(photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG/POOL)
The European Union “can go to a thousand hells,” National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday, as he added fuel to the fire of the growing tension between the EU and Israel.
On Tuesday the EU called on Israel not to pursue “human rights defenders.”
It asked Israel not to deport Omar Shakir, the local director of Human Rights Watch, and called on Israel to investigate the arrest and alleged beating of Israeli-Arab activist Jafar Farah during a Haifa demonstration.
EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret on Tuesday visited Farah, who directs the Mossawa Center – the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and spoke there with Israeli-Arab civic society organizers.
“Are they [the EU ] picking on us?” asked Steinitz in an interview he gave to Ayala Hasson on Radio 103 FM.
Israel is a state of rules and laws, said Steinitz, adding that the police was investigating the Haifa incident.
The EU statement only shows “how vile it is,” Steinitz said, adding that “it’s the height of cynicism and chutzpah.”
“Iran executes and tortures homosexuals, violates women’s rights, not to talk about what its doing in the Middle East, its support of terrorism, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who uses chemical weapons against [his] people,” Steiniz said. In spite of this, the EU chose to go after Israel, he said.
The EU is a body that is not led by anyone and is unlikely to change its stance on Israel, even though individual European countries have strengthened their ties with the Jewish state, Steinitz said.
The EU statement comes as it works to rescue the Iran nuclear deal in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from it earlier this month. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Russia, which are also signatories to the 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, hope to sway Tehran to adhere to the agreement.
The US and Israel hope that a new and better deal can be worked out.
Steinitz said an improved agreement that deals with the problem of Iran’s ballistic missiles would only be beneficial to Europe. It has an interest from preventing such missiles from reaching London or Paris, he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Saint Petersburg on Thursday to seek Moscow’s help in salvaging the deal.
Macron hopes to entice all sides into a grand bargain that would tackle Tehran’s nuclear program and also address fears over its ballistic missile activity and regional influence, as a means of bringing the United States back into the fold.
“We must have a frank dialogue with Russia, but also a demanding dialogue,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio.
A senior French diplomat was more direct: “A lot needs to be done to convince the Russians, because it has interests in the Middle East, especially Syria, and its stance toward the West is aggressive.”Reuters contributed to this report.