“You don’t have to be polite. We’re Israeli, we’re used to it,” MK Michal Biran (Labor) told a group of European parliamentary aides Wednesday, and then proceeded, along with her colleagues, to give her take on Israel-Europe relations. Political correctness be damned.
Biran, MK David Tsur (Hatnua) and MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) spoke on a panel as part of Parley-Young Legislators Conference, which brought parliamentary aides from nine European countries to Israel to get a close look at the country.
The conference was planned by students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem participating in public diplomacy NGO StandWithUs’s Israel fellowship – in which university students formulate a project to educate people around the world about Israel.
Parley’s organizers hope to influence future European leaders.
“When a conflict starts, Europeans don’t want to be confused by the facts. I know that’s not politically correct,” Tsur quipped. “Europeans are so naive, they want to give money to Hamas and then feel like their conscience is okay.”
The Hatnua MK complained that, in an interview with a radio show in the UK, the hosts said that Hamas rockets are “like fireworks.”
He said that the IDF tries to pinpoint strikes in Gaza and that sometimes innocent people nearby die, but it is “ridiculous to call that a war crime.”
“We’re not happy about the casualties on the other side, but we mourn our casualties too,” he added.
“We face hypocrisy in Europe. Human Rights in Israel are undoubtable. The UN Human Rights Commission was run by a representative of [former Libyan dictator Muammar] Qaddafi! I’m sure we have lots to learn from Qaddafi on human rights,” Tsur said sarcastically.
Tsur warned the parliamentary aides: “Volunteers in the war between Shia and Sunni will come back to Europe eventually...
Israel is on the front fighting radical Islamists today, but tomorrow they will come to Europe.”
Biran accused Scandinavian countries of hypocrisy when asked about their efforts to throw Israel’s Labor Party from the Socialist International.
“We are left-wing. We don’t agree with [Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu]...
We’re raising hell in the opposition... We’re also Zionists and we think we have a right to live in a Jewish State,” Biran said. “The thing that annoys me about Europeans criticizing us is that they come to Tel Aviv with their same-sex partners, but they wouldn’t go to Gaza, because they’d be hanged.”
Biran recounted being snubbed by Scandinavians at Socialist International conventions, saying their attitude is not constructive.
“They won’t even say hello to us. This is hypocrisy. They expect us to speak to the Palestinians, when there’s bloodshed on both sides, but they won’t even say hello to us?” she asked.
Haggai Weiss, a spokesman for the Parley conference, called the project a success, which showed the visiting parliamentary aides that “reality is complex, not black and white” and gave them “varied and honest answers so they can choose the perspective with which they will go home.”
The number of participants in the delegation went down from 18 to 12 as a result of Operation Protective Edge, but the content did not change, including talks by former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter, Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh and former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Engelrad, and a tour of a Teva plant. The aides also experienced Tel Aviv nightlife, going to a bar with some of their Israeli counterparts, and took a Segway tour of Jerusalem.
The conference was paid for partly by crowd-funding and partly by anonymous donors.
The project’s goal, Weiss said, is “to expose [aides] to the reality, and for them to feel personally connected so that, in the future, when they write policy, this experience will influence them.”
“Parliamentary aides deal with legislation and policy every day, and we think that in the future there’s a good chance they will be leaders,” he said.
Abby Kay, parliamentary aide to Conservative UK MP and Minister in the Home Office Karen Bradley called the trip “absolutely amazing.”
“I came to understand more about the Israeli side of things. I think British media is one-sided in its reporting. I got a chance to speak to distinguished people and understand how ordinary Israelis feel about Palestinian issues and domestic issues, too. I now have a better understanding of the conflict and how people in the West can think about it in a slightly different way,” she said.
Kay said Bradley is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, has been to Israel, and was especially taken aback on a trip to Sderot, where she saw bomb shelters in playgrounds.
“She’s pro-Israel, but she realizes it’s not black and white. You can’t just be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. There are too many complexities,” Kay said.