Arab MKs flew to Brussels this week to tell European lawmakers and diplomats that Israel is violating the terms of its trade agreement with the EU.
The delegation – consisting of Joint List MKs Yousef Jabareen, Masud Gnaim, Jamal Zahalka and Aida Touma-Sliman – argued that Israel is violating the article of the 1995 EU-Israel Association Agreement calling for the protection of human rights and democratic values.
According to the EU website: “The agreement states that the respect for human rights and democratic principles guides the internal and international policy of both Israel and the EU and constitutes an essential and positive element of the agreement. At Israel’s request, there is a Joint Declaration on the importance both parties attach to the struggle against xenophobia, antisemitism and racism.”
Jabareen said Wednesday that the MKs emphasized in their meetings that “the Association Agreement between the EU and Israel includes clear instructions that Israel must protect human rights and democratic values. Violating that article is violating the agreement. There is a legal argument against the EU that they need to enforce this article and take it seriously.”
The delegation demanded that the EU step in, and that “if Israel continues to blatantly violate rights of Arabs in Israel and of the Palestinians, they need to rethink the agreement,” Jabareen said.
“Israel can’t enjoy the economic advantages the EU grants it, but be unprepared to ensure the values of human rights EU includes in agreements,” Jabareen continued.
The Joint List delegation met with EU Middle East envoy Colin Scicluna and chairman of the European Parliament Human Rights Committee Antonio Panzeri, as well as representatives of all 28 EU member states and all European Parliament factions. It also participated in a meeting of the Belgian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“In general we feel people are willing to hear us out on the issues we bring up, because protecting human rights and democracy are principles and values the EU is proud of,” Jabareen said.
During the meetings, MKs also demanded that the EU intervene to stop the passage of the Jewish nation-state bill.
The bill, supported by the coalition, is a proposed Basic Law that says that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and reestablishes in law the anthem and flag, among other national symbols and norms. Opposition critics say the bill gives Jewish citizens primacy, and point specifically to an article saying Hebrew is an official language, while Arabic has special status.
Jabareen said the European officials he met were “specifically sensitive to the article about Arabic language, because they are sensitive to multiculturalism, and said they are willing to act against the Israeli government. We called on them to do so immediately.”
The Joint List MK described seeing the multilingual European and Belgian parliaments, and said “Israel is very far from reaching European standards.”
Arabic, he pointed out, “can’t be used in many public places, such as government offices or the parliament or in court.”
Arabic is the only language other than Hebrew that may be spoken on the Knesset stage without special permission, but most Israeli lawmakers do not understand the language well.
The MKs also spoke out against what they called Israel’s “discriminatory and racist policies toward the Arab public,” including the demolition of illegally constructed homes.
In addition, they opposed the idea of having Israeli Arabs in the Wadi Ara area become citizens of a future Palestinian state and lose their Israeli citizen, a proposal that only Yisrael Beytenu, which has five seats in the Knesset, has in its platform.
A Joint List spokesman called the trip unprecedented for Israeli-Arab lawmakers, in the size of the delegation and the number of officials they met.
Speaking on the Knesset’s podium, Likud MK Anat Berko said the EU is motivated by “pure antisemitism” to intervene in Israel’s affairs, and the Joint List MKs are “a cheerleading squad” encouraging them.
“They’re using their diplomatic passports and immunity to work against Israel,” Berko said.
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli said that, while he criticizes the government and thinks it has promoted anti-democratic policies, the Joint List MKs’ actions were harmful.
“It’s not clear to me if such extreme and unfounded statements are meant to improve their reality, or their political situation,” Shmuli said. “We have many challenges in eradicating inequality and discrimination, but Israel has taken major steps toward integrating minorities in society, and it would he unfortunate to try to destroy those efforts.”
Shmuli also said that attempts to isolate Israel “are not meant to promote peace and dialogue; rather, they’re meant to demonize Israel and lead us all to a dead end, strengthening extremists.”