Last week the UK electorate voted by a slender majority to withdraw from the European Union. Already, the recriminations have started against those who dared to defy the European elite and much of the British political class.
Despite some nasty elements of xenophobia in UKIP’s campaign, Leave supporters have been collectively tarnished by association, with accusations of racism, intolerance and bigotry. Many are puzzled at how the EU, a Nobel Prize-winning bastion of multiculturalism and progressive values could suffer such an irreversible body blow at the hands of the British people.
On the same day as the referendum, the European Parliament hosted Mahmoud Abbas. During his speech, the Palestinian leader blamed Israel for the recent upsurge of terrorism that had killed dozens of civilians. The absence of a two-state solution, he said, gave a “pretext to those who commit terrorism in the name of religion”. He continued: “Once this occupation ends, those pretexts will disappear and there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East nor elsewhere in the world.”
The idea that Israeli occupation breeds global terror is an egregious falsehood. Worldwide Islamist terrorism has an ideology and rhythm all of its own. It is driven by a fanatical desire to re-establish a caliphate and impose Sharia law in every facet of social and economic life. Islamists believe that secular states, values and practices are inherently corrupt and un-Islamic and must therefore be destroyed to bring on their dystopian future.
Israel is but one of many barriers to the caliphate and it will be hated, regardless of whether it occupies the West Bank. Moreover, Palestinian terrorism has often increased in the absence of occupation, most noticeably in the upsurge of murderous violence from Gaza after 2005 that has so blighted Israeli communities. In any case, Abbas rejected the chance to create a Palestinian state in 2008, just as his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, had done in 2000-1.
Abbas’ falsehoods continued. The PA chief accused rabbis in Israel of telling their government to poison Palestinian water supplies in order to murder the innocent. “Isn’t that clear incitement”, he said, “to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people?” According to officials in the PA, a ‘Rabbi Mlma’, chairman of the ‘Council of Rabbis in the West Bank settlements’, had issued the call. But no such rabbi could be found and there was no rabbinic organisation by that name.
The PA leader’s remarks, later retracted, were justly condemned as a ‘blood libel’ reminiscent of those that have surfaced so regularly throughout Jewish history.
But the damage was done, as various media outlets led with the allegation.
So how did MEPs respond to these assertions? Did they stamp their feet in protest or stage a walk out? Did they threaten to rescind funding for the PA if such hate speech was repeated? No, these alleged bastions of tolerance and anti-racism gave Abbas a standing ovation.
A man who had repeated one of the most pernicious tropes of anti-Semitism, about how Jews were poisoning their neighbours’ water supplies, was feted as a hero rather than treated like a racist pariah. But many of those same parliamentarians would have lamented the ‘xenophobic’ Brexit vote only hours later.
Now, it is obviously true that Europe’s love affair with Palestinian radicalism is not the most relevant reason to quit the EU.
There were a host of more pertinent reasons for withdrawal: a desire for more democracy, sovereignty and self-government, long-term economic considerations and an aversion to federalism. But this outrageous indulgence for Abbas, and the continued funding of his PA, shatters the illusion that European institutions have some monopoly on virtue or progressive values.
After all, this is the same EU that carved out a sordid refugee deal with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan despite, the Turkish president declaring that democracy, freedom and the rule of law were of no value. It also paid off former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi to prevent Libyan migrants reaching Europe. In both cases, the Eurocats turned a blind eye to the abuses and excesses of these dictators. But in the case of the PA, it openly indulges an anti-Semitic dictatorship.
It may be worth remembering all of this the next time a Eurosceptic is accused of pandering to bigotry.