A prominent member of the European Parliament is demanding an official investigation into the role of a high-level European Union civil servant in an Israel lobby smear campaign targeting her.
Ana Gomes, a center-left lawmaker from Portugal, is being denounced by Israel lobby groups as anti-Semitic after she publicly criticized them for attempting to block her from hosting Palestinian human rights campaigner Omar Barghouti for a talk at the European Parliament in Brussels last week.
The Israel lobby groups’ accusations against Gomes were then amplified by Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s top official charged with fighting anti-Semitism, and by the EU embassy in Tel Aviv, known officially as the European Union Delegation to Israel.
Gomes made her call Wednesday in a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission – the EU’s governing bureaucracy – and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
“I demand an investigation into the smear campaign directed against me, as an elected MEP [member of the European Parliament], by someone at the EU Delegation to Israel and Ms. von Schnurbein,” the letter states.
In line with the practice common to democratic systems, EU civil servants are required to remain politically neutral, which makes the public attack on Gomes – an elected politician – by von Schnurbein and the EU embassy in Tel Aviv an extraordinary breach of this obligation.
Gomes has also lodged her complaint with the European Ombudsman, an independent body charged with investigating allegations of wrongdoing at EU institutions.
A “perverse lobby”
On 28 February, Gomes hosted a seminar on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement with Omar Barghouti.
Barghouti is one of the founders of the nonviolent grassroots human rights campaign and winner of the 2017 Gandhi Peace Award.
At the opening of the seminar, Gomes noted that discussions about Palestinian human rights used to be much more common, “but they became more and more rare in this parliament as a result of a very perverse lobby that tries to intimidate people.”
Gomes added that she had been subjected to such pressure in the days before the seminar by groups that “tell a lot of lies” and “misconstrue the words of many scholars.”
In response, the AJC Transatlantic Institute denounced Gomes’ remarks as “anti-Semitic,” claimed she was “demonizing Jewish civil society organizations” and demanded “disciplinary action” against her by her parliamentary faction.
The AJC Transatlantic Institute is the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee, a lobbying organization that says it “advocates for Israel at the highest levels” from “the hallways of the UN in New York, to the corridors of the European Union.”
One of its main activities is whitewashing Israel’s war crimes.
The EU’s Katharina von Schnurbein retweeted the AJC Transatlantic Institute’s attack, claiming that Gomes’ objections to being censored by political groups working for Israel amounted to “vile anti-Semitic expressions.”
In turn, von Schnurbein’s tweets attacking Gomes were retweeted by @EUinIsrael, the official account of the EU embassy in Tel Aviv.
In at least one tweet of its own, the embassy gave its implicit support to the criticisms of Gomes:
Aligned with Israel
Von Schnurbein was appointed in 2015 as the EU’s “coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.”
In reality, however, one of her main objectives has been to help the Israel lobby combat Palestine solidarity activism by smearing critics of Israel’s occupation, settler-colonization and apartheid as anti-Semites.
She has claimed without evidence that BDS activities have led to a rise of anti-Semitic incidents on university campuses.
In response to an inquiry from The Electronic Intifada, the European Commission gave its full support to von Schnurbein following her attack on Gomes.
“The European Commission stands firm against anti-Semitism – as well as racism and xenophobia more generally – and the work of the coordinator on combating anti-Semitism is an important part of our efforts in this respect,” a spokesperson said.
This week, von Schnurbein was in London attending the dinner of an Israel lobby group, the Community Security Trust, along with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev.
The EU embassy in Tel Aviv has also aligned itself with far-right voices; last year it hired an Israeli advocate of genocide of the Palestinians to appear in a video touting the benefits of EU-Israel cooperation.
Attempts to block talk
In her letter demanding an investigation, Gomes states that the announcement of the seminar with Barghouti “prompted efforts by some organizations to block it, tagging it, Mr. Barghouti and myself with the insult of being ‘anti-Semitic.’”
In addition to the AJC Transatlantic Institute, Gomes states that the “organizations that conducted this smear campaign” included Israel lobby groups such as the European Coalition for Israel, the European Jewish Congress and the European Leadership Network.
As reported by The Electronic Intifada, the European Leadership Network has a policy of collaborating with far-right European politicians, including neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, as long as they are pro-Israel.
The Israel Project, a prominent US-based anti-Palestinian organization, also agitated against Barghouti’s talk, calling it “shameful” that the European Parliament would “endorse his anti-Semitism.”
“By insisting that I speak at the European Parliament, resisting the intimidation and smearing attempts of Israel’s EU lobby, Ana Gomes has shown her moral courage and unflinching commitment to human rights,” Barghouti told The Electronic Intifada.
He added: “She has also reflected the growing European civil society and grassroots revulsion at Israel’s egregious human rights violations against the Palestinian people and, crucially, the complicity of the EU in enabling and entrenching Israel’s decades-old system of colonial oppression and apartheid.”
In his talk at the seminar – the text of which Gomes has posted on her website – Barghouti said that “only effective European civil society pressure can bring this EU complicity to an end.”
Israel knows this too, which is why its Brussels lobbyists and their allies within the EU bureaucracy appear so determined to smear anyone who stands up to them.