Letter to European Commission Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism

Katharina Von Schnurbein

Ms. Katharina Von Schnurbein
Coordinator on combating anti-Semitism
European Commission
15 July 2016

Dear Ms. Von Schnurbein,

As a Jewish organization, we firmly believe that antisemitism, anti-Muslim hatred, and all other forms of racial prejudice must be eliminated as far as possible. We naturally welcomed the creation of your post and that of your counterpart, Mr. David Friggieri.

However, we are disturbed by the attempts of the Israeli Government and some of its supporters in Europe, including the European Coalition for Israel (ECI), to misuse opposition to antisemitism in order to delegitimise criticism of Israel. At the moment, this strategy is taking the form of attempting to delegitimise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement by claiming it is antisemitic.

The objective of BDS is to apply pressure to the Israeli government, by entirely peaceful means, to end its occupation of Palestinian land and thereby allow the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination. BDS asks: why should civil society and government bodies do business as usual with Israel while it continues to act as if it is above international law ? The claim that BDS is antisemitic cannot stand up to examination. Israel is a state. It is not the same as the Jewish people. Therefore, it is not antisemitic to criticise and oppose its policies of occupation and repression.

BDS can take many forms within the law. It is entirely lawful for individuals and companies to decide whether or not to buy Israeli goods, for any reason. Under the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement, it is entirely lawful for government bodies to decide not to buy products made in Israeli settlements, because the settlements are not part of Israel?s sovereign territory. It is also entirely lawful for them to exclude companies deemed guilty of ?grave professional misconduct? from tendering procedures. Such misconduct could well include, for example, providing products or services to the occupation forces, or providing services to prisons in Israel where Palestinians from the OPT are held, on the grounds, respectively, of aiding the continuation of Israel?s illegal occupation and settlement policy, or aiding the illegal forced transfer of Palestinians into Israel.

We were concerned at the ECI?s interpretation of your remarks made at their annual meeting on 28 April. You were supposed to have said that BDS breeds antisemitism, and also that BDS events on university campuses are associated with increases in antisemitic incidents. We trust you were misinterpreted. BDS can, and indeed should, increase awareness of Israeli occupation policies and actions, which will lead to increased criticism of Israel on those grounds. Some criticism might unfortunately stray into antisemitic rhetoric, but that is no justification for denigrating BDS. In any case, such straying as occurs may well be due to Israeli advocates? repeated claims that all Jews stand behind Israel. It is not surprising that some people take them at their word and identify Israel with Jews.

Katharina Von Schnurbein with Israel lobbyist Arsen Ostrovsky

Insofar as this problem exists, it should be dealt with by educating students to understand that Israel does not represent Jews, and by advising Israeli advocates to stop identifying Israel with all Jews. In this highly contested area of argument, the Commission should not be seen to denigrate legitimate BDS advocacy, or discourage people or organizations from exercising their legal rights to take practical measures in protest against Israeli policies.

Regarding the level of antisemitic incidents generally, in the UK there is compelling evidence that the level of incidents is closely related to the attacks on Gaza, rather than to BDS activity or other factors. The attached charts and text prepared by our member group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, as part of their submission to a Labour Party inquiry, demonstrates the relationship. We have also attached a brief description of EJJP.

It is reasonable to assume that similar patterns must apply in other countries with substantial Jewish populations.

Yours sincerely,

Dror Feiler, Chair of EJJP, Judar for Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred (Stockholm)
Arthur Goodman, Diplomatic and Parliamentary Liaison officer, JFJFP (London)