Finland foreign minister condemns Israeli “apartheid” but will he act?

Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja has strongly criticized Israel’s practices against Palestinians and declared that “No apartheid state is justified or sustainable” in comments made during a lecture in Helsinki, according to the leading Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat.

“If you are occupying areas inhabited by… Palestinians who do not have the same rights as the Israelis in Israel, that is apartheid and that is not sustainable,” Tuomioja said, according to Agence France Presse, adding, “I think that the majority in Israel has also realized this but they have been unable to provide a leadership that (can) move forward on the two-state solution.”

Will strong words lead to action?

While Tuomioja’s words are perhaps the strongest ever uttered by an EU foreign minister on the subject of Israeli apartheid, will they be turned into appropriate action?

Finland, despite Tuomioja’s declaration, continues a brisk arms trade with Israel in violation of EU regulations. Recently the country decided to proceed with a purchase of Israeli unmanned aerial drones of the type Israel uses to carry out extrajudicial executions and other war crimes.

Ironically, when in opposition, Tuomioja himself signed a Finnish civil society petition, along with dozens of other prominent public figures, calling for an end to the country’s arms trade with Israel.

But, as Finnish activist Bruno Jäntti wrote for The Electronic Intifada last July:

Finnish policy makers’ choice to persistently offer new military contracts to Israel is part of the legitimization of Israeli illegalities and a culture of unaccountability, which are characteristic of the EU and US’ approach toward Israel. The military trade with Israel doesn’t quite contribute to the ending of the conflict, either, yet this is officially the stated aim of the Finnish government’s Middle East policy.

As the total value of the arms trade between Finland and Israel approaches 200 million euros, the continuing military transactions have imposed collective responsibility and therefore complicity on Finnish taxpayers.

Finland hamstrung by EU paralysis?

Tuomioja, as foreign minister, ought to be in a position to put words into actions not only by stopping Finland’s arms trade. Finland as a member of the EU should at the very least demand the suspension of Israel’s Association Agreement with the European Union. This treaty gives Israel special trade access to EU markets, but on condition that Israel respects human rights, something it blatantly fails to do.

But rather than member states calling the shots, the EU has become completely paralyzed. In the search for an illusory “common foreign policy,” the EU in fact panders to the lowest common denominator, granting the most fanatically pro-Israel EU governments an effective veto over EU policy.

So, while the “common foreign policy” was supposed to give the EU more weight in the world, commensurate with the bloc’s population and economy, it has in fact paralyzed it and made it irrelevant, as can be seen from the bland, empty and misleading statements of its foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

There is no doubt that tiny Finland (population 5.3 million) would carry much more weight simply by putting its government’s and people’s words and commitments into action, even if that defies the illusory EU consensus.

Continuing to subordinate the wishes of Finnish people to the dictates of Washington, Brussels or the foreign minister of Poland ensures that Finland will remain “complicit” as Jäntti observed.

It remains to be seen if Finland, which is not a member of NATO and remains formally neutral, retains any sovereignty and independence over whether or not it does military and other kinds of deals with what its foreign minister acknowledges is an “apartheid” state.

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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.