EU unveils blueprint for muzzling Israel’s critics

Opponents of Israeli racism are being treated as anti-Semites by the European Union. 

Romy Arroyo Fernandez NurPhoto

Pretending to fight bigotry against Jews, EU officials this week published a plan for censoring expressions of solidarity with Palestinians.

The strategy for combating anti-Semitism – as the plan was named – quickly won praise from pro-Israel lobby groups. That was predictable for a simple reason: the same lobby groups strongly influenced the plan’s contents.

The plan was nominally the work of the European Commission, the EU’s executive.

One pledge is that the Commission will help establish a network of “trusted flaggers and Jewish organizations” to fight “online anti-Semitism.” EU governments, meanwhile, are encouraged to give police and judicial authorities greater power and resources so that they can prosecute “hate speech” on the internet.

These proposals resemble recommendations made by pro-Israel groups in at least three policy papers issued over as many years. The only real difference is that some commitments made by EU officials are actually bolder and more explicit than what the lobby groups pressed for in those papers.

While many of the steps advocated in the plan may look laudable on the surface, they cannot be divorced from how the EU has long allowed Israel and its supporters to set the agenda on anti-Semitism.

If recent experience is anything to go by, the “Jewish organizations” joining the network for internet monitoring will not include Jews who speak out for Palestinian rights. The European Commission barred Jews unwilling to act as apologists for Israel from a working group that prepared the new plan.

The plan relies heavily on the definition of anti-Semitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That definition conflates speaking the truth about Israel’s racism with hostility toward Jews.

Margaritis Schinas, a European Commission vice president, alleged this week that “anti-Semitism can often hide behind anti-Zionism.”

Zionism is the ideology underpinning the colonization of Palestine and the mass dispossession of Palestinians. Opposing that ideology is a duty for everyone who believes in basic tenets of justice and equality.

Jumbling of ideologies

Contrary to what Schinas claimed, anti-Semitism can seldom – if ever – hide behind anti-Zionism.

It is true that there are some anti-Jewish bigots – such as Ku Klux Klan veteran David Duke – who also pose as enemies of Zionism. But in such cases anti-Zionism is the skimpiest fig leaf imaginable.

If someone really hates Jews, it is extremely difficult – indeed almost impossible – to conceal that hatred behind opposition to Zionism.

The Palestine solidarity movement denounces Zionism as well as other forms of racism, including anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Yet the pro-Israel lobby constantly seeks to cast aspersions on advocates for justice in Palestine.

That can be seen in a submission made by pro-Israel groups in June this year – when the new EU plan was being drafted. The submission claims that “anti-Semitism is found across society, manifesting itself in the most pernicious forms on the far-right, the far-left and among Islamist extremists.”

The jumbling of ideologies here is risible.

Palestine solidarity activists on the left are the polar opposites of neo-Nazis. The idea that they have a shared antipathy toward Jews doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

The undoubted intention of the pro-Israel lobby is to cast unwarranted aspersions on campaigners who see defeating Zionism as imperative because they are against racism in all its forms.

Shamefully – and not for the first time – EU officials are trying to lend credence to such smears. The EU’s coordinator against anti-Semitism Katharina von Schnurbein has repeatedly spread lies about Palestine solidarity campaigners while cheering on Israel’s crimes against humanity.

Perhaps the most significant sentence in the new plan reads: “Israel is a key partner for the European Union, including in the global fight against anti-Semitism.”

The EU will “seek to further reinforce” the “high-level seminar on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism” that it hosts every year along with Israel. The focus will be on “operational follow-up,” according to the plan.

Those words are revealing.

By privileging Jews over people of other religions and ethnicities, Israel practices apartheid – as organizations such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch have belatedly accepted. To make Israel a key partner in a “global fight” against any form of bigotry is obscene.

The new EU plan cannot be taken at face value.

Its real objective does not appear to be the stamping out of prejudice against Jews in Europe. Its real objective is the appeasement of Israel.

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