Australia/Israel Review

Europa Europa: Inconvenient truths 

Sep 28, 2023 | Alex Benjamin

Mahmoud Abbas' invocation of antisemitic canards drew criticism in from the EU, but no policy change (Image: Shutterstock)
Mahmoud Abbas' invocation of antisemitic canards drew criticism in from the EU, but no policy change (Image: Shutterstock)

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ mask appears to have slipped. The serial Holocaust distorter (he wrote a thesis on this) made a controversial address to the Fatah Revolutionary Council in late August, as AIR readers are probably aware. Abbas’ words are worth repeating: “They say that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. No. It was clearly explained that they fought them because of their social role and not their religion.” Later, he specifies that the role of Jews he is referring to involves “usury, money and so on.”

Abbas also resurrected the canard – long disproven by genetic research – that European Jews are not descended from the ancient Israelites, but from 8th-century Khazar converts and thus are, in his words, “not semites”. 

Cue appropriate outrage in European capitals. Yet the EU had to accompany its strong condemnation with a comment that such remarks only “play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated for.” (In other words: “Oh Mahmoud, you just made the mistake of giving those recalcitrant Israelis ammo against you!”) Apparently, straightforward condemnation of a Palestinian leader is not possible.

More importantly, other than strong words, can we expect a freeze in funding for the PA that Abbas heads? A period in the political sin bin? Nope. Everybody, in every political capital in Europe, knows that Abbas is spreading antisemitism. Yet the cash will continue flowing into PA coffers regardless. 

This amounts to rewarding hate. Yet no matter how many times this is pointed out, it is treated as an inconvenient truth and brushed under the carpet.

Meanwhile, the European External Action Service sent an internal working paper to all the Permanent Representations on the subject of the sanctions targeting the Russia regime. A number of Russian oligarchs are presumably mounting legal challenges against the sanctions, and this working paper is the EU response, citing individual justifications for listing each sanctions target.

As vice-chairman of the European Jewish Association, I was sent an email from a Belgian legal firm with screen grabs of part of one such working paper, related to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, asking for my opinion. 

The paper states: 

“Like most oligarchs, Abramovich is part of the Jewish Russian minority, which, as a result of the latent anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and its exclusion from many public and security-related leadership functions, formed informal networks… Abramovich, as the main shareholder of Omsk Bacon, found nothing wrong from benefitting from the annual slaughter of 300,000 pigs. Yet he also followed Yeltsin’s and later Putin’s instructions to finance a Chadissic [sic] counter-organisation against the Russian Jewish Congress, which, founded by Gusinsky in 1996, had in their view become too powerful as an internationally well-connected lobby.”

Abramovich’s Jewish background, already mentioned needlessly, is slurred even further by calling into question his faith because of his business interests in pigs – and the document then talks about the power of an “an internationally well-connected [Jewish] lobby.” All of this in an official European Union Working Paper – not some populist or xenophobic rag.

Now, hopefully it is as obvious to you as it is for me that this EU paper was tainted with antisemitism.

I replied to the lawyers to this effect, added that I don’t defend Russian oligarchs, but that I would say the same thing if similar comments were made about any Jew. And I let the EU Special Envoy for Combatting Antisemitism – the genuinely excellent Katharina Von Schnurbein – know about the document. 

In a private conversation with a dear friend in a senior EU position, I confided that if they are saying these things about Jews in official EU documents, I hate to think what they say about us verbally. Their answer was this: “it’s an inconvenient truth, but a truth nonetheless, that the EU, as an international organisation, is not immune from antisemitism. It’s naïve to think otherwise, Alex.” 

Lastly, I was recently in Zagreb and visited the Jasenovac concentration camp – where the Nazi puppet state of Croatia murdered nearly 100,000 people during World War II – as part of preparations to bring a delegation of parliamentarians and ministers there in October. I can tell you that this camp feels like an exercise in perfunctory memory – a place that the modern state of Croatia wants to forget. That is why it is such an important place to visit. 

It may be an inconvenient truth for today’s Croatia that it was founded in part on murderous fascist foundations, but it remains a truth nonetheless. Similarly, it may be inconvenient to acknowledge that Abbas spreads antisemitism, or that antisemitic attitudes persist within the EU bureaucracy. Yet both are also true. 

“It is a wise man that acknowledges the truth,” Jewish sages taught. The EU could use some of that wisdom.


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