BDS and the Polish Holocaust bill: A lesson in blatant EU inconsistency

This morning (Wednesday), according to reports, a Polish delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki will arrive in Israel to attempt to reach an understanding regarding the wording of the controversial Polish Holocaust Law which has sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

The delegation will meet with a team headed by the Director-General of the Foreign Affairs Ministry on Thursday.

Both teams, again according to reports, will be composed of notable historians, journalists, jurists and legislators. The Foreign Ministry stated that “the goal of the dialogue is to preserve the historical truth and prevent harm to the freedom of research and expression.”

The law, which imposes jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, is currently set to take effect on March 1st, but Warsaw has announced that it will not be enforced until the matter is smoothed out with Israel, which described the new legislation as Polish attempts to shirk responsibility for their country’s role in the Nazis’ Jewish extermination program.

Meanwhile, also today, Omar Barghouti, the leader of the BDS movement arrives in Brussels to give a talk in the European Parliament, having been invited to do so by Anna Gomes, a Portuguese Socialist MEP (readers should note that the socialist group have distanced themselves from the event and asked for their logo to be removed from any materials related to it.)

What links these events? Not much seemingly on the surface of it. But let’s analyse this a bit deeper.

A team from Poland is on its way to Israel to discuss the import of legislation affecting Jews in Europe and, ultimately events that took place before the creation of the State of Israel.

Let’s extrapolate that further. An extremely sensitive subject related to Jewish Affairs from an EU Member State is being discussed directly with the Israeli state apparatus.

But Mr Barghouti, and the BDS movement activities he oversees – that directly affect the State of Israel, and therefore the vast majority of Jews in Europe – is given free reign to address the only EU Institution elected by universal suffrage.

According to the EU “it stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which also “includes actions carried out…of the so called BDS movement.”

Again, lets extrapolate. So, issues that primarily affect Jews in Europe can and indeed should be discussed with the State of Israel in a diplomatic context. But issues such as Boycotts, divestment and Sanctions that directly relate to Israel as a sovereign State, and by proxy the vast majority of Jews in Europe are not deemed worthy of consultation, but instead are granted special status under freedom of expression?

Are we missing something here or is this a blatant double standard? Anti-Semitism can constitute one thing and but not another? Who gets to decide? What are the criterion?

This dear reader is the fundamental problem with the EU approach to the BDS movement, and regrettably it takes such a horrible piece of legislation such as the Holocaust Bill to expose this huge inconsistency in approach.

Say what you like about the Polish Government (and believe me I have), but at least they have had the good grace to consult and seek to repair the damage.

This stands in stark contrast to the EU that gives a platform in one of its Institutions to someone who has besmirched the Jewish faith as openly justifying massacres and genocide, denies that pogroms took place in Arab countries, rejects the two-state solution and says that any Palestinian that accepts a Jewish State is a ‘sell out”. These views are vile. Every bit as vile as what Poland was suggesting.

But it’s freedom of expression. Get it? No? Me neither.

About the Author
Alex Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy Group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin. He is also the Director of Public Affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.
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