I had a simple reason for deciding to write and speak out about the European Union’s relationship with Israel more than a decade ago: Nobody else was doing it.
Soon it transpired that I was just partly right. Some “experts” on this subject can be found in think tanks and academia.
Occasionally, they are invited to appear on the mainstream media. But mostly the target audience for their work seems to be other experts.
Like a clique, the experts have their own language – a language with which the rest of us are unfamiliar. One of their favorite words is “normative.”
I found myself listening to a couple of these experts during a recent conference in London (thankfully, the event also featured some genuine human rights campaigners).
The conference introduced me to the work of Hugh Lovatt from the European Council on Foreign Relations. He has carved out a niche for himself as the leading authority on “differentiation.”
As far as I can see, “differentiation” means that the EU should draw a distinction between Israel and the territories it has occupied since 1967 – the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza and the Golan Heights.
Lovatt’s analysis rests on a fact that should be obvious but which needs to be constantly repeated: Israel’s settlement activities are illegal and governments around the world are obligated not to assist Israel’s illegal conduct.
The concept of “differentiation” is nonetheless inherently flawed.
For a start, it implies there are two Israels: one a vibrant democracy that may be caressed and cuddled; the other a perpetrator of war crimes that Western liberals should shun.
In reality, there is only one Israel.
The 2005 Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions recognizes that reality.
It demands that action be taken against Israel in its entirety.
That is proper. The Israel which began colonizing the West Bank in 1967 is the same Israel which forbids Palestinian refugees from returning to homes from which they were expelled in 1948.
Furthermore, the same Israel treats Palestinians living within it as inferior to Jews – a situation now enshrined in constitutional legislation.
Hugh Lovatt has distanced himself from the BDS movement.
The principles behind differentiation were spelled out in a 2015 paper that he wrote, along with his colleague Mattia Toalda.
According to that paper, “the genesis, goals and policies that flow from differentiation contrast sharply with those of BDS. One is premised on the deeper integration of Israel with Europe, the other on its isolation.”
Lovatt’s stance is pretty much identical to that of the European Union. By rejecting the boycott of Israel, he is toeing the establishment line.
He is refusing to accept an appeal by an oppressed people. Even worse, he is implying that he knows better than them.
On paper, the differentiation policy is meant to hold Israel accountable for settlements. But it actually does the reverse.
While the EU takes no meaningful action to halt Israel’s colonization of the West Bank, the bloc continues to deepen its ties with the state that is building the settlements. Israel is essentially being rewarded for the very crimes the EU claims to oppose.
It is tempting to ignore Lovatt and “experts” like him completely. But I believe it is necessary to question what they are doing.
The European Council on Foreign Relations is not supposed to be a governmental agency, although its name gives the impression that it is. Officially, it claims to carry out “independent research.”
I contacted Lovatt by email, asking if he could point me to a case where he had been trenchant in his criticism of the EU or the arms trade. He did not reply.
Far from being trenchant, Lovatt has actually whitewashed the EU’s complicity in Israel’s crimes.
He has given his seal of approval to Horizon 2020, an EU scientific research program involving Israel.
For Lovatt, the scheme is acceptable because it is conditional on no grants being given to activities undertaken within Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Lovatt has evidently not taken account of how Israeli government bodies are exempt from those conditions. The result is that Israel’s science ministry is a significant beneficiary of Horizon 2020, despite how it is headquartered in East Jerusalem.
By having such a narrow focus, Lovatt has also overlooked how other bodies taking part in the occupation of the West Bank soak up EU science grants.
If Lovatt was really committed to “independent research,” he would not seek to flatter diplomats and governments the way that he does.
In a recent tweet, he praised Emanuele Giaufret, the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, for signing an “excellent” opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post.
Yet the real intention behind Giaufret’s piece was almost certainly to assure Israel that the European Union is not banning settlement goods.
Lovatt was, therefore, lauding an attempt to smooth any Israeli feathers that were ruffled by the court’s verdict.
A truly independent observer would expose the double standards of the powerful.
Lovatt instead has a tendency to take what the powerful state at face value.
In another recent tweet, he commended the Dutch government for issuing a letter in support of the EU court ruling on labeling settlement goods.
Around the same time as the Dutch government issued that letter, one of its ministers opened an arms fair in Rotterdam.
Contrary to the impression given by Lovatt, the idea that the Netherlands is being tough with Israel is simply farcical.
Who do Lovatt and his colleagues serve? In its entry to the EU’s “transparency register,” the European Council on Foreign Relations states it “does not engage in the direct representation of interests.”
The use of the word “direct” is instructive. It suggests that the European Council on Foreign Relations is lobbying on behalf of its funders in a subtle and stealthy way.
That would be in keeping with what think tanks financed by big business and major institutions generally do.
Their purpose is to ensure that discussions stay inside parameters deemed “safe” by the powerful. Radical viewpoints are seldom heard in those discussions.
For all his talk about differentiation, the work of Hugh Lovatt bears a strong resemblance to that by similar “experts.” Ultimately, they are toadies to the establishment.