Protecting free speech on Israel in the European Union

discussion in European Parliament committee room

EJJP* lobbied the President of the European Parliament to protect freedom of speech on Israel. Representatives of some European Jewish groups wrote to the President, asking him to ban Omar Barghouti from speaking in a debate to be held in the parliament building. EJJP learned of the letter and wrote to the President urging him to reject the request. Our view was accepted and the President did not attempt to ban Mr. Barghouti.

We believe this will prove to be an important precedent because Omar Barghouti is one of the founders of the BDS movement. He also believes in one democratic state. The Jewish groups tried to use the IHRA definition of antisemitism as grounds claiming that he is antisemitic.

The texts of the EJJP letter and the Jewish group’s letter are below

*European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) is the federation of European Jewish Peace groups. Jews for Justice for Palestinians is a founder member.

EJJP Letter

Antonio Tajani MEP 21February 2018

President, European Parliament

c.c. Ana Gomes, Federica Mogherini

Dear Mr. Tajani,

We are writing to urge you not to accede to the letter from certain Jewish organisation representatives demanding that Omar Barghouti be prevented from taking part in the conference in the parliament on 24 February.

If you watch the videos they link to in their letter, you will see that Mr. Barghouti takes a very principled position against Zionism and advocates a gradual move to one democratic state based on persuading Jewish Israelis to adopt universalism instead of Zionism. He is not a holocaust denier. He goes out of his way to say the holocaust was a great crime, and Jewish desire for their own state was understandable. He emphatically rejects any kind of violence because it harms both perpetrator and victim.

However, he justifiably says the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from Palestine in 1948, to create Israel as a Jewish state in fact as well as in name, was also a crime. Palestinians cannot be expected to ignore that or to welcome the existence of Israel. Nevertheless, Mr. Barghouti believes in a profound reconciliation in which both peoples recognise each other’s humanity and trauma.

The interpretation of BDS in the letter is highly selective. BDS is a broad movement. It can be against institutions and products from Israel, or only from the settlements. In either case, it is a non-violent means for people to express their view that Israel is denying Palestinians their rights. It should be welcomed for that reason alone.

The letter refers to statements made by Mr. Barghouti, allegedly frequently, comparing Gaza to a “concentration camp”, and calling Israel’s policy a “final solution”. We would not use that language, but debate in Israel is harsher than here. Nazi comparisons have been used by a senior Israeli general and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to describe what they see as Israeli society’s slide into racism.

The letter you received is based on very selective interpretations of what Mr. Barghouti says and of the BDS movement. Underlying it is the false assumption that Zionism is an intrinsic part of Judaism. It is only that assumption that allows the letter writers to claim that belief in one democratic state is antisemitic.

EJJP supports the two-state solution on pragmatic grounds, but others can legitimately support one democratic state. Omar Barghouti’s position is deeply moral. Banning him would be an unjustified denial of free speech.

Yours sincerely,

Dror Feiler, Chair, EJJP ,Judar för Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred, Stockholm

Arthur Goodman, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London

Jewish groups’ letter

Antonio Tajani

President of the European Parliament

Rue Wiertz 60, 1047 Brussels

14 February 2018

Dear President Tajani,

We, the undersigned Jewish umbrella organisations and leaders of the Belgian and Portuguese Jewish Communities, as well as leading organisations representing EuropeanIsrael relations and interests want to express our deep concerns and opposition regarding the invitation of Mr. Omar Barghouti, founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) to a conference “The Israeli Settlements in Palestine and the European Union” taking place on 28 February inside the European Parliament, organised by Ms Ana Gomes, Member of the European Parliament (S&D – Portugal).

The BDS founding appeal of 09.07.2005 as well as its founder Mr. Barghouti call for a total economic, cultural and academic boycott as well as for divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel. Accordingly, the campaign addresses not only the disputed territories, but opposes the very existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state in its entirety and in any kind of borders.

Furthermore, BDS activists consistently engage in practices, which are considered antisemitic according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism1 , which are:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews

. Mr. Barghouti himself has stated in public that “most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.,. No Palestinian (…) will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” 2 He argues that the “decolonisation of Palestine” can only be achieved through a “one-state solution” 3 and rejects any bi-nationalism since it would be based on “two problematic assumptions (…) that Jews are a nation, and that such a nation has a right to exist as such in Palestine”4

. Mr. Barghouti has also made repeated comparisons between the state of Israel and the Nazi Regime calling Gaza a “concentration camp” 5 and speaking of “Israel’sfinalsolution” against the Palestinian People 6 .

The objectives of the BDS movement and the repeated antisemitic statements of Mr. Barghouti himself directly harm Europe’s Jewish communities, and are not compatible with European values. They also directly oppose and undermine the dialogue-based and constructive peace process between Israel and the Palestinians that the EU supports as an honest broker.

Most importantly, by offering Mr. Barghouti a platform within the European Parliament, the house directly undermines its own policy stance on antisemitism.

Less than a year ago, on 1 June 2017, the European Parliament adopted with a large majority, a resolution on combatting antisemitism which calls on EU-Member States, and all European Union institutions and agencies to adopt and apply the above mentioned IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Ms. Federica Mogherini has repeatedly confirmed that “the EU rejects the BDS campaign’s attempts to isolate Israel and is opposed to any boycott of Israel.” She reportedly stated that she would take action on the issue and emphasised that she and the entire EU oppose calls to boycott Israel.

In many EU member states, political groups and municipalities have already officially decided to reject any support of the BDS movement due to its antisemitic character.

We, the undersigned, with deep respect for the EU’s values, freedom of speech as well as the right to different opinions, oppose the inflammatory antisemitic hate speech of 2 [22] (Added by the translator: Full quote: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sellout Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”) (Mr. Omar Barghouti, the BDS movement, as well as the public platform and added legitimacy that an event inside the European Parliament hosted by an official member provides.

We urge you as President of this house to make sure that, in line with the commitment of the European Parliament to combat antisemitism, any kind of attempt to engage in antisemitic hate speech inside your Parliament will be prohibited and prosecuted.

Mr. President, we look forward to your prompt action and response.


Raya Kalenova Executive Vice-President European Jewish Congress

Dan Mariaschin CEO & Executive Vice President B’nai B’rith International

Larry Hochberg Founder & Chairman ELNET

Daniel Schwammenthal Director AJC Transatlantic Institute

Yohan Benizri President Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations (CCOJB)

Gabriel Steinhardt President Jewish Community of Lisbon

Alina Bricman President European Union of Jewish Students

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