Last week, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Beer-Sheva.
BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz told her, “We bestow the doctorate honoris causa upon individuals who exemplify the characteristics that we wish to hold up as inspiration to our students, and as role models for our own community of scientists, scholars and supporters… President von der Leyen, when I look at your myriad accomplishments, and your priorities, I am pleased to see some of the directions that we as a university have also committed to. Your “roadmap for a green transition” to battling climate change is perfectly aligned with our new Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change. For over 50 years we’ve been learning how to live in our desert, and now the world comes to learn from our experience,” he said.
“I feel honored and humbled by this recognition,” President von der Leyen began her speech, “The fact that the honorary doctorate comes from this prestigious institution, the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has a very special meaning for me. This is not only because the list of your doctors honoris causa is truly impressive – from Simone Veil to Yitzhak Rabin. There is also a more personal reason for me. I am a European woman of German nationality. And no longer than 80 years ago, millions of Jewish people were murdered by Germans, in the greatest crime of all human history. We, in Germany, take historical and enduring responsibility for this inhuman disruption of civilization. It is an indelible stain on my country’s conscience, which we must never and will never forget. So, it feels like a miracle that a German like me is welcomed and honored here, in the State of Israel, as a friend among friends, only a few generations after the Shoah. But it is no miracle. My being here is the consequence of a choice made by the State of Israel, and by one man above all: The great David Ben-Gurion. It was he who took the first, historic step towards reconciliation with the Germans. He believed that the best way to honor the victims’ memory was to build a better future… Europe and Israel are bound to be friends and allies. Because the history of Europe is the history of the Jewish people… Today, almost 80 years after the Shoah, Jewish life in Europe is thriving again… And yet, European Jewish life is also embattled and endangered. Antisemitism has not disappeared. It still poisons our societies. And antisemitic attacks happen, today, in Europe. It is a new threat but it is the same old evil. Every new generation must take responsibility so that the past does not return. This is why, I have put the fight against antisemitism and fostering Jewish life in Europe at the core of the European Commission’s agenda. Our democracy flourishes if Jewish life in Europe flourishes, too. Throughout the centuries, the Jewish people have been ‘a light unto the nations’. And they shall be a light unto Europe for many centuries ahead.”
Not surprisingly, the Palestinian BDS movement did not sit idle. In response, Dr. Ramy Abdu, a Palestinian financial expert and the chairman of Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, a pro-Palestinian human rights group based in Geneva, sent a letter to the European Parliament demanding that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen withdraw her acceptance of an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University. The letter charged that von der Leyen’s “acceptance of the BGU doctorate signals condoning the role Israeli academic institutions play in the occupation of Palestine.”
Abdu also demanded an investigation into the circumstances that led to von der Leyen’s acceptance of the doctorate. The Euro-Med Monitor questioned whether the EU Commission was “aware of the moral and political controversies surrounding the university.”
The letter addressed Marie Arena, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Chair. It detailed alleged “BGU’s complicity in enhancing the Israeli army’s capabilities and increasing its recruits” of the army’s function as an “instrument of systematic oppression, and its violations against Palestinians.” This is a “whitewashing the role Israeli academic institutions play in supporting the occupation of Palestinians and collaborating with the Israeli army despite its track record of egregious human rights violations.” Euro-Med Monitor argued that “in collaborating with Israel’s army and providing support to its soldiers, BGU can be accused of aligning its policies and practices with the Israeli state’s restrictions on academic freedom and the right to protest and voice dissent,” Ramy Abdu wrote.
Interestingly, in September 2020, Benny Gantz, the Israeli Defense Minister, signed four seizure and restriction orders related to Hamas funds and property in Gaza and worldwide. It included an order restricting the transfer of property and funds to Ramy Abdu, who also serves as a member of the board of IPALESTINE, an organization operating in Britain that belongs to Hamas, which was designated as a terror organization in Israel. Also, According to another website, “The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch,” created to monitor the Global Muslim Brotherhood, Ramy Abdu was formerly the Regional Director of the Council of European Palestinian Relations, the pro-Hamas lobbying group for the European Union. Before that, Abdu was known as the spokesperson for the European Campaign To End The Siege On Gaza, a central player in the two Hamas-backed Gaza flotillas of 2010 and 2011.
