The European Parliament, the house of elected representatives of the European Union, holds a variety of events, some of them official, some of them private. Those events, which are privately organised by members, are linked to their respective political groups who will often have their banners present – writes Raya Kalenova, Executive Vice-President, European Jewish Congress (EJC)
It does not happen often that banners are removed by a political group in the middle of an event. This is exactly what happened recently at a private event of Ana Gomes MEP.
Ms. Gomes, a member for the S&D group, hosted a conference last week titled: “The Israeli settlements in Palestine and the European Union”. Her guest of honour for this event was none other than Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS).
A gifted and eloquent speaker, Mr. Barghouti has made a name for himself making statements that could be considered contentious. For instance, he does not believe in the Two-State solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict, as opposed to the approach based on constructive approach based on dialogue favoured by the European Union.
Of course, not supporting the Two-State solution does not place Mr. Barghouti outside of European public discourse, but holding antisemitic views should. Mr. Barghouti has previously trivialised the Holocaust by referring to a “final solution” against the Palestinians, and his vision for an end to the conflict does not include a Jewish State in any form, or any sort of self-determination for Jews anywhere in the Middle East. In his own words, “No Palestinian […] will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine”, by which he means Mandatory Palestine.
Mr. Barghouti’s views have caused considerable unease at the European Parliament. In the weeks preceding the event, MEPs from the four main political groups wrote to the President of the European Parliament expressing concerns that Mr Barghouti’s rhetoric endangered the reputation of the European Parliament, and that measures ought to be taken to prevent it becoming a platform for the expression of antisemitic views.
Apparently, Ms. Gomes does not share these concerns. Not only did she host Omar Barghouti in Parliament, at the event itself she praised him in the highest terms. As such, we must wonder whether she is making a terrible mistake, or betraying her previously stated opinion that she is “against those who want to destroy Israel” or whether she is simply not acting in good faith towards finding constructive solutions for the conflict in the Middle East.
We must recall that Ms. Gomes herself was a legislative initiator of the 1 June 2017 European Parliament Resolution on Combatting Antisemitism. This was the first resolution solely dedicated to combatting the scourge of antisemitism by the European Parliament. The resolution includes a series of recommendations to the European institutions and to the Member States to fight antisemitism more effectively.
However, due to some perceived objections to the examples provided by the working definition of antisemitism as allegedly “delegitimising criticism of Israel”, Ms. Gomes withdrew her support. This is both confusing and regrettable, since the examples that she is concerned about are if anything unambiguous.
Is it legitimate criticism of Israel to say that it invented or exaggerated the Holocaust? Or that its existence is the main source of instability in the Middle East? Or that its behaviour is any way comparable to the Nazi regime? Or that Jewish self-determination is “intrinsically racist”?
These examples were put in place by the Member States of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) along with the working definition, in order to be able to identify antisemitic incidents when they occur. Since then, Six Member States of the European Union have adopted this definition. Moreover, these examples offer clarification for when criticism of Israel is antisemitic and when it is legitimate and unbiased criticism of a state.
Alas, for Ana Gomes, the perceived ambiguities in these examples are enough to backtrack on a commitment to Jewish communities in Europe to recognise that antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem, but a problem of society as a whole.
In any event, there is no guilt by association. Inviting Mr. Barghouti does not necessarily mean that Ana Gomes shares his views. However, one would expect at least some acknowledgement of the problematic nature of some of his statements, which would have provided the event with some value.
On the day of the event, sitting next to Omar Barghouti, Ana Gomes described Jewish organisations opposing Mr. Barghouti’s presence in the European Parliament as “a perverse lobby that tries to intimidate people.” Ever since, she has repeated this claim on social media.
According to the working definition of antisemitism, this would amount to mendacious and demonising allegations of Jews as a collective. No wonder that the S&D group did not want to be affiliated with such an event. Maybe, the main perversity in this whole affair, other than Mr. Barghouti’s statements, lies elsewhere.
 “An open letter from Gaza to Thomas Quasthoff: Do not Forget the Gaza Concentration Camp and ‘Tell It like It Is!’” (http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1439)