Is Eastern Europe the next front for fighting the occupation?

While Israel’s behavior has managed to antagonize many European countries, some former Soviet states have yet to take a stand against the occupation. That may just change soon enough.

By Inna Michaeli

Israeli Foreign Minister and chairman of Israel Beitenu, Avigdor Lieberman (photo: Israel IMFA / flickr)
Israeli Foreign Minister and chairman of Israel Beitenu, Avigdor Lieberman (photo: Israel IMFA / flickr)

The vile and repugnant behavior of Avigdor Liberman and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs toward Sweden (one of my favorite countries) has re-lit a spark of optimism. At least among those of us who hope that international pressure will force Israel to end the occupation.

When it comes to international relations it isn’t the human rights violations or war crimes that cause antagonism toward Israel. Rather, it is the use of tactics such as “defense is the best offense” and representatives such as Liberman that do the trick. But the journey from interpersonal hostility to sanctions is long, much like the journey from headline-making political theater to actual change in policy. It seems, however, like those roots are being firmly planted.

Four years ago I traveled to Brussels for a series of meetings at the European Union as part of my previous job with Coalition of Women for Peace. It was a year after Liberman was appointed foreign minister. During that year, he not only managed to cause the entire EU leadership to hate him, he also brought up fond memories of his predecessor, Tzipi Livni.

Pearl of wisdom #1: Diplomatic work is superficial

It doesn’t matter that as part of her job Livni worked to whitewash mass killings during the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. For her European colleagues, Livni was far easier to work with. Liberman’s macho chic, not to mention his caveman style, was less successful.

Understanding the goings-on in the corridors of the European Union is like an allegory for understanding art history. In art history, one learns a lot about the gossipy relationships between the different artists. The EU gives similar weight to interpersonal relationships, and its agenda is affected by fads. Truly, it’s all very tiring.

So what is the positive side of it all? Israeli behavior leads to antagonism against it, mostly due to a series of personal and national attacks.

Pearl of wisdom #2: Your political opinions don’t matter, and no one likes feeling like an idiot

I met diplomats from the EU’s “new member states” – Central and Eastern European countries with a socialist past that were allowed to join in 2004 and 2007. They include Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Baltic states. Calling them the “new member states” is actually a bit insulting: they are technically included in the European Union, but no one really cares about them. However, in the case of Israel they actually carry some weight, especially since they typically refrain from criticizing Israeli policy, and are forgiving toward its violations of human rights and international law.

When I spoke to them, representatives of these states tended to repeat the Foreign Ministry’s hasbara talking points word for word: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Arabs in Israel are awarded full equality, as opposed to oppressed Jews in Arab countries, etc. They were surprised to learn that there is a long list of laws that discriminate against Israel’s Arab population. I saw my interlocutor change colors before my eyes, especially when he realized that he was being fed lies that are easily debunked. It doesn’t feel so good to realize that you have been the victim of propaganda – that you truly believed in a bunch of lies.

I discovered that Central and Eastern European countries are a goldmine for anti-occupation activities.

However, the limits of language and the lack of resources have prevented activists from reaching and prioritizing them. This makes them more vulnerable to the hasbara industry. An additional problem is that those states, which are still growing out of the ashes of socialism, are still trying to put together their own agendas and are therefore less inclined to deal with international affairs. These states barely have any Palestine solidarity movements.

However, their policies toward Israel/Palestine have little to do with strategic interests, but rather with sentimental and historical ties (such as pushback against the Soviet-style politics of the 20th century), as well as a position that they choose to adopt in the face of stronger member states. In other words, these countries are full of potential for activism.

I very much hope that we take our struggle in this direction as well.

Inna Michaeli is a feminist activist and a PhD student of Sociology at the Humboldt University of Berlin. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here

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