Hamas’s activities in Europe did not go unnoticed. In 2014, a report published by the Israel Security Agency (aka the Shabak) stated that “Hamas intends to create an alternative civilian infrastructure that will enable the replacement of the PA’s secular government with an Islamic government whose ideology will be similar to that of Hamas… The Dawa network – Hamas’ socio-economic infrastructure – is a central element in Hamas’ activity and a principal method employed to achieve its goals… Hamas’ goal is to expand and strengthen its status among the Palestinians, bring them closer to its ideology, including the notion of Jihad against Israel, and recruiting on its behalf supporters and partakers in terrorist activities.” According to the Shabak, some of the charities in Hamas’ global financial network are: Interpal – Palestinian Relief and Development Fund in Britain; The Al Aqsa Fund and its European branches; Le Comité de Benfaisance et de Secours aux Palestiniens (CBSP) – France; Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) – USA (until the US announced it an unlawful foundation and stopped its activity); The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) – Saudi Arabia; Many other foundations in the Gulf Emirates. Specific Hamas societies in Europe include Sweden (Sanabil Al Aqsa), Denmark (The Al Aqsa Fund), Netherlands (The Al Aqsa Fund, Al Israa Foundation), Switzerland (ASP, SHS), Italy (ABSPP: Associazione Beneficia di Solidarieta col Popolo Palestinese), Austria (PHV: Palestinian Humanitarian Association, PVO), Belgium (The Al Aqsa Fund), the report stated.
Despite the frantic lobbying, von der Leyen received the honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva without interference. In her acceptance speech, she praised Israel as a democracy in an autocratic region and pointed out BGU’s important work in environmental research, notably greening the environment. Von der Leyen also focused on three challenges that Europe faces, “The first is the challenge stemming from autocracies, the second is climate change, and the third is democratic backsliding. The most direct challenge comes from authoritarian regimes outside our borders.”
While the two challenges she mentioned focus on autocracies and democratic backsliding, in reality, the EU generously supports the undemocratic Palestinian regime. According to a media report, just a day before the honorary doctorate award, the European Commission voted to release some delayed $220 million funding to the Palestinian Authority. Sums which were held up in a fight over whether to condition the aid on reforms to PA textbooks. The decision to release the funding came as von der Leyen began her three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.
According to the media, the European Union is the PA’s largest donor. It helps to pay the salaries of the PA’s many civil servants, constituting a significant chunk of the West Bank economy. Between 2008 and 2020, Brussels sent around $2.5 billion in direct budget support to the PA.
While ostensibly the honorary doctorate ceremony has a “happy ending,” the episode highlights how Islamist groups have penetrated academic, human rights, and political circles in Europe and beyond. As well known, Hamas and its junior partner, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are terror groups with strong links to Iran.
EU Commission President must return Ben-Gurion University honorary doctorateAR
University’s honorary doctorate
Bâtiment Paul Henri Spaak
Rue Wiertz 60, 1047
H.E. MEP Maria Arena, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights
19 June 2022
Dear MEP Arena,
I am writing, on behalf of Euro-Med Monitor, regarding the EU Commission
President Ursula von der Leyen’s acceptance of an honorary doctorate from the Ben
Gurion University (BGU) in Israel last week. We fear that this could regrettably
signal condoning the role Israeli academic institutions, particularly BGU, play in the
ever-entrenched occupation of Palestinians. We believe that Ms. Von der Leyen
should return the honorary doctorate to BGU.
BGU and the Israeli military complex are deeply intertwined, where the former is
strongly complicit in enhancing the army’s capabilities and increasing its recruits
while condoning its systematic oppression and violations against Palestinians.
Aiding and Collaborating with Israel’s Army
In a clear example of collaborations and resource sharing between the University
and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), BGU has Israel’s first technology park situated
on a university campus. The park is divided into civilian and military sections, with
a portion set aside to house a government-developed training facility for the IDF.
The BGU technology park also houses Intelligence, Communications and Training
bases of the IDF and has served to initiate the transfer of major army bases from
the center of Israel into the Negev.
In 2019, Israel’s Defense Ministry and BGU inaugurated the first building of the IDF
Technology Campus in Be’er-Sheva, next to the BGU Advanced Technologies Park.
This is part of a project aimed at building a 150,000 square meters campus that
would serve the needs of thousands of soldiers from the most elite IDF units, which
according to IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Itzik Cohen, would have “the ability to reinforce
the military’s operational capabilities,” and “turn the Negev into Israel’s cyber
The year before, Israel’s government allocated $15 million to Ben-Gurion University
to specifically accommodate and absorb thousands of active Israeli soldiers into
technology-related subjects, as the IDF continues to transfer it technology units to
the Negev region, where the university is located.
