On Eve of Netanyahu Visit, EU to Mark Human Rights Day With Anti-occupation Group B’Tselem

In slap to Netanyahu, incoming EU ambassador chooses to hold official event with human rights group ■ Foreign Ministry says move is like ‘spitting in the face of Israelis,’ while minister blasts EU as increasingly irrelevant

Representatives of the European Union in Israel will mark International Human Rights Day on Thursday together with the human rights organization B’Tselem. The event, led by incoming EU Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, will feature an exhibition of photographs marking 50 years of Israeli occupation and has sparked a fierce condemnation from Israel.

The exhibition, entitled “50 Years,” is currently on display at the Jaffa Port in Tel Aviv. It features portraits of 50 Palestinians born in 1967, the year that Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza after the Six-Day War. The event is expected to be attended by other foreign diplomats in Israel as well.

Early next week, Netanyahu will fly to Brussels for a rare meeting with the 28 foreign ministers of the EU member nations.

In a departure from protocol, Netanyahu was invited not through the usual official channels, but through Lithuania’s representatives to the EU, a relatively friendly nation from Netanyahu’s perspective. The bypass of protocol has peeved the foreign minister of the EU, Federica Mogherini.

The spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Emmanuel Nahshon, stated, “For reasons unknown, the EU people believe that the way to Israelis’ hearts is by spitting in their faces. We are again seeing the same patronizing approach of preaching hypocritical, condescending morality, that just pushes away rather than bringing closer. It is sad and superfluous.”

Israeli officials and politicians fumed at the news. “The European Union loses no opportunity to needle the State of Israel and persists in its unilateral ways,” stated Naftali Bennett, the leader of Habayit Heyehudi party. “This attitude makes the EU a less relevant player by the day.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely commented that Israel has “been threatend by Palestinian terror for over 100 years” and that “unfortunately, the EU has not investigated the Palestinian Authority’s education system, which raises children to be ready to kill innocent civilians.” She further added that “whoever wants to look into human rights should begin with the Palestinian education system.”

B’Tselem responded, saying they have invited Bennet, Hotovely, and Nahshon to the exhibition, “so that they can have a firsthand look at the children of 1967– who have been deprived of their human rights by Israel.”

In late April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a scheduled meeting with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for refusing Netanyahu’s demand that he not meet with two human rights nongovernmental organizations, Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

Netanyahu’s bureau stated at the time that the prime minister’s policy is to not meet with diplomats who visit Israel and meet organizations “that slander [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers and seek to prosecute them as war criminals.”

In February, Netanyahu ordered the Foreign Ministry to reprimand Belgium’s ambassador to Israel after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met with representatives from B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. Netanyahu’s bureau stated at the time that “Israel sees gravely the meeting of the Belgian prime minister today with the heads of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem during his visit to Israel.”

The same month Netanyahu visited London and asked Prime Minister Theresa May to stop funding left-wing Israeli organizations, including Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and others.

In the past Netanyahu has also ordered to abolish the posts at B’Tselem reserved for young Israelis who do voluntary national service as an alternative to enlisting in the army.

This is not the first time the EU has lent public support to the organization, despite the disapproval of the Israeli government. In October 2016, the EU delegation to Israel openly supported an appearance by B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad before a special session of the UN Security Council on the settlements, tweeting “We support B’Tselem to maintain human rights of vulnerable Palestinian communities in Area C.”