The increasingly forceful tone of statements critical of Israel issuing from certain European Union governments during the current Gaza crisis, plus the news that Israel has decided to send ministers on a tour of six insufficiently docile European countries as a kind of propaganda “blitzkrieg”, should not lull us into assuming that the EU will maintain a strong stand against Israeli state terrorism once there is a ceasefire.
A sorry portent of what we can expect is the decision by EU countries represented on the UN’s Human Rights Council (HCR) to abstain on its resolution of January 12th which, among other things, condemned the Israeli military operation, called for a cessation of both Israeli and Hamas attacks, and called “for immediate international protection for the Palestinian people… in compliance with International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law…”
In a statement complaining that this carefully balanced motion “presents only one side of the conflict” (an assertion belied by its call for a cessation of Hamas attacks), the German representative Reinhard Schweppe announced that EU countries not represented on the HRC “aligned themselves” with the abstention by Germany and its EU “partners”. The motion was passed with 33 in favour, 1 against (Canada), and 13 abstentions.
No doubt Herr Schweppe felt that he was living up to the German state’s obligations towards the Jewish people. However, since 1948 Germany’s interpretation of these obligations has entailed unconditional support for the state of Israel – which is not identical to the Jewish people – and unconditional scapegoating of the victims of that state. The pro-Palestinian American intellectual Norman Finkelstein, a son of Holocaust-survivors, has berated this stance as “counterfeit courage” and defined “the challenge in Germany today” as “to defend Jews from malice and to condemn their overwhelmingly blind support for Israel’s brutal occupation.”
In private, German and Austrian politicians apparently claim that for convenient “historical reasons” they cannot change their stance as long as Britain continues to offer unconditional support to Israel. Britain, however, has never shown much interest in rectifying the nefarious consequences of its past imperial and colonial machinations, whether in Palestine, Iraq, India/Pakistan, or indeed Ireland, now a fellow EU member.
In 1919, two years after his infamous Declaration that Britain would “view with favour” the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, Arthur Balfour stated to Lord Curzon, his successor as British Foreign Minister, that “in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants … The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, … is… of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” This dismissal of the Palestinian Arabs’ right to have rights (in Hannah Arendt’s phrase) typifies UK policy on the Middle East to this very day, and re-echoes through the sickening rhetoric of Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary David Miliband..
Among other EU states, Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic States have all similarly found “historical reasons” for supporting Israel. There is little doubt, however, that the major “historical reason” is blackmail and bribery from the USA, which has turned to Israel’s advantage the delusion prevalent in those countries that America is a bulwark against a resurgent Russia.
The question naturally arises: given that EU countries have vastly different historical backgrounds, in some cases relatively unblemished by participation in past imperialist or colonial crimes, should their foreign policy on the question of Palestine be determined by perceived German or British historical imperatives?
Ireland, for example, engaged in Western Europe’s last colonial struggle and, like Palestine and India/Pakistan, suffered partition with its attendant “carnival of reaction” (in the words of the socialist revolutionary James Connolly, executed by the British in 1916) as a consequence of British occupation. In the Republic’s early years, there was much emotional sympathy for Israel’s self-styled “War of Independence”, until the 1967 war exposed such “independence” as a process of colonisation and ethnic cleansing. Prominent Irish political figures like Frank Aiken and Brian Lenihan Sr drew up a Middle-East policy based on the “land for peace” formula that was progressive within the context of its time, and became the basis of EU policy until the collapse of the Oslo process. Now, unfortunately, it is the combined weight of Germany, Britain and the Eastern European countries that determines the EU’s disastrous and inequitable policy of unconditional support for Israel, and Ireland has abandoned its traditionally pro-Palestinian stance (which nonetheless lives on in much of the rhetoric favoured by Irish politicians) in favour of “alignment” with the most powerful EU nations and hence with Israel.
Therefore, although Israel has never more nakedly displayed its true barbarism than in the pogrom against Gaza, we may fully expect the EU to continue plying the Zionist state with ever more generous trading privileges once this campaign is over and the Paletinians have counted their dead. Rumour has it that the current Czech EU presidency is eager to continue with the process of upgrading Israel’s already privileged status as soon as the awkward fuss has died down…
It is at this point that the campaign for Palestinian rights and that against the Lisbon Treaty unexpectedly intersect. This “reform treaty”, as its proponents like to call it, supposedly aims to “streamline” the cumbersome workings of the European Union, while in the process – according to its detractors – cementing the militarisation of the EU and its drift towards the transference of national sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats based in Brussels. The initial version of this treaty, described as a “European Constitution”, was rejected in 2005 in referenda in Holland and France. This rejection had many different motivations, not all of them progressive. However, objective analysis of the result suggests that in both countries the majority of voters were influenced by fear of the loss of democratic accountability, and unwillingness to see neo-liberalism enshrined – for the first time anywhere – in a binding constitution.
The document was revamped and redesignated as a mere “treaty” in order to bypass the necessity for national referenda. The Irish government, however, was prevented from playing this game by the requirements of the Irish Constitution, and the Lisbon Treaty was duly rejected by the Irish electorate in June 2008, to the dismay and horror of the EU elites. There are now plans afoot to repeat this referendum – without any substantive changes – in the hopes of gaining the desired result in October 2009. Such is EU democracy.
This means that concerned Irish citizens have an ace in their hands, one that they can play in the interests of the hundreds of million fellow Europeans who have been deprived of a vote on the evolution of the Union to which their nations belong. A second “no” to this de facto constitution would check the headlong rush of the EU towards a common foreign policy characterised by contempt for international law and nostalgia for imperial and colonial values, as reflected in its unconditional support for the Israeli state. A common EU voice in international affairs is only desirable if that voice speaks the language of human rights and political justice, a language that has no vocabulary to express support for racism, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
RAYMOND DEANE, here writing in a personal capacity, is a composer, a founding member and former chairperson of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and a patron of the People’s Movement, an organisation campaigning against an EU “federal super-state”.