are dependent on Israeli border crossings, which positions are appropriate to be heard.”

Meeting with war criminals

By contrast, on the very same day the EU spokesperson once again attacked the nonviolent BDS movement, the EU ambassador in Tel Aviv Emanuele Giaufret posted on Twitter a picture of himself shaking hands with Israeli general Yoav Mordechai.

Mordechai, a war criminal who has participated in military attacks on Gaza, is the head of COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation which rules over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and enforces the siege of Gaza.

European Union officials miss no opportunity to demonstrate that their solidarity lies unshakably with Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid, and against the Palestinian people’s rights and aspirations for liberation.

But the good news is that EU officials have admitted in their own briefing documents that the major obstacle to even closer ties with Israel is European public opinion.

Israel’s crude ban on elected officials attempting to show solidarity with Palestinians under military occupation is only likely to further damage Israel’s reputation in Europe.

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