European Union Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of distorting history by alluding to a connection between labeling of settlement products and the Holocaust.
His remarks came at the end of the fourth annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, during which Netanyahu spoke against the EU’s decision last week to publish guidelines that provide member states with instructions to label products produced over the Green Line as “non-Israeli.”
“This is absolutely absurd and morally abhorrent, because on the soil of Europe within living memory, Jewish products were labeled, Jewish stores were labeled,” Netanyahu said, invoking the Holocaust.
The EU is singling out Israel as the only country for which the EU has produced such guidelines, while 200 countries are currently engaged in territorial conflicts around the world, Netanyahu said.
Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference: EU Envoy Lars Faaborg-Andersen
“They say it’s because of their frustration [over the lack of progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement],” the prime minister said. “We’ve been fighting for our lives for 100 years.”
Faaborg-Andersen took issue with Netanyahu’s comments and that of other speakers at the conference, and hit back against the comparisons of the EU’s labeling of settlement products to the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.
“I’ve been shocked to hear claims of anti-Semitism and historical comparisons or analogies to the persecution of Jews in Germany in the ’30s and ’40s,” he said. “In my mind this is a distortion of history and belittlement of the crimes of the Nazis, and the memory of their victims,” Faaborg-Andersen said.
“The European Union has been accused of a variety of sins, including today from this podium: anti-Semitism, hypocrisy, immorality, rewarding terrorism, destroying Palestinian jobs.
These allegations have been made by people coming from the highest echelons in this country,” he said.
He was particularly disturbed to hear that Israelis consider the labeling to be a boycott.
“Talk of a European boycott just does not stand up to a reality check. Let me say loud and clear: Europe is not boycotting Israel, and Europe is not boycotting settlements,” he said.
Israel’s trade with the UK has doubled since Britain began labeling settlement products in 2009, Faaborg-Andersen said.
He added that he opposes boycotts and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and that products from the settlements will continue to enter EU markets.
He dismissed claims of European hypocrisy over the fact that the EU does not label products from other conflict-ridden countries around the world.
“These comparisons are simply not relevant because the situations are different,” he said.
The envoy also stressed that the labeling of the settlement products is not meant to preempt the outcome of negotiations.
“The EU said it will accept mutually agreed changes to the pre-67 lines, or whatever the parties can agree on. However, until such an agreement is reached, it will continue to differentiate between Israel within internationally recognized borders and the settlements outside those borders,” he said.
The EU’s relations with Israel, he stressed, are among the “closest, most diverse and most intense the EU has with any non-member state,” with trade increasing over the last 10 years from €20 billion to 30 billion a year.
“How can a partner and friend invest hundreds of millions in a country and still be accused of boycotting it?” he asked. “We have everything to lose from looking only at the empty half of the glass; we have everything to gain from focusing on what we can accomplish together.”
Europe acts as if Israel were liable for the conflict, Netanyahu said during a 40-minute interview with The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic reporter, Herb Keinon.
Comments late last week by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom linking ISISbacked attacks in France with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were part of a misguided belief that terrorism can be pacified, Netanyahu said.
The comments represent a “fundamental misunderstanding of the source of terrorism,” the prime minister said.
There is a battle in the Arab world between modernity and early medievalism that has risen to the surface in the absence of authoritarian state systems, he said.
Separately, he added, there is a century-old struggle between Jewish and Palestinian nationalism, with the Palestinians refusing to accept that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.
“Lately this Palestinian rejectionism has become confused with militant Islam,” Netanyahu said. He added that the Palestinian people who live in Gaza are now governed by militant Islamists.
For a long time, he said, the larger Middle Eastern conflict within Islam was subsumed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of violence in the Middle East “is ridiculous,” he said. “It was always ridiculous but it is particularly ridiculous today.”
Israel, he said, is not to blame for Palestinian attacks against it, or for global Islamic terrorism – the newest absurd charge against the country, he said.
“We are not to blame any more than the people of Paris are to blame,” he said.
“Now there is a new twist – not just that we are to blame for the terrorism that is directed against us, but we are to blame for the terrorism directed against them,” Netanyahu said. “That is an absurdity that is comical if it were not so tragic.”
What is true, he said, is that a strong and democratic Israel is one of the main safeguards against the spread of militant Islam in the Middle East. “We are not the cause, we are the obstacle,” Netanyahu said.
The international community must fight radical Islamist terrorism like it once fought the Nazis, he added. “You are not going to change them. You will not win them over. You will not pacify them. The only way to defeat them is the way you defeated Nazism.”