I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Palestine is a hot topic in Slovenia. When I took part in a public meeting at the University of Ljubljana on Tuesday, the room was so packed that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. A few teachers had even encouraged students to skip class so that they could listen to me and other campaigners urge a boycott of Israel.
Many Slovenes were horrified by the attack on Gaza during the summer. Politicians are, to a certain extent, responding to the increased awareness about Israel’s crimes. A debate will be held shortly in the national parliament about whether or not the state of “Palestine” should be recognized.
Perhaps recognition would be of symbolic importance. Yet if the Slovenian government really wanted to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians, it would be taking far more radical action.
A ban on the importation of goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank would be a tangible contribution to the Palestinian quest for justice. Recognition, on the other hand, relies on the illusion that a tiny and truncated sliver of historic Palestine can be transformed into a sovereign nation.
More importantly, recognition would not erase Slovenia’s record of enabling Israeli apartheid.
Although Slovenia, a former republic of Yugoslavia, has only been part of the EU for a decade, it has actively helped Israel strengthen its links to the Union during that time.
Potocnik was in charge of the Union’s scientific research program from 2004 until 2010. Research, as it happens, is a particularly lucrative area of cooperation between the EU and Israel.
Between 2007 and the end of last year, Israeli firms and institutions signed nearly 1,500 grant agreements for scientific research with the European Union. The total value of the projects involving Israel was €8.7 billion ($11 billion).
At Potocnik’s recommendation, the scope of the EU’s “research” activities was broadened. “Security” — a euphemism for weapons development — was added as a theme. Israel Aerospace Industries, a leading supplier of drones to the Israeli military, has bagged around seventy grants through its involvement in the EU’s “security research” activities.
Visiting the Middle East in 2007, Potocnik praised Israel for investing a two and half times greater proportion of its national income in scientific research than EU countries were investing collectively.
Potocnik implied that the EU should hold up Israel as a shining example.
He completely failed to acknowledge that much of Israel’s investment in science was linked to its oppression of Palestinians. The arms companies now raking in EU grants have used the occupied West Bank and Gaza as laboratories for testing their drones and surveillance equipment.
By embracing the war industry, Potocnik ensured that the European Union would help Israel to develop a more technologically advanced form of occupation and apartheid.
When Slovenia held the EU’s rotating presidency in 2008, it gave a commitment to Tzipi Livni, then Israel’s foreign minister, that relations between the EU and Israel would be “upgraded.”
Dimitrij Rupel, Slovenia’s foreign minister at that time, claimed there were “obvious reasons” why boosting economic and political ties with Israel would contribute to “the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Rupel’s comments encapsulate all that is wrong about the EU’s approach to Israel.
According to the official narrative, the EU’s policy-makers believe that peace can be achieved through a process of “constructive engagement” with Israel.
The grim reality is that the European Union is not helping to achieve peace. It is helping to achieve a degree of impunity for Israel that is largely unrivaled.
“Constructive engagement” was the term which US President Ronald Reagan used to describe his alliance with the racist regime in South Africa in the 1980s.
According to the United Nations, apartheid involves the domination of one ethnic or racial group over another. The domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians is so entrenched that Israel has built a massive wall in the West Bank as a visible manifestation of its control.
By pursuing similar policies to Reagan, Rupel helped to shore up a system of Israeli apartheid that is just as racist and arguably even more brutal than that which applied in South Africa.
Rupel is no longer foreign minister but he continues to pontificate on international affairs.
I saw a clip of him being interviewed on Slovenian television this week as part of its coverage of the debate surrounding the recognition of “Palestine.” A journalist who kindly translated the clip told me Rupel was arguing that Slovenia owes a debt to Israel.
That “debt” relates to how Israel was willing to recognize Slovenia after it declared independence in 1992.
Almost 23 years have passed since then. Over those 23 years, Israel has relentlessly stolen Palestinian land and resources and denied basic rights to an entire people.
There is a long-established legal theory called “odious debt.” Under that theory, ordinary citizens should not be held liable for debts incurred by a corrupt or cruel ruler.
The debt which some Slovenian politicians think they “owe” to Israel can be regarded as odious. It was incurred for the sake of political expediency: neither Slovenia’s government nor its people are under any obligation to defend Israeli apartheid.
On the contrary, they have a duty to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law.
For the sake of justice, the debt must be repudiated. Imposing sanctions on Israel would be the best way to do so.