The President of the EU Parliament, Martin Schulz, came to Israel and addressed the Knesset in what was mostly a ceremonial occasion to demonstrate his credentials as a friend of Israel and an opponent of boycotts.
But one poorly crafted sentence brought forth an uproar.
It didn''t help that he was speaking in German. There was simultaneous translation for the Knesset Members, but there were ghosts in the hall.
He said that he had heard from Palestinian students in Ramallah how much they suffered from a daily allocation of water that was only a fraction of what Israelis enjoyed. He admitted that he had not checked on the details, but said that Palestinians get 17 liters of water per day while Israelis get 70 liters,
The immediate response was a loud interruption from a kipa wearing Knesset Member of Jewish Home, followed by a walk out of other Jewish Home MKs.
Among the points heard in the immediate din and later assertions were comments about being lectured in German about Israel''s treatment of the Palestinians, while relying on Palestinian lies and incitement, without checking on the details of Palestinian claims before bringing them to the most public and symbolic of Israeli formats.
One of the Jewish Home MK''s asserted Israel''s prior claim to the land by virtue of God''s Promise.
Subsequent clarifications of the data indicate that there are gaps between the water available to Israelis and Palestinians, but substantially smaller than what Schulz reported. Moreover, the Palestinians are themselves largely responsible for whatever gaps exist. They have rejected international proposals and financial aid to upgrade water and other elements of their infrastructure. Israel has offered to help the Palestinians with their water problems, but the offer is stalled along with other elements of the on-again off-again negotiations.
We''ve heard from an Israeli peace activist that it is Israel''s responsibility to provide water to the residents of occupied Palestine. Against this is the hard fact that international relations are more a matter of give and take than one sided humanitarianism. If the Palestinians want to take, they should propose to give something that Israeli negotiators see as of equivalent value.
At the heart of water and other differentials in the living standards between Israel and Palestine is the border between the first and the third worlds. That border is about 200 meters from my balcony. On the other side is a much different level of physical infrastructure, economic well being, governmental willingness and capacity to collect taxes and to administer its programs with first world levels of transparency and efficiency.
Americans can think of the Rio Grande. On the other side is a different economy, polity, and culture. While some would disagree, most Americans probably do not feel responsible for the poverty, crime, or corruption of Mexico, or about 150 other countries that are generally counted among those of the third world.
Israel has some of its own problems. Hadassah Hospitals are currently in distress. When not suffering from mismanagement, however, they are part of a medical system that puts Israel in the top half dozen of countries on key measures of health.
It may be popular in some circles, Israeli and others, to demand that Israel accept full responsibility for Palestinians as an occupying power. Against that is the view that the Palestinians remain occupied only in part, and that is largely due to their own ill advised political maneuverings in 1948 and 1967, as well as their responses to subsequent Israeli and Israeli/American offers.
MKs from Meretz and Labor are being sanctimonious about their opponents having insulted a distinguished guest by heckling his speech in the Knesset.
Courtesy has a role, even in politics.
However, MKs in the government, including the usually correct Prime Minister, said that the guest violated good sense by giving weight to unexamined Palestinian exaggerations, viewed by Israelis as part of the Palestinian campaign of disinformation and anti-Israel incitement.
Getting somewhat less attention, but hardly less problematic, was Schulz''s criticism of Israel''s blockade of Gaza, which he said causes pain to the Gazans, without buffering it with comments about the rockets sent from Gaza against Israeli civilians, or the response of Palestinians to the removal of Israeli settlements.
Schulz sought to downplay the commotion by referring to his critics as Israeli extremists.
That, too, is problematic. Jewish Home is close enough to the center of Israeli politics to be part of its governing coalition, and arguably less extreme than groups still active in Schulz''s homeland.
It may be fair to say that there are extremists in Jewish Home, as well as in Likud. However, their influence is moderated by pragmatists among the leaders of those parties. Moreover, their extremism is more verbal than anything else, and thus pales by comparison with Palestinian extremism.
Involved in the Schulz-Jewish Home brouhaha is the issue of Germany''s debt to Israel.
Germans and others, including Jews of Israel and elsewhere, may be tired of the claims, and feel that Germans have a right along with everyone else to complain and criticize Israeli actions and inactions.
None of which may excuse a German from lecturing the Knesset, in German, is a way that sounded too much like participation in Palestinian incitement.
Germany''s debt may be too great ever to be satisfied, no matter how much money, political support, or verbal niceties have been been or will be forthcoming.
Spain is still trying to repay its debt to the Jewish people. Some of us may be searching the list of names about to be published, which may give us access to Spanish citizenship, along with a passport that will make us citizens of the European Community.
Spain''s sins were half a millennium ago, and nothing like the industrialized slaughter conducted by Germany half a century ago.
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