On November 27, 2017, the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Palestine (DPal) held a conference, “Fifty Years of Occupation and Counting: Is it time for a new EU Policy on the Middle East Peace Process?” The conference featured politicians, academics, and NGO officials advocating Israel’s isolation and calling on the European Union and other countries to increase international pressure and to impose sanctions on Israel. None of the speakers advocated for dialogue and/or negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

A number of speakers – namely Michael Lynk, Valentina Azarova, and Hugh Lovatt – joined in a concerted effort to advocate sanctions against Israel based on the pseudo-legal argument that it is an “illegal occupant.” Several speakers additionally promoted false allegations and libelous claims against Israel that went entirely unchallenged.

From Differentiation to Sanctions

Michael Lynk, current “United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,”1 presented his latest report, which “considers whether Israel’s role as an entrenched and defiant occupant of the Palestinian territory has now reached the point of illegality under international law” (p. 7). Lynk admitted in his presentation that “International Humanitarian Law, the main documents and instruments, does not provide a clear answer with respect to that” (17:28:00).

However, in support of his contention that there is reasonable legal ground to declare Israel an “illegal occupant,” Lynk, who is self-reportedly “not an international lawyer… by profession,” purports to have “come up with four main principles that we can deduce from International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law… to determine whether or not the occupant has become an illegal occupant.” He concludes that “Israel has violated in the course of its 50 years of occupying the Palestinian territory, all four of these” (17:40:02).

Following his presentation, MEP Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA) addressed a comment to Lynk,

As far as I could hear, you went further then we here in the parliament has (sic) done up till now, saying the differentiation strategy should be the one we could call for, and every time Israel accuses us to go for the BDS [boycott, divestment, and sanctions]… they use all means to try to push us into this basket, then you paved the road to go into that basket! By saying that now, as Israel being an illegal occupant, we should really put sanctions on Israel, not only this differentiation (18:22:10, emphases added).

In her comment, Auken was referring to “differentiation” policy, a motif introduced by British NGO European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). ECFR uses this term to call for sanctions against Israeli entities (and certain individuals) that have activities in or apparent financial contacts with Israeli settlements, claiming that this does not constitute BDS. (Hugh Lovatt, Policy Fellow and Israel/Palestine Project Coordinator at ECFR, who “has worked extensively to advance the concept of ‘EU Differentiation’,” also spoke at the event).

In his reply to Auken, Lynk affirmed that “essentially what it comes down to is yes… With respect to your power in Europe. You know, Israel is a trading nation. Israel depends heavily on its trade with the outside world. The European Union is its greatest single trading bloc. You must not walk away from the authority and the power you have from doing that…” (emphases added). Lynk continued to quote Hagai Elad, executive director of Israeli NGO B’Tselem, in saying that “Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one day and realizing the brutality of its… policies, we need your help” (18:26:27).

Similarly, at an October 2017 press briefing promoting his report at the UN, Lynk called on the international community to “begin to review Israel’s status as a law-abiding member state of the United Nations” (11:39), suggesting “unified actions on an escalating basis” (17:44, emphasis added):

If there was an understanding that all of a sudden Israelis wanting to travel abroad needed to have visas, if all of a sudden Israel wasn’t going to get preferential trading agreements with the EU. If all of a sudden, the many and multitude of forms of military or economic cooperation or academic cooperation with Israel were now going to come to an end as long as Israel continued that, I think you’d begin to see a sea-change in the attitude of ordinary Israelis and in the attitude of the Israeli government (18:36, emphasis added).

ECFR – Redoubling Efforts to Isolate Israel

Lynk’s report and presentation echoed a series of reports published by ECFR in June 2017, “Israel’s unlawfully prolonged occupation: consequences under an integrated legal framework,” by Valentina Azarova, and “Rethinking Oslo: How Europe can promote peace in Israel-Palestine,” by Omar Dajani and Hugh Lovatt. In contrast to previous ECFR reports, such as “EU Differentiation and Israeli settlements” (by Hugh Lovatt and Mattia Toaldo, July 2015), these reports do not only target the settlements, and instead call for sanctions against the State of Israel.

Azarova – who has a history of consulting and advising NGOs that promote “lawfare” against Israel, including FIDH, Diakonia, and Al-Haq – argues in her report that “Israel’s illegal use of force to prolong its occupation has created an unlawful situation that third party states are tasked to bring to an end under the international law on state responsibility” (emphasis added). Arguing that “third parties have an obligation to put an end to an occupier’s violations through collective and unilateral measures” (emphasis added), the report further advocates extreme international action against Israel, suggesting that “the UN Security Council may act in accordance with its authority under the UN Charter to determine that such acts are ‘crimes against peace’ which therefore constitute an international threat to peace and security” (emphasis added).

