The EU’s top envoy in Tel Aviv has refused to condemn the latest Israeli threats against Palestinian human rights defenders.
Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, who heads the EU diplomatic mission to Israel, was responding to questions about the threats made by Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz and other top officials against activists and leaders in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Faaborg-Andersen wrote to The Electronic Intifada that he “will not enter into a discussion about the interpretation of Minister Katz’s comment or the comments of any other speakers” at the “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem on 28 March.
The EU envoy spoke at the same conference alongside a leader of Israel’s settler movement, despite Palestinian objections.
Faaborg-Andersen insisted however that his presence “should by no means be seen as endorsement of statements – including the threats… made by others at that conference.”
In Hebrew, Katz called for “sikul ezrachi memukad” against the “BDS leadership.”
According to professional translator Dena Shunra, sikul memukad literally means “targeted prevention” or “targeted thwarting,” but is the precise term the Israeli military uses for “targeted killing” – an extrajudicial execution.
By adding the word ezrachi – civil – Katz’s phrase may be translated as “civil targeted prevention.”
At the same conference, Gilad Erdan, the Israeli minister for public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy who has been charged with leading the attack against the BDS movement, said that Israel would have to “act at the individual level” against activists in organizations supporting the BDS campaign.
“Up to this day, people who have slandered, threatened or acted against Israel did not pay any price for doing so,” Erdan said in the video at the top of this article. “I promise you that this is about to change.”
“Soon any activist who uses their influence to delegitimize the only Jewish state in the world will know they will pay a price for it,” Erdan vowed.
He singled out Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement. “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti,” the minister said without specifying what action would be taken.
The video shows that the EU envoy was present and listening to Erdan’s remarks.
Separately, Israeli interior minister Aryeh Deri told the same conference he was considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.
Conference attendees also heard attacks against this writer, as well as against the journalist and author Max Blumenthal, in a keynote speech by American celebrity turned racist and Islamophobic inciter Roseanne Barr.
Given the feverish mood at the “Stop the Boycott” conference, Gilad Erdan apparently saw a need to downplay his own threats as nonviolent.
“I obviously don’t mean, God forbid, any physical harm,” he said. “These are sensitive times, so I clarify my message.”
But the statements of the Israeli ministers are being seen as a direct incitement to violence by those they are targeting.
“As a Palestinian human rights defender who is deeply committed to and passionate about this nonviolent form of struggle for Palestinian rights under international law, I am of course concerned about this thinly veiled threat of physically harming us,” Omar Barghouti told The Electronic Intifada.
“Katz, in his statements, plays on the official Israeli military term for assassination, and adds ‘civil’ to it,” Barghouti said. “But nothing civil can be expected given the prevalence in Israeli society of almost unprecedented racial and violent incitement against the indigenous Palestinians and the popular Israeli cheering of extrajudicial killings.”
“Negating his intention to physically harm Palestinian human rights defenders in this particular context, Erdan almost certainly normalizes the opposite, that it is conceivable, if not probable, in less sensitive times to physically target us,” Barghouti added.
Barghouti called Erdan’s threat against him “unnerving.”
“Tacit green light”
While refusing to condemn the Israeli threats, the EU’s Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen did nevertheless acknowledge the free speech rights of the BDS movement.
“The EU does believe that Palestinian human rights defenders and others have a right to advocate for international action to secure human rights,” the diplomat wrote.
He reiterated however that “it is a longstanding EU position that boycotts are unhelpful and close off channels of communication.”
During his own address to the conference, Faaborg-Andersen said that goods from Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law and human rights obligations are “welcome” in European markets, even though they would not enjoy the same trade privileges as other Israeli goods.
Barghouti sees the presence of international officials like Faaborg-Andersen and his American counterpart at the conference as a form of complicity.
“By not only participating in this Israeli fest of hate and violent threats against a nonviolent human rights movement and its main activists, but also keeping silent about these threats, the US administration and the EU have effectively given a tacit green light to Israel to harm us,” Barghouti said.
“We hold both accountable as well should Israel make good on its threats and visit upon me or any of my BDS colleagues any harm, bodily or otherwise,” he added.
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel who also spoke at the conference, did not respond to a request for comment.
International human rights defenders are also expressing concern over the Israeli threats.
“[Intelligence minister] Katz’s comments come amidst incredibly dangerous Israeli legislative initiatives that target Israeli human rights groups and harass Palestinian activists, limiting their ability to travel,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told The Electronic Intifada.
“The Israeli government’s campaign against human rights activists is the latest in its salvo to bury both its record and those who criticize it,” Whitson added.
Amid a campaign of intimidation against both Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders by right-wing groups, the Israeli government is advancing the so-called transparency bill.
The measure is seen as an attack on groups critical of Israel’s human rights record, particularly those organizations funded by the EU or its member states.
Israeli police have also stepped up arrests and intimidation of Palestinian human rights defenders and Israelis who act in solidarity with them.
Staff at Al-Haq, the oldest Palestinian human rights group, have been receiving death threats.
Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin says his organization has been the target of a covert campaign which he believes aims to undermine it because of the work it is doing to bring suspected Israeli war criminals to justice in international courts.
Annette Groth, a member of the German parliament and the human rights spokesperson for the leftist party Die Linke, expressed her alarm at Yisrael Katz’s threats against Barghouti and others, stating that they “can be seen as incitement to murder.”
“It is not ‘only’ the Israeli government and its most radical representatives who are responsible for the rampant violence against dissenters,” Groth said in a statement received by The Electronic Intifada.
“Instead of loudly and clearly condemning the incitement to physically attack BDS activists, as it does in the case of other groups, the German government, along with other EU governments and the US government, is involved in criminalizing them and is restricting freedom of speech here in Germany too.”
Groth faulted governments, including Germany’s, for continuing to supply Israel with weapons and failing to take any action to hold it accountable.
But in the face of mounting intimidation and the latest high-profile threats, Omar Barghouti says the international Palestine solidarity movement should only step up its efforts.
“The most effective response is to intensify academic, cultural, economic and military boycott, divestment and eventually sanctions campaigns against Israel’s pariah regime and its complicit institutions,” Barghouti said.
“No mafia-like threat from anyone will thwart us from advocating for freedom, justice and equality for the entire Palestinian people, in our homeland and in exile,” he added.