The IDF’s technology units include the Negev-based Unit 8200, which specializes
in collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption. Unit 8200 is known
for maintaining covert listening units in the Palestinian territories, which in 2014,
prompted 43 veterans of the unit to sign a protest letter decrying the 8200 unit’s
abusive gathering of Palestinians’ private information.
In that sense, not only is BGU offering space and facilities to IDF units implicated
in violations against Palestinians, but BGU is also working with the Israeli defense
establishment to incentivize Israeli students who undertake academic studies while
serving in IDF intelligence and computer corps to enroll in technology-related
subjects to enhance their qualities and expertise during their military service.
Providing Exclusive and Discriminatory Benefits to IDF Soldiers
Furthermore, BGU has traditionally aided and provided academic scholarships and
support Israeli army reservist students and active-duty soldiers. For instance,
during Israel’s 2008 war on Gaza, known as operation Cast Lead, in which Israel
killed about 926 Palestinian civilians, BGU offered scholarships and extra tuition to
students who served in active combat units. The University similarly offered a
special grant for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty, in
addition to other benefits.
BGU provides “Application Fees Refund” to students who possess a “Certificate of
Fighting” issued by the IDF. The university is one of higher education institutes
falling on the periphery of the Negev, Galilee, Judea and Samaria that provides the
first schooling year free to students who have completed military or national service
in the IDF. It also provides a specialized fast-tracked program to Israeli Airforce
Pilots to obtain bachelor’s degrees in one year.
Such exclusive benefits to Israelis serving the army not only provide incentive for
enlisting in the IDF, including in the occupied territories, but they also discriminate
against Arab citizens of Israel who do not serve in the IDF.
These issues have prompted the University of Johannesburg in 2011 to sever its
ties with BGU after a lengthy investigation has shown damning evidence of BGU’s
institutional complicity and active collaboration with the Israeli occupation, its
military and apartheid practices.
Silencing Legitimate Criticism of Israeli Actions and Policies
While collaborating with Israel’s army and providing support to its soldiers, BGU
has been accused of aligning its policies and practices with the Israeli state’s
restrictions on academic freedom and the right to protest and voice dissent.
For instance, in 2009, BGU Professor Neve Gordon, who then headed the politics
department, faced opposition from the University’s president, Professor Rivka
Carmi, for supporting the non-violent boycott of Israeli companies and institutions
which profit from or are complicit in the Israeli occupation. Professor Carmi argued
that Professor Gordon’s views threaten the existence of BGU as a “proudly Zionist
Institution” and compromise its sources of funding, and consequently worked on
passing a resolution through BGU’s senate that sets boundaries on lecturers’
freedom of expression. The said resolution states that “the university is entitled to
control the lecturers’ political or religious expressions, even though they are part
of their civilian liberties, so that teaching and research will not be used for the sake
of political or religious goals.” This sets a prohibition on lecturers that prevents
them from voicing their political opinions during classes, as well as using their
university titles when speaking publicly about politics or their personal opinions.
In late 2010, two BGU students were reprimanded by a disciplinary tribunal for
taking part in a protest over Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom flotilla that was
seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. The BGU tribunal stated that it would
suspend the students if they repeated their actions. In December of the same year,
BGU prohibited students from the “Solidarity Against Fascism” student organization
from distributing flyers that criticized a series of proposed Israel laws while other
Israeli universities had permitted the flyers to be distributed. Furthermore, multiple
BGU students have complained about the university’s security guards
photographing and intrusively monitoring anti-occupation political activists.
Finally, BGU has been collaborating with the Weitzmann Institute and the Public
and Diaspora Affairs department in Israel to counteract the activities of Israeli
Apartheid Week (IAW) in Britain. For instance, in 2011 BGU was amongst
stakeholders that funded a student delegation to go together with local pro-Israeli
groups and Israeli representatives in Britain to counter the IAW week of activities.
In light of such concerning facts and many other examples of BGU’s complicity and
active collaboration with the Israeli military and occupation, we demand that the
European Parliament exerts pressure on Ms. von der Leyen to return the honorary
doctorate to BGU as a statement of support for Palestinian rights and opposition to
their oppression. We also demand that you question the commission over the
circumstances that led to Ms. von der Leyen’s acceptance of the doctorate in the
Please accept the assurances of our highest consideration.
Dr. Ramy Abdu
Euro-Med Monitor Chairman
Will dirty EU deal with Israel really tackle climate change?
15 June 2022
Honorary doctorates sometimes get handed to the least honorable people.