In her presentation, Azarova went as far as to question Israel’s right to self-defense, arguing that “states that maintain such situations [unlawfully prolonged occupation], occupying states, are precluded from lawfully availing themselves of the tactical measures of legitimate occupying powers, for instance, when sporadic violence from within the territory takes place” (17:55:18, emphasis added).

Similarly, Lovatt’s report, “Rethinking Oslo: How Europe can Promote Peace in Israel-Palestine” – published shortly after Azarova’s report and citing it extensively – calls euphemistically for “Deepening and broadening differentiation” and suggests “Other measures [that] could be modelled on the EU’s much more forceful reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol in March 2014.” These include “Imposing targeted sanctions upon persons or entities providing support to or benefitting from Israel’s unlawful practices in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], including its illegal annexation of Palestinian territory” (emphasis added). The report further argues that “such recommendations illustrate how much more the EU can do – and indeed has done in other contexts when it mustered the political willingness. They also demonstrate that ‘differentiation’ measures represent an exceptionally modest step given the seriousness of the situation on the ground” (emphasis added).

In his presentation at the event, Lovatt repeated Azarova’s accusation that “we’re now in a situation of an unlawfully prolonged occupation,” adding that “In such a situation the third party states are under an obligation to work to bring to an end this occupation, because Israel can be seen as no longer a lawfully occupying power” (19:19:45). Lovatt further implied that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ought to be shunned in Europe, stating,

Sir Netanyahu will come here on the 11th of December, and likely expects to be greeted by all 28 member states’ foreign ministers. And he probably will! What does this say about those who warn Israel about growing isolation? What does it say about those who warn that Israel’s prolonged occupation will have consequences on its international relations? (19:25:31, emphasis added)

The presentations and reports by Lynk, Azarova, and Lovatt are part of ongoing, broader efforts to escalate international hostility towards Israel and turn Israel into a pariah state.

For instance, on June 15, 2017, all three spoke at an event co-hosted by the London School of Economics and ECFR, titled “Can an Occupation Become Unlawful? Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories and third party responsibilities.” The event posed the questions, “Has Israel’s prolonged occupation become illegal? And what does this mean for Palestinian rights and third state responsibilities?”

Libelous Claims

A number of speakers at the EP event voiced blatant falsehoods and libelous claims in order to argue for international measures against Israel. These also went unchallenged by participants and audience members.

MEP Neoklis Sylikiotis (GUE/NGL), chair of DPal, accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” (16:35:00) and referred to “Our Palestinian Arab friends, in Israel especially, which are subject to political limitations, their rights are violated, they live in a system of apartheid, which is implemented by Israel” (16:40:55, emphases added).

Professor Younis Amro, president of Al-Quds Open University, voiced the historical fabrication that “In 1948 Israel was established, and uprooted the Palestinian who lives (sic) on these territories… and started the Palestinian diaspora by the power of fire and terrorism” (16:55:50, emphasis added). In a thinly veiled attempt to rationalize terrorism, Amro added that “The Palestinians have given tens of thousands of martyrs” (16:58:30) and that “The end of the Israeli occupation for (sic) the Palestinian land will… eliminate the justification for… [terrorist] organizations” (17:03:20).

Thomas Hammarberg, EU Special Adviser on Constitutional and Legal Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, accused Israel of “a theft policy when it comes to water” (18:06:09, emphasis added), concluding that “the occupation must stop, it is illegal” (18:08:25). Hammarberg was Secretary General of the NGO Save the Children Sweden (1986–92) and Secretary General of Amnesty International (1980–86).

One of Lynk’s predecessors, Professor Richard Falk, alleged that Israel “has kept the people of Gaza in captivity, the open-air prison in which the prisoners are periodically subjected to a massive attack” (18:39:29, emphasis added). In an attempt to delegitimize Zionism and the State of Israel in their entirety, Falk claimed that “the occupation has never been, from its inception in 1967, thought of as carrying out the central objectives of the Geneva approach. Instead, it has served as an instrument of realization of the vision of Greater Israel that has always animated the Zionist movement” (18:40:55).

Falk has an extensive history of propagating libelous and unfounded claims against Israel. Reportedly an endorser of “9/11 conspiracy theories,” Falk has been widely denounced, including by the former Secretary-General of the UN, for vile comments blaming the Boston terrorist attack on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv.” He is also the author of an article “Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust” that compares Israel to Nazi Germany, and he has been condemned for publishing an antisemitic cartoon on his blog.

Finally, Bichara Khader, Professor Emeritus at the Catholic University of Louvain, stated that “aid should not be used to tame the Palestinian resistance” and urged “Europe” to “support the third Intifada, peaceful Intifada, which is the BDS campaign” (19:08:27, emphasis added).