Europeans jump to criticize Israel without checking facts, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, after European Parliament President Martin Schulz cited inaccurate reports about Palestinian water usage in his address to the Knesset.
Earlier, Bayit Yehudi MKs walked out of Schulz’s speech, in which the European leader mentioned reports that Palestinians use a quarter of the water Israel uses per capita.
MKs Orit Struck and Mordechai Yogev yelled, “Palestinians are liars!” and “Shame!” Soon afterward, party leader and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett called for Schulz to apologize for lying.
The prime minister said Schulz “suffers from the same selective listening as many Europeans” in repeating a Palestinian claim that they use 17 liters of water for every 70 Israel uses per capita, adding that “even the Palestinian Water Authority says the discrepancy is much smaller.”
“Schulz admitted that he didn’t check if what he said was true, but he still blamed us. People accept any attack on Israel without checking it. They plug their ears,” Netanyahu said in the plenum.
“Water isn’t a good topic for attacking Israel,” he said.
“[When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in the Knesset,] MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL -Ta’al) was very concerned about MK Taleb Abu-Arar (UAL - Ta’al), saying he didn’t have water or electricity, but then we saw his house had water and electricity and a satellite dish.”
Tibi and Abu-Arar shouted, but Netanyahu responded: “You say it’s so bad here [in Israel], but then when there’s a proposal for your towns to be in a Palestinian state, you complain.
I guess it’s not that bad here.”
Netanyahu credited Schulz for saying Europe would not boycott Israel and that there should be cooperation in research. However, he also pointed out that the European Parliament president had said Iranians had been calling to destroy Israel “until recently,” when in fact, the prime minister said, such calls had occurred this week.
Before dinner with Schulz in Jerusalem, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) clarified to his European counterpart that he was mistaken and that misleading statements like his served as weapons for those who sought to delegitimize Israel.
He also took issue with Schulz’s call for Israel to end “its blockade of Gaza.”
Edelstein told Schulz that “there is no blockade of Gaza.
Ever since Israel left, our citizens sit in bomb shelters and are attacked by rockets.”
Schulz responded to Edelstein that he was sorry to have caused any unpleasantness, but that his intentions were good. He added that he felt that he was among friends, and that it was possible to criticize friends.
The exact words Schulz used in the statement that caused the uproar were: “A young Palestinian asked me why Israelis can use 70 liters of water and Palestinians only 17. I didn’t check the data. I’m asking you if it’s right.”
As for the military blockade on Gaza, Schulz said: “We all know the blockade is a reaction to attacks on your civilian population, but it led to a difficult situation. The results of the blockade are exploited by extremists, so perhaps it is counterproductive to security.”
Meanwhile, in response to Schulz’s Knesset comments, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor simply said, “The figures are wrong.”
According to Water Authority data, West Bank Palestinians had 127,000 liters of available fresh water per capita per year in 2009, while Israelis had 154,000 liters of water per capita per year. Of the available fresh water in 2009, the Water Authority said that West Bank Palestinians had consumed 95,000 liters per capita per year, while Israelis had consumed 137,000 liters per capita per year.
Schulz’s figures of 17 liters per Palestinian for every 70 liters per Israeli would imply that Israelis were each receiving about 4.12 times the water that Palestinians were. The Water Authority’s data showed Israelis having only about 1.21 times as much fresh water available to them and consuming only about 1.44 times as much as West Bank Palestinians – figures that have only decreased since, according to the authority.
However, a World Bank Study from 2009 said that in 2007, West Bank Palestinians had only 44,895 liters of fresh water per capita per year available to them, while Israelis had about 198,560 liters per capita – in other words, that Israelis had access to 4.42 times as much water as did the Palestinians.
Discrepancies may have occurred due to the sources the various bodies chose to use in calculating West Bank Palestinian population data. The Water Authority said it calculated the average of two main sources – the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics and the Israeli- American Demographic Research Group. The World Bank data came strictly from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics.
The Water Authority also maintained that Palestinian water availability was lower than it could be due to massive water losses stemming from Palestinian infrastructure problems, such as leaking pipes and water theft. All in all, the Water Authority estimated that water losses in West Bank Palestinian infrastructure amounted to about 33 percent.
Citing data from a Palestinian Water Authority report, the Israeli Water Authority said that in 2011, West Bank Palestinians living in urban environments consumed 37,600 liters per capita per year. Israelis living in urban environments consumed 66,800 liters per capita per year in 2012 – 1.78 times as much as their Palestinian counterparts in the year prior.
Bennett demanded that Schulz “take back his lies,” and called for Netanyahu to make the same demand.
“When he said Palestinians get 17 liters of water for every 70 Israelis get, it was a total lie. It’s preposterous,” Bennett told The Jerusalem Post after his party’s walkout.
