Key Israel lobbyist in European Parliament spreads lies about Ireland’s gay marriage vote

A Dublin mural in favor of the right to marriage for gay and lesbian couples. (William Murphy/Flickr)

Like many Irish people, I’ve had tears of delight dripping from my eyes all weekend. My country is the first in the world to legalize same sex marriage through a popular vote. Gay friends of mine who — not long ago — were terrified about coming out are finally being treated as equal citizens. People power has triumphed over bigotry.

A barely-noticed aside to the referendum is that six members of the European Parliament (MEPs) last week signed a letter alleging that “a climate of fear and intimidation has pervaded throughout the [Irish] campaign.”

The intimidation to which they were referring was not the vile letters received by prominent advocates of a Yes vote. To cite just one example, the newspaper columnist Una Mullally was told that the cancer with which she had recently been diagnosed may have been a form of divine retribution.

Rather, their letter inferred that opponents of equality had been forced into a closet because the media was in favor of same-sex marriage.

That was the opposite of what actually happened. RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, had a strict policy of giving the same airtime to both sides in the debate. And it issued a directive banning its presenters and journalists from expressing any views on gay rights, even via their personal Twitter accounts.

Arne Gericke (European Conservatives and Reformists)

The letter signed by the six called on Martin Schulz, the European Parliament’s president, to intervene because the “integrity of the Irish referendum has been seriously compromised.” One of the six names leapt out at me: Arne Gericke from the Family Party of Germany. Since his election in 2014, he has emerged as one of Israel’s most steadfast allies in the European Parliament.

In a recent TV program, Alex Benjamin from the newly-formed group Europe Israel Public Affairs (EIPA) stated that Gericke was “working with us, doing a parliamentary question” on anti-Semitism. Hatred of Jews is an affront to humanity — that has frequently been accompanied with other forms of prejudice. The Nazis sent homosexuals and Roma to the death camps, along with Jews. So it is difficult to see how much credibility an opponent of gay rights can have as a fighter against anti-Semitism.

Hypocrisy

Gericke’s stance on the Irish referendum smacks of hypocrisy.

He belongs to an alliance of parties which argues that questions of family should be left to individual EU countries. Yet when Ireland addressed the issue of what constitutes a family in the 21st century, he not only meddled in that debate but spread lies about it.

This is not the only inconsistency to be found.

EIPA, the lobby group he supports, has been engaged in pinkwashing — selling Israel as gay-friendly in order to distract from the brutal occupation and apartheid system it has imposed on Palestinians. In the past week, EIPA has been promoting Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride festival on its Facebook page.

Gericke appears to be something of a go-to guy for the Israel lobby. In November last year, he helped European Friends of Israel (EFI) organize a conference alleging that Hamas may be benefitting from EU aid.

Once again, the reality is the opposite. Because the EU pays the occupation’s bills, Israel is the key beneficiary of its aid.

Muddled

EFI and its advisers have been sending out similarly muddled messages to EIPA.

Over the past few years, EFI has been advised by David Saranga, an Israeli diplomat and “branding” specialist.

Saranga is now head of a division in the Israeli foreign ministry responsible for hasbara (often translated as “explanation,” hasbara has become synonymous with propaganda). He is a pinkwasher extraordinaire, who has penned blog posts celebrating the acceptance of gay and lesbian soldiers by the Israeli military.

While serving in Israel’s Brussels embassy, Saranga took part in EFI events alongside Bas Belder, a Dutch MEP. Belder is a leading figure in the Reformed Political Party (SGP), which has opposed legislation requiring that marriage registrars in the Netherlands treat homosexual and heterosexual couples equally.

It might be a sign of desperation for the Israel lobby that its best buddies are enemies of equality. It is also fitting, considering that Israel discriminates against an entire people because they were born into the “wrong” ethnicity and religion. Pointing to an official policy of acceptance towards homosexuals in the military doesn’t negate how that military subjects Palestinians, gay and straight alike, to the most extreme forms of violence.

The Irish referendum proved that no matter how entrenched an injustice becomes, it can be tackled. Israeli apartheid is one such injustice. It can — and will — be vanquished.

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David Cronin

David Cronin's picture

David Cronin is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is Corporate Europe: How Big Business Sets Policies on Food, Climate and War (Pluto, 2013). His earlier book is Europe’s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation (Pluto, 2011).