Even as President Barack Obama was arguing that Iranian anti-Semitism would never trump the country’s interests (as he defines them), an interesting case study in that theory was playing out in a very different venue: Europe. True, the European version doesn’t involve the classic anti-Semite’s obsession with individual Jews, but only the “new” anti-Semitism’s obsession with the Jewish state. Nevertheless, the results aren’t encouraging. In the past week alone, in the name of that obsession, one European country has gutted its own constitution and a second has endangered several of its leading commercial companies.
The first case involved a report by the Swedish parliament’s Committee on the Constitution, which concluded that Prime Minister Stefan Loefvan’s government violated proper legal procedure in its recognition of “Palestine” last year. The report said the government announced the decision and even instructed Swedish embassies worldwide to put it into practice without consulting parliament’s Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs, as required, and without taking other necessary preparatory steps, such as consulting with the European Union. The report was issued unanimously; even members of Loefvan’s own party signed it.
And then, having unequivocally declared the decision to be in procedural violation of Swedish constitutional law, the committee said the recognition of “Palestine” should nevertheless stand, because that’s a “political” issue on which the panel can’t intervene. In other words, it declared that not only can Loefvan violate Swedish law with impunity, but the illegal decision he made won’t be overturned.
Thus for the sake of catering to Sweden’s pervasive anti-Israel sentiment, Swedish parliamentarians have created a precedent that future premiers will be able to use to justify violating constitutional procedure in other cases. After all, if this unconstitutional move was allowed to stand, why shouldn’t others be? And letting a constitution to be violated with impunity is the surest way to destroy it.
That’s a very high price to pay for indulging anti-Israel animus, but Sweden is evidently willing to pay it.
Case number two involved the statement by a French cellphone company’s CEO that he would like to stop doing business in Israel in order to appease anti-Israel boycotters. Some French government officials promptly leapt to his defense: French Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud, for instance, argued that Orange’s Israeli franchisee operates in the settlements and, under the Fourth Geneva Convention, “settlement policy in occupied territories is illegal. It is illegal to contribute to it in any way.” In other words, Orange’s Israeli operations violate international law.
Nor is Araud exceptional: Many European officials are increasingly pushing this view. In 2013, for instance, the Dutch water company Vitens canceled a deal with Israeli company Mekorot after the Dutch government warned of potential legal problems stemming from Mekorot’s operations in the settlements.
As law professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out, this happens to be false: Even if you consider the West Bank occupied territory, neither international law nor European law bans private companies from doing business in occupied territory.
But Kontorovich also noted that many leading European companies do business in other occupied territories, including French oil company Total in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara and French tire giant Michelin in Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus. So if any European country actually succeeds in declaring private business in “Israeli-occupied territory” illegal, activists in places like Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus will pounce on that precedent to sue European businesses operating in their territories.
Araud, for one, clearly doesn’t get this. When Kontorovich pointed it out to him on Twitter, he offered the following astonishing response: “I speak of one occupied territory. I am answered on other territories.”
But if something is the law for one occupied territory, then it’s the law for all occupied territories; as Kontorovich noted, law by definition is “a rule that applies to similar situations.” Thus by pushing the line that business activity in “Israeli-occupied territory” is illegal, European officials are making their own companies vulnerable to lawsuits from occupied territories ’round the world.
Again, that seems like a high price to pay for indulging anti-Israel animus, but many European officials are evidently willing to pay it.
I’ve written before about cases of European officials undermining cherished values and interests for the sake of indulging anti-Israel animus, but such cases used to be exceptional. Now, if the past week is any indication, they are rapidly becoming the norm. A growing number of Europeans are evidently willing to sacrifice both their democracies and their economies on the altar of their obsession with Israel.
But not to worry – Obama says anti-Semites are rational. And why let the facts interfere with a good story?
Originally published in Commentary on June 5, 2015