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5 mei bevrijdingsdag: Europe’s Feeble Efforts to ‘Punish’ Israel
Europe’s Feeble Efforts to ‘Punish’ Israel
Apr 25 2015 / 9:16 am
Labeling might give consumers useful information to target settlements goods but, it would barely dent Israel’s economy.
By Jonathan Cook – Nazareth
The question of punishing illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian
territory was considered separately in Europe and Israel last week,
with only superficial differences in the conclusions reached. Israel’s
near half-century occupation is in no immediate danger, either at home
Some 16 European foreign ministers sent a letter to the European
Union’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, calling for the EU to
label clearly Israeli settlement products to alert shoppers to their
Yair Lapid, Israel’s former finance minister who is widely regarded
as a moderate, angrily phoned Mogherini to warn that major European
states were calling for a “de facto boycott of Israel”. He described the
letter as “a stain” on the EU, adding that Israel’s economy could face
EU foreign ministers were no less persuaded of the punitive nature of
their proposal. Labelling settlement goods would, they wrote, be “an
important step in the full implementation of EU longstanding policy” and
vital to preserving the two-state solution.
In truth, however, the letter simply continues Europe’s feeble and
muddle-headed policy in the face of Israel’s intensifying efforts to
entrench the occupation.
After years of internal debates, only a small majority of the 27 EU
states has been able to agree on the most ineffectual measure imaginable
against products made on land and using resources stolen from the
occupied Palestinian population.
Labelling might give conscientious consumers useful information to
target settlements goods but, in the unlikely event a significant number
of shoppers chose to act, it would barely dent Israel’s economy.
In fact, even if the EU went much further and agreed to enforce a
fully-fledged boycott of the settlements – something far from its
current agenda – it would have little more than a psychological impact.
The reason is that, while on the one hand the EU ponders symbolic
gestures against the settlements, on the other it actively subsidizes
the very state that has been expanding the settlements for almost 50
It does so both through a special trade agreement that makes Europe
Israel’s largest export market and by handing over large sums of aid
annually to the Palestinian Authority, which maintains order in the
occupied territories on Israel’s behalf.
European ministers are behaving like deluded parents who believe they
can punish a wayward child by docking his pocket money while at the
same time letting him buy up the toy store.
The pressing need for Europe to find its backbone was underscored
last week when Israel’s Supreme Court considered the question of
Israeli peace and human rights groups had petitioned Israel’s highest
court, long considered a lone outpost of liberalism, over a
controversial law passed four years ago. It imposes heavy damages on any
Israeli individual or organization that calls for a boycott of either
Israel or the settlements.
The Israeli right’s goal in passing the legislation was undisguised:
to silence internal critics of the occupation, especially those who back
growing international calls for Israel to face BDS – boycott,
divestment and sanctions. A similar campaign of isolation turned the
tide against apartheid South Africa.
However, by a narrow majority, the court supported the law. Several
judges described calls for boycott “political terror”, while another
renamed the BDS movement “Bigoted, Dishonest, Shameful”.
Observers were particularly surprised that the court refused to make a
distinction between boycotting Israel and the settlements. Effectively,
the judges kosher-stamped the occupation, equating a non-violent
political protest against the settlements with “terror”.
Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now observed that in doing so
the court had codified Israel’s “de facto annexation” of the West Bank.
In practice, the ruling will bar Israelis from showing any solidarity
with Palestinians living under oppression. As the liberal Haaretz daily
noted, lobbying to stop theatre companies and musicians from performing
in the large settlement of Ariel, in the heart of the West Bank, is now
effectively outlawed with the court’s approval.
Uri Avnery, leader of the small Israeli peace camp Gush Shalom, which
for many years has called unsuccessfully on the EU to boycott
settlement products, believed the ruling proved the judges were simply
“afraid” of the growing power of the right.
Without a supreme court prepared to back basic civil rights like free
speech, the Israeli right’s hold is unchallenged. It is shutting down
the kind of political spaces that allowed blacks and whites in South
Africa to struggle jointly against apartheid.
Israeli commentator Gideon Levy lamented on Sunday: “We’re about to
get our most nationalist government – and there is no one to stop its
The court’s ruling only highlighted the EU’s shameful cowardice in
failing to confront Israel. It is precisely as Israeli political
institutions – from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to the judiciary –
make common cause behind the settlements that Europe needs to find its
The few Israelis prepared to break out of the domestic consensus and
stand up for Palestinian rights to dignity and justice need all the help
they can get. Not least they need the solidarity of European
governments, who should be joining them in calling for harsh – not
paltry – penalties against Israel.
- Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for
Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations:
Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and
“Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed
Books). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit:
www.jonathan-cook.net. (A version of this article first appeared in the
National, Abu Dhabi.)