On Wednesday, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, delivered a speech to the Knesset in his native German, in which he rejected boycotts of Israel and announced, “We defend the right of Israel to exist and for the Jewish people to live in security and peace.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, gave Schulz a standing ovation.
But when Schulz noted that Palestinians in the West Bank receive as little as a quarter of the water Israelis get and mentioned the Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip, economic minister Naftali Bennett—chairman of the Jewish Home party—stood and led his fellow faction members out of the room. “I won’t accept lying moralizing against the people of Israel in the Israeli Knesset,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook account. “Definitely not in German.”
Schulz laughed off the heckling, but the response to his speech was a stark reminder of where the fault lines lie when it comes to discussions between the Europeans and Israeli politicians—and how the issue of foreign intervention has become a football in Israel’s domestic politics. Schulz was in Jerusalem to receive an honorary doctorate of philosophy from Hebrew University, whose president, Menachem Ben-Sasson, led a ceremony on Tuesday night.
That was a day after meeting with Palestinian leaders in Jericho and Ramallah. Majdi Khaldi, diplomatic advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Tablet that Abbas avoided talking about the boycott with Schulz. “President Abbas is saying all the time that we are not asking to isolate Israel, we want to live with Israel. The issue is regarding the settlement activities and products,” Khaldi said. “We ask the international community to stand against the expansion of settlement activities.”
Yet Palestinian Authority official media Wafa reported Tuesday that lead negotiator Saeb Erekat and Minister of Tourism Rula Ma’aya had urged Schulz to create tougher sanctions against Israeli settlements. And other Palestinian leaders have not hesitated to cheer European moves to lay sanctions on Israel: In a letter published Monday in Israeli daily Ha’aretz, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi blessed the calls to sanction Israel as “essential to the Palestinian struggle for equality and freedom.”
Daniella Cheslow is an American journalist covering the Middle East.