At this juncture, it would be foolish to predict the full consequences of Brexit. One probability, however, is that Britain’s departure from the European Union will cause Israel to lose a few apologists in Brussels.
Those apologists include Britain’s Conservative members of the European Parliament. Geoffrey Van Orden, a representative of eastern England, excuses Israeli aggression with the haughty demeanor one would expect from a retired military officer (which he is).
Earlier this year, he accused Palestinians of “violent and frustrated envy” at Israel’s “success.”
Van Orden is in regular contact with the Israel lobby. He has admitted to being consulted by Alex Benjamin, a leading pro-Israel advocate in Brussels, about how the lobby organizes itself.
Benjamin, who heads the Europe Israel Public Affairs group, used to be a press officer for the cross-party alliance to which Van Orden belongs.
Named the European Conservatives and Reformists, it is the third largest such alliance in the parliament. As well as the British Conservatives, it comprises the far-right Danish People’s Party and a number of Christian Zionists.
Bas Belder, a Dutch politician, is among those Christian Zionists; hailing from a Calvinist background, he views Israel’s activities as the fulfilment of a biblical prophecy. Belder has said that “no day passes” without him thinking of Israel, his “second homeland.”
Belder may have flouted the European Parliament’s rules.
Press reports indicate that he has taken part in a number of trips hosted by pro-Israel organizations over the past few years.
Under a code of conduct, the parliament’s members are required to declare all trips paid for by pressure groups. No declarations have been uploaded to the parliament’s website for Belder since September 2014. I asked Belder why he has not published details of how his visits to the Middle East were financed; he did not reply.
Belder has bragged of how right-wing members of parliament have used their “political weight” to insist that policy documents criticizing Israel be watered down. In 2015, he wrote an article for The Jerusalem Post about his role in thwarting an attempt to have the European Parliament formally call for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners and for the labeling of goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Part of the European Conservative and Reformists’ work on Israel is undertaken by Elise Coolegem, the group’s adviser on Middle East policy. Last year, she and Belder signed an opinion piece, which recycled the Israeli government’s talking points on Hamas and Hizballah.
Coolegem has strong connections to Israel. Before her current job, she was an intern with the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv and with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a “think tank” in the nearby city of Herzliya. That institute seeks to cloak Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians with a veneer of intellectual gravitas. Among the hawks steering its activities are a former head of Mossad, Israel’s spying and assassination agency.
Israel’s embassy in Brussels has an entire division dealing with the European Parliament. Coolegem is known to liaise with Israeli diplomats and pro-Israeli lobbyists.
I emailed Coolegem seeking details of her working relationship with Israel and if she has received any payments from the Israeli state. Rather than answering those questions, she referred my query to Jan Krelina, a spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists. Krelina stated that the parliament’s rules forbid staff from being paid by “third parties” and “I can assure that all our employees strictly respect these rules.”
Krelina also stated that the “work of our staff requires professional contact” with various “diplomatic missions.” Fair enough. But there is a huge difference between “professional contact” and groveling.
Coolegem’s activities can be categorized as groveling, as can those of the politicians she advises.
The correct term for someone who defends a bully is a coward. The European Conservatives and Reformists are abject cowards determined to throw their “political weight” around in defense of that notorious bully Israel.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 June 2017.