“All the ministers were perplexed. I stayed quiet at first, but then he criticized the Israeli blockade on Gaza and said it caused pain to the Gazans,” he went on. “Did he forget that we expelled 8,000 Jews from Gaza? This week I worked on helping the evacuees.
Did he forget that [Gazans] shoot thousands of missiles at us? And then he criticizes us about the very place we vacated?” Bennett declared that “our national honor as the State of Israel isn’t mine or the ministers’. It belongs to all of the people of Israel. I won’t sit in the Knesset and hear a European, certainly not a German, saying such things.”
The Bayit Yehudi leader said that upon noticing that no one else was protesting, he had instructed his faction to walk out quietly.
According to Bennett, the party members were “the only ones who stood up for our national honor.”
“I thought Schulz would express the EU’s regular criticism about Israel in the West Bank. He started out speaking nicely about the Holocaust, he showed a lot of empathy. He spoke about the importance of peace, and I get it, he’s not in Bayit Yehudi,” he recounted. “We can accept criticism, but we cannot live with lies.”
The Bayit Yehudi leader pointed out that Schulz had quoted Edmund Burke as saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
“He could criticize us, even sharply, but to tell lies and expect me to be quiet? It won’t happen,” Bennett stated.
Still, Schulz took Bayit Yehudi’s interruptions with good humor, telling Edelstein that the Knesset was quiet compared to the European Parliament, and that he would have been disappointed if there hadn’t been a reaction to his speech.
Immediately after Schulz departed, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud Beytenu) took the stand to say his words were “a vulgar lie.”
Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach (Bayit Yehudi) said that “Schulz told lies in German, and it’s unfortunate someone can speak German in this house, but it is our responsibility to stand up against it. The generation of Schulz’s parents and the generation of the Arab MKs’ parents collaborated to destroy the Jews.”
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On, however, said, “I want to remind the members of Bayit Yehudi that despite their efforts, we still live in a democratic country where we can and should hear criticism in any language. Using the Holocaust to not deal with international criticism is ridiculous.”
Labor MK Merav Michaeli pointed out that while Bayit Yehudi was opposed to hearing criticism in German, it was happy for the IDF to get submarines from Germany.
Edelstein gave Schulz the benefit of the doubt, saying that someone must have misled him.
“The European Parliament president is an important guest, and his speech wasn’t given to a censor. No one knew what he was going to say,” Edelstein said. “Our president spoke to the European Parliament, and no seats were empty, and no one walked out.
They found other ways [to criticize him]. I’m not here to educate anyone, but we should think about that.”
Referring to US President Barack Obama, Edelstein asked, “How will we be able to complain about someone who prefers to speak to university students rather than the Knesset, because he knows he’ll be heckled?” President Shimon Peres, who met with Schulz after the latter’s Knesset address, brought up the issue of water inequity.
“It is our policy to equalize the supply of water and electricity,” Peres said. “In some places, we are successful – basically, in the cities. In some places, it is hard because of the lack of infrastructure. But we would like to see our neighbors having the same opportunity and enjoying the same technology. It does not give us any pleasure to see someone suffering because of lack of water or lack of electricity – on the contrary.”
Schulz said the EU had invested financially in projects to improve life for the Palestinian citizens, including providing water, electricity and schools.
“The more people live a decent life, the more they are peaceful,” he said.
European officials told the Post that Schulz had been surprised by the reaction to his comments, particularly since he had never claimed to be providing accurate data. The Palestinian youth he mentioned had posed the question to him on Monday at a young leaders seminar, and he had repeated that question to the Knesset.
He was not stating it as a fact, but asking the Knesset if it was correct, the officials said.
German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis told the media that “Mr. Schulz is a committed supporter of Israel. When he engages in dialogue with the Israeli people, this dialogue should be conducted in a serious and respectful manner.”
In his Knesset speech, Schulz said he understood the sensitivity of allowing him to speak there in German, adding that his generation had the responsibility of making sure the atrocities his country had perpetrated against the Jewish people would never happen again.
He also spoke out against anti-Semitism in Europe – the central theme of Edelstein’s speech, which preceded the European Parliament president’s address.
“The European Union will always stand by the State of Israel. Israel is a hope that came true for the Jewish people to live freely in its land. The dream became reality through courageous people,” Schulz stated. “Israeli society is built on the values of freedom and democracy, which tie it to Europe. Israel is a strong democracy with a modern economy. You made the desert bloom, and Israeli research leads in many areas.”
He said that Iran could not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, but that the way to prevent that from happening was via diplomacy.
As for European attempts to boycott Israel, he declared: “There is no boycott, and no boycott is under consideration. I believe we need to cooperate.”