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19th Oct 2018

EU parliament discourse on Israel boils over after flotilla attack

  • A Jordanian protest against the Israeli assault on the aid ship (Photo: 7iber dot Com)

The EU parliament has escalated its rhetoric in the wake of the killings of civilians in a humanitarian mission to Gaza, with MEPs of all political hues publicly using words such as "terrorism," "kidnapping," "revulsion," and even "obscene" to describe Israel's actions.

Somewhat more free from the realpolitik of the member states and the European Commission, the parliament has been the strongest EU critic of the Jewish state even in times of relative harmony in EU-Israel relations, although this sort of language is normally beyond the pale for all but far-left members of the house.

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"The state of Israel is acting like a common terrorist. The international community cannot let this go on anymore," Luxembourg centre-left MEP Robert Goebbels, previously the country's economy minister for 10 years, told reporters on Tuesday (1 June), speaking as part of a a cross-party group of socialist, social democrat, liberal and Green MEPs who had visited the Gaza strip as part of a parliamentary delegation in January.

"It is a case for the International Criminal Court. The ICC has to look at this act of piracy in international waters," he added. He went on to describe the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip as "a kind of gulag."

Niccolo Rinaldi, a vice-president of the Liberal group in the parliament and an Italian MEP, called the events "morally obscene."

"It is absolutely unprecedented. I don't think there has ever been any similar case to the one that took place yesterday," he said, adding that the lack of sanction against Tel Aviv by the international community has "led Israel to think it can do whatever it wants to peaceful people."

Nessa Childers, an Irish Labour MEP, said that Israel is "acting with impunity," and denounced the capture of civilians in international waters as "kidnapping."

Alexandra Thein, a German Free Democrat, had intended to participate in the flotilla but pulled out at the last minute, afraid that Israel would attack the boats: "Yesterday morning when I got up and heard the news, I was shocked and just happy that I was alive. I had wanted to go on the boat."

Saluting the "courage" of those aboard, she called on the European Parliament to organise its own boat to try to break the blockade.

The MEPs called on the EU to suspend the bloc's Association Agreement with Israel and for the OECD to pause its talks with the country over its accession to the international organisation.

They are expecting a strong resolution in the chamber condemning the assault.

EP chief: 'End the siege of Gaza'

Jerzy Buzek, the Polish centre-right president of the chamber, was only slightly more moderate, calling the Israeli actions "unjustified" and "unacceptable."

Although his own political party, the European People's Party, was not present at the Tuesday press conference, as the group had not participated in the January mission, he issued a joint statement late on Sunday together with a second delegation of deputies, including centre-right and conservative members, who visited Gaza last week, expressing his "deep shock" at the "disproportionate action taken by the Israeli authorities." He said he "strongly condemn[s] the attack."

"It is a clear and unacceptable breach of international law," he added, demanding that the EU's foreign policy chief move to force Israel to allow access to the Gaza Strip, calling the blockade a "siege."

"The European Parliament also urges high representative [Catherine] Ashton to take steps within the Quartet to force Israel to lift the siege on the people of Gaza immediately and unconditionally. We cannot stand by while 80 percent of the Gazan population is living below the poverty line," he said.

The head of the centre-left group in the house, German MEP Martin Schulz, talked of "revulsion" at what happened, saying: "Israel has crossed a line in the military action shown on our television screens today."

Not every MEP is taking such a strong line, however. Joseph Daul, the chief of the EPP group in the parliament, while expressing "shock" at the "excessive force," also sought a mitigating explanation for the violence.

"Many questions have to be answered, like: What is the explanation for such an excessive use of force? Was there a life-threatening resistance to justify the use of live ammunition?" Mr Daul said in a statement on Sunday.

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