BERLIN – Hannes Swoboda, head of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, denied on Tuesday that the MEPs labeled Israel’s policy toward Beduin as “ethnic cleansing.”

The S&D Group is of the opinion that Israel's policies toward the Beduin is unfortunate and violating basic rights of a minority community. But in none of the S&D Group's communications did we use the expression 'ethnic cleansing,'" he wrote in an email to
The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli diplomats say, however, that a large poster was displayed in the parliamentary room last Thursday, during a seminar the S&D Group sponsored on Israel’s Beduin policy, that read, “Stop Prawer-Begin Plan, no ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Beduin.”

The Post obtained a photograph of the poster during the session.

In a letter to Swoboda and European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Israeli Ambassador to the EU David Walzer wrote: “It is unacceptable that a poster accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’ toward the Beduin population in the Negev was used during the event hosted by the S&D Group.”

Israel plans to develop the Negev for new residential communities and military bases.

The Prawer-Begin Plan, submitted for Knesset approval, seeks to regulate Arab settlement in the Negev by legalizing ownership to 63 percent of land claimed by Beduin, to compensate them with land and cash and to improve their standard of living, according to the government.

Swoboda told the Post that “on the panel of the seminar on the Beduin question, there were different Israelis from the Beduin community as well as non-Beduin. No official state representative was invited to join the panel. We did, however, explicitly invite the Israeli Embassy to speak at the event and guaranteed the opportunity to address any comments or questions from that debate.

Unfortunately, this embassy representative [Doron Almog, director of the Directorate for Economic and Community Development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office] did not use the opportunity to engage in that dialogue but left the room after a short statement.”

When asked if the S&D Group objected to the “ethnic cleansing” poster or had targeted other countries for alleged ethnic cleansing, Swoboda refused to answer the Post’s questions.

David Saranga, head of Israel’s European Parliament Liaison Department Mission to the European Union in Brussels, told the Post on Wednesday, “We still believe that there is no alternative to dialogue.

Unfortunately, the refusal to include in the panel an Israeli official dealing with the Beduin communities in the Negev, as confirmed by the Socialist Group, proves that the purpose of this event was to bash Israel. This is not the way to create a dialogue.”

Saranga added, “We are convinced that the participation in the seminar of Mr. Almog, whose work focuses on the situation of the Beduin communities on the ground, could have been conducive to a constructive dialogue on this very sensitive social issue. Regarding the poster displayed during the Socialist Group Seminar which includes hate speech: The photos taken during the event speak for themselves.”

Swoboda said, “The S&D Group, despite many differences with the present government, enjoys a friendly relationship with the Israeli Embassy in Brussels as well as in [EU] member countries. I hope that at future events this fruitful cooperation can be demonstrated again.”

When asked what Schulz, a Social Democrat from Germany, thought, his spokesman told the Post that “President Schulz will discuss all issues relating to EUIsrael relations on his trip to Israel.”

The Spokesman added, “The president did not personally authorize the event. It was organized under the auspices of the S&D group. Just as the speaker of the Knesset does not personally sanction every event in the Knesset.”

Swoboda came under fire in the Austria media for his October trip to Iran. He met with the speaker of the Islamic Republic’s parliament, Ali Larijani, who has defended a form of Holocaust denial. Swoboda wrote on his website following the trip, “The new Iranian government has opened a window of opportunity for new dialogue with the European Union.”

The Austrian wire service APA reported last week that critics of Swoboda said he made the “Holocaust-denying regime respectable” with his visit.

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