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.”
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.
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.
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?