Analysis from Israel

Back in June, Connecticut College philosophy professor Andrew Pessin proposed going on the offensive against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement by responding to every BDS proposal with a similar proposal targeting the Palestinian Authority’s terrorism, corruption, and human rights violations. I think it’s time to expand this terrific idea to the European Union following last week’s atrocious decision to apply special labeling requirements to Israeli produce of the West Bank, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. As a first step, I propose a worldwide campaign to label the produce of Spanish-occupied Catalonia and the Basque Country – not merely because these occupations have been around since long before the State of Israel was born, but because in contrast to Israel’s repeated efforts to negotiate solutions to its territorial disputes, the Spanish government has refused to even consider negotiating over Catalonian and Basque demands for independence.

In Catalonia, which has been occupied by Spain for hundreds of years (aside from a few brief interruptions), pro-independence parties currently control a majority of the provincial parliament. Nevertheless, the Spanish government adamantly rejected their plea to negotiate over their grievances.

Last year, Catalonia sought to hold a referendum on independence, but Spain’s Constitutional Court squelched the idea; consequently, the province had to make do with a nonbinding vote. Since standing in line to cast a meaningless ballot isn’t a terribly attractive proposition, turnout was unsurprisingly low (an estimated 37 to 41 percent). But a whopping 81 percent of those who did participate in the vote backed independence, reinforcing the impression left by an astounding demonstration in 2013 in which hundreds of thousands of Catalonians formed a 400-kilometer-long human chain to demand independence.

Earlier this month, an absolute majority of the Catalonian parliament passed legislation to begin the process of breaking away from Spain. But this legislation, too, was promptly suspended by Spain’s Constitutional Court.

In short, Catalonia has repeatedly sought to obtain independence from Spain by peaceful means. Yet the Spanish government has squelched every such effort.

In the Basque Country, an absolute majority of the Basque provincial legislature approved a bill calling for self-determination back in 2003, but Spain’s national parliament wouldn’t even discuss the issue. In 2008, the Basque parliament decided to hold a referendum on self-determination, but the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the vote couldn’t go ahead, just as it did in Catalonia’s case.

The Basque Nationalist Party appealed this decision to the European Court of Human Rights, but that court upheld the Spanish court’s ruling. Thus, it isn’t just Spain; the EU as a whole has been complicit in squelching the Basques’ desire for self-determination. Nevertheless, the Basques haven’t abandoned this desire; they periodically stage pro-independence demonstrations, and the province’s elected premier, inspired by Catalonia’s efforts, recently said he wants to make another stab at a referendum.

Incidentally, many pro-independence parties in the Basque Country haven’t even been allowed to run for office; Batasuna in 2003, EHAK in 2008, D3M in 2009 and Sortu in 2011 were all banned by Spain’s Supreme Court on the grounds that they had links with the Basque terrorist organization ETA. Yet Spain’s (justified) refusal to tolerate ties with terrorist organizations at home has never stopped it from demanding Israeli negotiations with and concessions to the PLO, whose various factions all proudly maintain “armed wings,” aka terrorist organizations.

The contrast between Spain’s treatment of Catalonian and Basque demands for independence and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian demands for independence couldn’t be starker. Whereas Spain adamantly refuses even to negotiate on the issue and has repeatedly squelched efforts to hold referendums, Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinians a state in most of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; it’s the Palestinians who have rejected these offers. Israel also actually withdrew from Gaza and parts of the West Bank to further the Palestinians’ quest for independence, whereas Spain has yet to vacate an inch of Catalonia or the Basque Country

Moreover, Israel has done all this despite rampant Palestinian terror throughout the years since the “peace process” began in 1993. In contrast, the Catalonian independence movement has never engaged in terror, while ETA has killed fewer people in almost five decades of activity than Palestinian terrorists did during the second intifada of 2000-05 alone, and has carried out no attacks at all since 2011. In other words, Israel would have far more excuse for intransigence than Spain does, because a Palestinian state shows every sign of being a real security threat to Israel, whereas Catalonia and the Basque country pose no comparable threat to Spain.

Israel also negotiated repeatedly with Syria on a land-for-peace deal in the Golan Heights. It was Syria’s meltdown into civil war that ultimately ended those negotiations.

It’s no secret that the EU’s labeling decision is a piece of unmitigated anti-Israel bias. As Prof. Eugene Kontorovich concisely explained in last week’s New York Times, it blatantly contradicts the EU’s own policy on other territorial disputes worldwide, as well as World Trade Organization rules and national court rulings in various European countries.

But if the EU believes labeling is the way to go, then the obvious place to start is at home. So it’s high time to begin labeling the produce of Spanish-occupied Catalonia and the Basque Country – two areas that, based on their track records, would be far more peaceful, productive members of the international community than a Palestinian state ever would.

Originally published in Commentary on November 19, 2015

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

Read more