Monday, August 13, 2007

Israel expects European Parliament to do as it is told

ANTI-WALL demonstrators hit ground
under attack from tear gas and water cannon (Bil'in, February 2007). The white-haired man at back is veteran campaigner Uri Avnery.
Brussels seminar due to discuss such issues, Israel complains.

HAS Israel extended its occupation from the West Bank to Western Europe? Not yet. But Israel has been an occupying power for forty years - two years longer than the British military's recently retracted presence on the streets of northern Ireland (which is at least legally part of the United Kingdom, even if should be part of a united Ireland). Maybe dealing with people this way becomes a habit.

Or maybe it's because of the backing Israel gets from the United States, which also expects Europe to do its bidding. Along with its major arms deal to the Saudi outpost of "democracy" the world's capitalist superpower has announced a big increase in the $1.8 billion military aid it gives Israel each year. Olmert has asked for this to be changed from four percent annually over ten years, to a yearly sum so that instead of a $105 million addition the first year, it would already be the fixed $600 million.

Meanwhile Ha'aretz reports that the Israeli government is to launch a public campaign to have an international seminar on Palestinian rights, due to be held in the European Parliament later this month, called off. The Israeli Foreign Ministry is not appealing to the organisers, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, established in 1975. It is demanding that the European Parliament ban the event.

Israeli government sources quoted by Ha'aretz say the conference is geared toward "passing unilateral condemnations against Israel." To back their diplomatic approaches, they intend to launch a public campaign with support from Zionist organisations, lobbyists, and pro-Israel MEPs and media.

The Israeli newspaper explains:
"The seminar is expected to deal with subjects such as human rights in the West Bank and the Israeli response to demonstrations against the separation fence. The event will include a workshop on 'increasing the resistance to the Israeli occupation.' One government source in Jerusalem said the event was being 'conducted under the guise of promoting the peace process, but in fact, under this banner we are seeing organizations that promote anti-Israel boycotts and are working to defame Israel.'

"After sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry contacted the European Parliament to request clarification about the seminar, scheduled to begin on August 30, they were told the parliament 'was not sponsoring the event, but merely making its facilities available for the participants.' The explanations failed to impress Jerusalem because the seminar is supported by many European Parliament members, some of whom plan to attend and take part'. "

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has asked her counterpart at the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering, to reconsider the plan to allow the seminar to take place at the parliament seat in the Espace Leopold complex in Brussels. "In her letter to Pottering, Itzik said that by allowing the seminar to take place, the European Parliament would be legitimizing an anti-Israeli organization".

Gov't campaign in works to block anti-Israel seminar in Brussels
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correpondent

There is not even an allegation of anything violent or illegal being planned by the Brussels conference organisers. As Ha'aretz correspondent Barak Ravid says, they will discuss human rights and Israeli treatment of anti-Wall demonstrators. Evidently this is enough for the Israeli government and its supporters to denounce the conference as "anti-Israel", and therefore not legitimate.

I believe European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) and its Belgian affiliate Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique(UPJB) may be intending to attend the Brussels seminar. But we have grown used to seeing these campaigners described as "anti-Israel" in the Jewish Chronicle, so I doubt whether a Jewish presence will stop the Israeli government's friends in the media and politics from denouncing the conference and demanding that it be stopped.

Having been to a couple of UN-sponsored international gatherings on Palestine, I am sometimes cynical about whether they serve much use. I am not especially keen on the European Union and its parliament, maybe because here in Britain we seldom hear from our MEPs. (Though that's at least partly the British media's fault). But whatever their limitations, I'm damned if I want to see these institutions being pushed around from Jerusalem, or Washington. Or we might wake up and start to understand how the Palestinians feel.

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