Why is EU anti-Semitism chief smearing solidarity?

Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator (right), with pro-Israel lobbyist Arsen Ostrovsky. (via Twitter)

Has a senior European Union official been smearing the Palestine solidarity movement based on hearsay?

A few days ago, I learned that Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator, felt that comments she made at a recent pro-Israel conference had been misquoted. So I called von Schnurbein asking precisely what she had said.

Von Schnurbein confirmed that she did not regard an article on the European Jewish Press website as accurate.

The article claimed that she viewed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as motivated by a hatred of Jews.

After a brief telephone conversation, von Schnurbein emailed me what she described as her “exact words” at the conference, which was organized by the European Coalition for Israel, a Christian Zionist group.

According to the transcript she provided, von Schnurbein told the conference that “anti-Semitism can hide behind anti-Zionism,” before stressing the “EU’s firm rejection of the boycott, divestment and sanctions attempts to isolate Israel.”

“In the context of fighting anti-Semitism here in Europe, we are particularly worried about the discriminatory repercussions activities by the BDS movement might have on Jews and, in particular, Jewish students across Europe,” she added. “Reports show that anti-Semitic incidents rise after BDS activities on campuses.”

Von Schnurbein’s message did not refer to any specific “reports,” so I sent her a follow-up query asking for an example.

She replied: “On the Internet, you will find many reports from across the world. Also, the European Union of Jewish Students regularly report incidents on their website.”

Vibes

Eager to find out about such incidents, I checked the website she mentioned. A search for “BDS” yielded 14 results. None of them detailed a correlation between Palestine solidarity campaigning and anti-Semitism.

Instead of solid information, I found an article in which one student spoke of “anti-Israel vibes” in European universities.

As well as having to feel such “vibes,” students had to deal with seeing posters defending Palestinian rights in the corridors of some colleges, according to that article. In some cases, it added, students had to walk by fruit counters in supermarkets where stickers urging a boycott of the Jaffa brand have been posted or a swastika had been carved into a few oranges.

If that is the kind of “incident” that von Schnurbein is worried about, then I humbly suggest she needs to do a bit more research.

“Vibes” are, by definition, intangible. And this is the first time I have ever heard of anyone complaining about a swastika being engraved in a Jaffa orange. The idea that such a tactic is being widely employed by BDS activists — if at at all — is ludicrous.

I have no objection in principle to having an EU coordinator against anti-Semitism. Every form of religious and racial bigotry should be carefully monitored so that effective strategies for combating that bigotry can be developed.

Yet von Schnurbein does not appear to be interested in careful monitoring. Rather than assessing how widespread hatred of Jews is in Europe today, she spends much of her time hanging out with the pro-Israel lobby.

Recycling rumors

That lobby constantly conflates robust criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The conflation is a deliberate policy that has been pursued at least since the 1970s when Abba Eban, then Israel’s foreign minister, argued that sympathizers with the Palestinian struggle should be accused of hating Jews.

Although von Schnurbein said she was misquoted by the European Jewish Press, she told me that she did not complain about the article. Rather, she asked the European Coalition for Israel to change a press statement on which the article relied.

This is not the first time that an EU official or institution has smeared the Palestine solidarity movement.

The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency decided in 2012, for example, that calls for the boycott of Israel should be viewed as anti-Semitic.

As I documented in a recently published report The Israel lobby and the European Union, the agency’s decision had no scientific justification. Rather, it was taken after a few meetings with pro-Israel groups.

The BDS movement has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. In a recent interview with The Intercept, Omar Barghouti, one of the movement’s founders, emphasized that BDS campaigners are “opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. And we’re not shy about that.”

“We’re very categorical about our opposition to all forms of racism,” Barghouti added. “Because of that — not despite that — Israel is extremely worried. Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid is worried when this human rights inclusive movement is reaching out and appealing to a mass public, including many young Jewish Americans.”

I sent Barghouti’s remarks to von Schnurbein, asking her if she accepted that the BDS movement denounces anti-Semitism. She did not answer my question.

What does her reticence tell us? Does she prefer to recycle rumors than listen to the truth?

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Comments

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By publishing her emailadress you give the possibillity to adress this lady directly.
Not with hatemail but with corrections on her biased behaviour. A shame

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I just want to point out that this woman has really been put in the hot seat with this new position and judging her on this evidence and the fact that she has spent much time with lobbyists, for the purported victims she has been assigned to protect, is rash. If she doesn't spend time with Israeli lobbyists and respond to their concerns, albeit unjustified ones, how long do you think she will last.
There is a school of leftist political thought that promotes an iconoclastic opposition to all status quo leadership. Fortunately it's remarkably ineffective because it's occasional effect is to destroy reasonable people, who're replaced by less reasonable ones.
Of course they're just fine with that because they were successful in defining the oppressor's contradictions with reasonable people.
Great critics - lousy leaders. I would urge patience, perspective and vigilance.

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Parents are judged in accordance with their children's behavior and leaders by their follower's.

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Methinks the good lady lies through her teeth. thank you, David, for pursuing this with her to the bitter end. Her silence is proof enough that she has been touched at her very core - her conscience.
A lesson other "dignitaries" should learn.

Many thanks to the EI for publishing this article.

Sincerely Huda Giddens.

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Carving swastikas on Israeli oranges is offensive, if it happened. I think we can all agree on that.

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Just smear. Where and when did it happen? So shopowners are allowing so called "activists "to do their "creative work". Do you believe that?

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It appears that what runs human affairs has little else to work with but "things to beat." Where is there thought for building bridges of understanding? Confrontations that extol listening through and for every possible extreme interpretation, yes you're right, breed more of the same. Labeling and attacks on people disguised as labeling cause harm by breeding equally emotional and irresponsible reactions.

There is no agenda for peace anywhere the violence and arms industries have the freedom to be, which appears to be everywhere. Those who work at the real context issues around and for peace are unknown, unwelcome, unfunded, and marginalized. That's a problem.

National leaders need to become the more intelligent and emotionally honest among societies, so that the gifts of human ability may stand as the leadership reality that builds good health. Otherwise the continuing downward spiral to human self-destruction follows as you, at pace.

It would all be quite embarrassingly funny in adults if not so brokenly tragic and sad.

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If Von Schnurbein is following the AMCHA Initiative's methodology, then it's no surprise that “Reports show that anti-Semitic incidents rise after BDS activities on campuses.”http://www.amchainitiative.org...

AMCHA cleverly regard 'BDS activity' as both a cause and an indicator of antisemitism on campus!

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).