For more than a decade, I have suspected that the European Union has a policy of trying to avoid upsetting Israel. Finally, I now have proof that such a policy does indeed exist.
While the Brussels bureaucracy has celebrated the “successful counter-terrorism dialogues” it has held with Israel since 2015, hardly any details about those exchanges have been made publicly available.
In January this year, I filed a complaint with the EU’s ombudsman – nominally a citizens’ watchdog – about the lack of transparency. The complaint was made after the EU’s diplomatic service had refused to divulge which Israeli bodies take part in the “dialogues.”
Through a freedom of information request, I have obtained a document summarizing discussions on my complaint between the ombudsman’s staff and EU diplomats.
What excuse did the diplomats give for their secrecy? “They fear that the Israelis would be offended by the disclosure,” the document says.
Causing offense to Israel “would undermine the international relations” and EU diplomats “have provided evidence to that effect,” the document (see below) adds.
It is impossible to remain calm while reading those few words.
The excuse about potentially causing offense to Israel was given at a meeting held on 23 February.
The previous day, Israel committed a massacre in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. A 16-year-old boy and three men aged over 65 were among the 11 people killed.
Well-paid EU diplomats were not distressed by that crime. They perceive its perpetrator – Israel – as an ally and would not dream of causing that state any offense.
Disgracefully, staff working for the EU ombudsman described the excuse offered by the diplomats as “reasonable.”
That view was at odds with a preliminary assessment of my complaint.
In that preliminary assessment, the ombudsman’s staff contended that arguments made by the EU’s diplomatic service for “absolute confidentiality” over counter-terrorism dialogues “appear not to be convincing.”
“The institutions taking part were probably the Israeli Ministry of the Interior of Israel, or the Ministry of Defense,” the document says. “The [ombudsman’s] inquiry officer fails to understand how disclosing this information, without any personal data, would ‘gravely damage’ the EU-Israel relations.”
The EU’s ombudsman is a body headed by Emily O’Reilly.
She was not afraid to cause offense then. One could even make a case that Ireland changed for the better because people like her caused offense to the conservatives running the country.
So it is disturbing that she now presides over an institution which regards an excuse like “we must cause no offense” as acceptable.
In her current job, O’Reilly has been formally tasked with holding EU institutions to account.
Her staff are clearly failing to do so over the EU’s relationship with Israel.
The legally binding “association agreement” between the EU and Israel stipulates that all dealings will be “based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”
Holding “counter-terrorism dialogues” with a state that – among innumerable other crimes – kills children and the elderly in Nablus is a clear violation of the agreement.
The EU’s ombudsman has nonetheless refused to investigate such violations, claiming that the association agreement is a “political decision” and that foreign policy is outside that body’s remit.
Arguing that it is reasonable to fear offending Israel means accepting cowardice and duplicity.
It means accepting that the EU should respond – as happened last week – with no more than a timid statement of “regret” when Israel expels a Palestinian family from their home in Jerusalem.It means accepting that the EU should promote Israel as environmentally benign – as happened last week – while it steals water from Palestinians. It means accepting that the EU should constantly seek greater trade with Israel as that state takes its genocidal violence against Palestinians to new extremes. Regardless of what EU diplomats may claim, Israel deserves not only to be offended but to be boycotted and ostracized.