21st Feb 2024


Israeli 'hasbara' deployed versus former EU leaders

  • Catherine Ashton, the Union''s current foreign policy chief, has chosen Israel and the West Bank for her first working trip abroad this year. (Photo: Brian Negin)

One of Israel's most dubious inventions is a form of public relations generally unconnected to the truth. It is called "hasbara" - a Hebrew term that has no "real, precise" translation into other languages, according to a senior Israeli diplomat Gideon Meir.

The hasbara machine was cranked into action early in 2011. On New Year's Eve, Jawaher Abu Rahmah collapsed from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during the weekly protest against the massive wall that penetrates deep into her native Bilin, a West Bank village. After she died the following morning, the Israeli army spread malicious rumours – reported faithfully in some newspapers that she may not have attended the demonstration and instead perished from cancer.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The practice of hasbara is not restricted to official organs of the Israeli state, as a recent article by Daniel Mariaschin from the Zionist lobby group B'nai B'rith illustrated ("Europe's misguided meddling in Israel", EUobserver, 5 January). In taking a swipe at 26 former office-holders who have appealed for EU sanctions against Israel if it does not halt the expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Mr Mariaschin attempts to dress up several falsehoods as facts.

Mr Mariaschin asserts that the signatories of the appeal, including Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief for most of the past decade, all know Israel well and are surely familiar with its desire for peace. Yet he provides not one shred of evidence to prove that Israel, the world''s third highest spender on the military (as a proportion of gross domestic product) and the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons, has a "desire for peace".

He defends the construction of exclusively Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem by claiming that Jerusalem has been the "capital of Israel for 3,000 years". This perception has no basis in international law. In 1980, the United Nations Security Council declared Israel's claims over East Jerusalem to be "null and void".

Just as absurdly, Mr Mariaschin argues that Israel's control over Jerusalem "enables Jews, Christians and Muslims each to freely worship at their own holy sites in the city". Where was that magical freedom in 2010, when Israel sealed off crossings in order to stop Christians in the West Bank from celebrating Easter in Jerusalem?

And he regurgitates the trite Israeli line that it "withdrew" from Gaza in 2005, only to be bombarded by rockets from Hamas. He neglects to mention that Hamas observed an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel between June and November 2008. It was Israel which resumed the cycle of violence by attacking Gaza on 4 November that year, a day when the world was preoccupied with election of a new American president.

Israel's dismantling of its settlements in Gaza does not alter the area's status; the 1907 Hague regulations make clear that a territory is occupied when a foreign power exerts "effective control" over it. As part of its determination to maintain control of Gaza, Israel has imposed a brutal blockade by land and by sea. Gaza's fishermen, for example, are regularly fired at by Israeli naval vessels while doing nothing more sinister than trying to earn a living.

Nonetheless, I have some sympathy for Mr Mariaschin's observation that the Palestinian leadership "is on its way to betraying its own people". If the "leadership" he is referring to is the Palestinian Authority, then I would go further by saying that it has been engaged in a steady process of betrayal. A US diplomatic cable made public lately by WikiLeaks indicates that Mahmoud Abbas, the authority''s "president" (his mandate expired in 2009) was told in advance about Israel's plans to bomb Gaza in late 2008 but that he was so fixated on the rivalry between Hamas and his party Fatah that he kept silent.

To its shame, the European Union has been putting pressure on Mr Abbas to act as a quisling. The late scholar Edward Said drew a distinction between how Fatah has behaved in the occupied territories and how the African National Congress (ANC) behaved in South Africa. Even after the ANC was granted recognition by the apartheid regime, it refused to supply police "in order to avoid appearing as the white government''s enforcer," he wrote.

This is in stark contrast with the situation in the West Bank; during 2011, the EU will give more than €8 million to the Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (COPPS). This "mission" is confined to a sliver of the West Bank; Palestinian police trained under it may only arrest their kinfolk, not Israeli settlers on stolen land. In other words, the Palestinians are being required to police their own occupation with unwitting assistance from the European taxpayer.

Shamefully, too, the EU has been helping Israel to hone a neo-colonial "divide and rule" strategy in the occupied territories. Catherine Ashton, the Union''s current foreign policy chief, has chosen Israel and the West Bank for her first working trip abroad this year.

Although she met Fatah representatives, she refused to talk to anyone from Hamas, the victors of parliamentary elections in 2006 that official EU monitors deemed to be free and fair. The EU's decision to ostracise Hamas – originally taken under pressure from Washington – does nothing to advance the search for peace to which the Union is rhetorically committed. Rather, it advances Israeli imperialism and the attendant dispossession of the Palestinians.

It is telling that senior politicians wait until they have left office before they criticise Israel. Before stepping down in 2009, Javier Solana exulted in how Israel enjoys a closer relationship with the EU than any other state outside the Union's borders. Participating in EU programmes ranging from archaeology to enterprise promotion, Israel is a member of the Union, without being a member of its institutions, Solana noted.

The widespread public revulsion in Europe at how Israel treats the Palestinians as subhuman is not shared by our leaders. True, they feign concern every so often from one side of their mouths. From the other, they give Israel all the support it needs to keep subjugating an entire people.

David Cronin's book "Europe''s Alliance With Israel: Aiding the Occupation" is published by Pluto Press (


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack

The EU-Israel association trade agreement enabled €46.8bn of trade last year. Exports rose for both parties by around 20 percent in 2022. As the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "Yes, we have the capacity to influence [Israel]."

'Crying wolf' win for chemicals lobby at Antwerp EU meeting

EU politicians will cosy up with Big Toxics at a secretive event on Tuesday to discuss a new 'European Industrial Deal' — a blatant showcase of corporate capture and an attempt to shift the political agenda in a profit-minded direction.

EU plan to let 17-year olds drive trucks is crazy

It's an astonishing proposition rooted in political interest rather than facts, with potentially dire consequences for all road users — especially for people who walk and cycle, warns the European Cycling Federation.

Navalny executed by Putin — another sacrificial victim

It happened. The Kremlin has finally managed to kill Alexei Navalny, the major political opponent of the regime run by Vladimir Putin for the last quarter of the century. Yet another dramatic watershed in the history of his country.

EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack

The EU-Israel association trade agreement enabled €46.8bn of trade last year. Exports rose for both parties by around 20 percent in 2022. As the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "Yes, we have the capacity to influence [Israel]."

Latest News

  1. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  2. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  3. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  4. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  5. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  6. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines
  7. EU urban-rural divide not bridged by cohesion policy, report finds
  8. Impending Rafah disaster shows up politics of humanitarian aid

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us