Oscar Wilde wrote that “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
The French diplomat Gerard Araud has – unintentionally, no doubt – overturned that observation. He has shown how the truth is often simple and rarely accepted.
Shortly before stepping down as ambassador to Washington, Araud remarked that Israel is already an apartheid state.
The brief comment – made in an interview published by The Atlantic – predictably drew a hostile response from Israel’s supporters.
Once the Israeli government protested, Araud claimed he had only been referring to the occupied West Bank. I challenged Araud on Twitter about why he was backpedaling on something as obvious as the fact that Israel is an apartheid state; Araud replied by effectively retracting his comment:
Araud was previously posted in Tel Aviv and appears to keep a close eye on Israeli politics.
He is surely aware that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, confirmed in March that Israel is not a state of all its citizens.
What is the best word to describe a state where one racial or ethnic group dominates over another? You’ve guessed it: apartheid.
Araud is surely aware, too, that last year the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – passed the so-called Nation-State Law. By restricting the right of self-determination to Jews and by removing Arabic as an official language, it similarly confirmed that Palestinians living in Israel are unwanted.
Despite his apparent U-turn, Araud remains more candid than some other representatives of Western governments.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, has described the Nation-State Law as “first and foremost a matter of how Israel choses to define itself,” adding that “we fully respect the internal Israeli debate on this.”
Through the Nation-State Law, Israel defined itself as an apartheid state in all but name. That is the reality which Federica Mogherini has undertaken to “fully respect.”
Israel has combined efforts to enshrine apartheid in a quasi-constitutional law – a “basic law,” to use its official title – with propaganda drives aimed at selling the state as progressive.
As Israel becomes increasingly autocratic under Netanyahu’s premiership, it is refusing to tolerate even mild protests by foreign diplomats.
Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s envoy to Tel Aviv, was reportedly reprimanded last year for noting his displeasure with the Nation-State Law during conversations with elected politicians from Netanyahu’s party, Likud.
Giaufret’s main misgiving was that the law could damage Israel’s reputation. Does he really think advising Israel’s elite on image management is part of his job?
Since then, Giaufret has been eager to downplay any friction between him and the Israeli government.
In a recent article for The Jerusalem Post, he celebrated how Israel’s trade with the EU is now worth more than $40 billion per year. While Israel and the EU may have differences of opinion, “we cannot allow them to overshadow our entire relations,” he wrote.
Somewhere in that groveling, there is a grain of truth.
The EU’s relations with Israel are covered by a legally binding “association agreement” – which entered into effect 19 years ago. The accord describes respect for human rights and democratic principles as an “essential element” of the relations.
Ensuring an end to the oppression of the Palestinians must overshadow everything else – if that agreement is taken seriously.
Emanuele Giaufret seems to be arguing, though, that even if he may quibble with Israel on certain matters, business should either carry on as normal or expand.
In his own way, Giaufret is acknowledging that the EU does not really care about Palestinian rights, and that the fate of millions of Palestinians, ethnically cleansed, dispossessed and living under decades of military occupation, siege and violence amounts to a minor difference of opinion.
Not once since the agreement came into force has the EU invoked its human rights clause to sanction Israel. Worse, the Union has consistently hugged Israel tighter by seeking to increase trade and by showering science grants on its weapons manufacturers.
Giaufret’s implicit admission that Palestinian rights don’t matter to him is at odds with the myths he and his colleagues perpetuate.
When the Knesset resumed proceedings after the April elections, the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv issued a characteristically dishonest message on Twitter. It marveled at a declaration about the importance of equality delivered during the opening session.
I don’t believe that tweet can be interpreted as a subtle protest. Giaufret regularly promotes Israel as an exemplar of “coexistence” – a term he apparently likes – between Jews and Palestinians:
Giaufret has plenty of information at his disposal to show how the opposite is the case. He and his colleagues have decided to ignore that evidence.
Why, they must wonder, should the truth overshadow trade?