EU pledges to help Israel suppress criticism

EU’s Vera Jourova, right, met on 26 June with Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked, whose 2014 Facebook post called for genocide of Palestinians. (via Twitter)

The European Union is pledging to help Israel crack down on critical speech.

During a visit to the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem this week, EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova lauded efforts to remove so-called hate speech from online forums.

Jourova said that Europe had made “substantial progress” in removing “illegal hate speech” through cooperation with technology firms.

Her visit was billed as part of the EU’s cooperation with Israel aimed at “combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

Her Israeli host, foreign ministry director general Yuval Rotem stated, “Israel believes that the IT industry needs to take on greater responsibility in the proactive effort to detect hate speech online.”

Target is criticism of Israel

But while genuinely combating hate speech might be laudable, the evidence is that this initiative is more about trying to suppress criticism of Israel.

The joint statement issued by the EU and Israel places their effort in the context of the European Parliament’s recent endorsement of the so-called International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition on anti-Semitism and calls for using it “for better training of law enforcement and government.”

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is virtually identical to the one originally drawn up by pro-Israel lobbyists as part of an exercise coordinated by a European Union agency.

That definition was never formally adopted by the EU.

But it was embraced by the US State Department in 2010 and Israel lobbyists have continued to push institutions and governments around the world, including the US Congress, to formally endorse it.

It contains the uncontroversial statement that anti-Semitism “is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and which may be manifested through rhetorical or physical attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions.

But the definition is flanked by an explanatory memorandum, citing examples that muddy the waters between anti-Semitism – bigotry against Jews – on the one hand, and criticism of Israel and its state ideology Zionism, on the other.

Those examples include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

This could mean that arguing for a single, democratic non-sectarian state in historic Palestine in which Jews, Muslims and Christians enjoy equal protection amounts to anti-Semitism.

It also implies that accurately cataloguing the racist laws and principles Israel is founded on – especially the denial of the right of return of Palestinian refugees solely because they are not Jewish – could be deemed anti-Semitic.

“Bewilderingly imprecise”

“The definition deliberately elides the difference between criticizing Jews for imagined negative characteristics, and criticizing Israel for very real negative behaviors,” the Jewish-led activist group Free Speech on Israel wrote to European Parliament lawmakers in March. This is no accident. “The construction of a defensive shield against advocacy by and on behalf of Palestinians is the specific purpose that the definition was created for,” Free Speech on Israel added.

David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London, has called the definition “bewilderingly imprecise” and the accompanying examples dangerous because they may “place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not anti-Semitic.”

Even the lead author of the original definition, former American Jewish Committee executive Kenneth Stern, has strongly opposed efforts to enshrine it in legislation.

In a letter to members of the US Congress last December, Stern warned that giving the definition legal status would be “unconstitutional and unwise.”

Stern highlighted the difficulty with legislating against political opinions, asking, “If denying the right of Israel to exist is enshrined as anti-Semitism by law, would Congress then pass parallel legislation defining opposition to a Palestinian state as anti-Palestinianism?”

Stern stated that the original definition he had drafted “was never intended to be used to limit speech … it was written for European data collectors to have a guideline for what to include and what to exclude in reports.”

Yet the EU is now signalling that it plans to use the definition to train police, who will presumably use it to monitor and punish citizens’ utterances.

Ignoring Israeli incitement

Israel and its supporters have long pressured social media companies, especially Facebook, to crack down on Palestinians, and the company has in the past blocked the accounts of Palestinian journalists.

Israel has routinely jailed Palestinians for expressing opposition to its policies in online forums.

During her visit, the EU’s Jourova met Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister.

Jourova tweeted that her meeting with Shaked would herald “deeper EU-Israel cooperation.”

In 2014, Shaked notoriously promoted a call for genocide of the Palestinians on Facebook.

Shaked’s posting declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and justified its destruction, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

The posting also called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”

The EU has never launched an initiative to hold Israeli leaders accountable for their pervasive racist and genocidal incitement, whether against Palestinians or refugees and asylum seekers from African states.

But Israel can count on the EU to help in its thought-policing and punishment of criticism of its regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism.

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Comments

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"....denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination....."
This phrase is used by israel & its surrogates ad nauseam, and israel has managed to get the rest of the world, bar those critical of the NaZionist state, to ignore the Palestinian people's right to self-determination. That right is never ever mentioned in any official communication, except in passing in a "oh yeah, by the way" kind of remark.

It is sickening that the EU/Mogherini has refused to respond to Electronic Intifada's asking the European Union External Action Service to comment on the situation in Gaza and to explain what, if anything, it is doing to pressure Israel to reverse the electricity cuts.

Instead, the EU deepening its cooperation with the Apartheid state, even though South Africa was boycotted for its apartheid.

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That a European official would pose for photos with a relaxed and smiling Ayelet Shaked illustrates how far EU policy has strayed from basic principles of international law. Threats of arrest aimed at dissidents who criticise Israel offer further evidence of a disturbing affinity between the apartheid regime and European Union officialdom. We must continue to speak out and actively oppose Zionist influence. Support for the BDS movement remains a vital tool in the fight for Palestinian rights, as well as our own.

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"Justice minister" lol . No criticism of Israel is ever allowed, even though it is political decisions, not religion or race, that are causing the consequences (for Palestinians and Syrians as well as others) of Israeli violence and influence.

An article by Jonathan Cook , June 24th in his blog is worth reading:
"How Israel gains from Egypt-Saudi-Arabia Red Sea Islands deal"

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.