This week the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev gave such an award to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s head. Based on her acceptance speech, the only degree which von der Leyen really deserved was an “MD” – a master’s in deception.
Von der Leyen had the audacity to present cooperation with Israel as a step towards “decarbonizing our energy mix.”
The “world’s longest and deepest underwater power cable, connecting Israel with Cyprus and Greece” will “over time” result in “electrification from renewable sources,” she claimed. Both the cable and a “gas and clean hydrogen pipeline” for the Eastern Mediterranean were, von der Leyen added, a “great example of democracies sticking together not only in times of conflict but mostly to fight this huge enemy that we have, and that is climate change.”
It would be foolish to trust von der Leyen’s assurances.
Environmental destruction is indeed a huge enemy for humanity. But why would fossil fuel giants want to fight it?
Von der Leyen portrayed energy cooperation with Israel as a way to “break free of our dependency on Russian fossil fuels.”
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Victoria Nuland, a US State Department veteran, does not believe that the EastMed pipeline will allow Europe to find a replacement for Russian gas swiftly enough.
Nuland has long been determined to keep Brussels bureaucrats in their place.
Back in 2014, a recording was leaked of Nuland dictating whose opinion mattered about Ukraine. “Fuck the EU,” she said at that time.
Von der Leyen displays the kind of deference which Nuland demands. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the European Commission boss has stressed her “unity” with the US.
By groveling to Israel this week, von der Leyen will surely have pleased Joe Biden’s administration. Her comments involved the kind of duplicity that American politicians have got away with for way too long.
At Ben-Gurion University, she complained about “authoritarian regimes beyond our borders.” To avoid any doubt about which regime she was focusing on, von der Leyen then singled out Russia.
The EU and the US have a selective approach to authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes which buy Western arms and humor Western businesses are regarded as valued partners.
As part of her trip, von der Leyen signed a trilateral agreement on energy cooperation between the EU, Egypt and Israel.
Under Abdulfattah al-Sisi, Egypt is the epitome of an authoritarian regime. Thousands are now in jail for expressing views with which al-Sisi and his handlers disagree.
Egypt plays an essential role in blockading Gaza, too, but that does not appear to have been on von der Leyen’s agenda.
Von der Leyen also paid a visit this week to Mohammed Shtayyeh from the Palestinian Authority, which detains and tortures Palestinians to keep Israel and the EU happy.
Shtayyeh patted von der Leyen on the back over Europe’s nominal commitment to the search for peace and justice.
That was a sick joke.
For the past year, the EU has withheld funding for Palestinian hospitals. There is nothing just about depriving cancer patients of treatment.
Although von der Leyen has trumpeted a decision allowing the funding to resume, she has never denounced – at least not publicly – the man who blocked the funding, Hungary’s EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi. Her silence is inexcusable considering that she is Várhelyi’s boss and could exert considerable pressure on him if she so desired.
Palestinian rights barely got a mention from von der Leyen this week. The only notable exception was when she stated that the EU “strongly condemns” the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
As condemnations go, it was a cowardly one. Von der Leyen did not acknowledge that there was a clear culprit in this killing – the Israeli military.
Nor did von der Leyen say anything this week about the violence of the Israeli police during Abu Akleh’s funeral.
Von der Leyen has described aggression ordered by Vladimir Putin as “barbaric” and called Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine “terrifying.”
But she would never dare to use such strong words when alluding to Israel.
That said, every EU criticism of Israel rings hollow. The same police force which baton charged Abu Akleh’s pallbearers participates in EU-financed research activities.
In her Ben-Gurion University speech, von der Leyen praised Israel as a “global trailblazer for science and innovation.”
Von der Leyen did not draw attention to the murky aspects of the EU-Israel partnership this week. Rather, she advocated that the partnership should be put to use in the fight against climate change.
Once again, von der Leyen omitted some important details.
The Israel Electric Corporation is a major participant in the energy projects that von der Leyen endorsed. The same company is actively involved in Israel’s theft and colonization of the West Bank.
If the projects are completed, energy generated in settlements which violate international law will be imported into Europe.
There is something obscene about suggesting that Israel is keen to solve the world’s environmental problems. That kind of obscenity is exactly what we should expect from someone who merits a master’s in deception.
EU releases aid to Palestinians held up over textbook reform
European Commission votes to send over $200 million to PA; unclear if funds sent on condition alleged incitement be removed from curricula
By AARON BOXERMAN
The European Commission voted on Monday night to release some long-delayed funding to the Palestinian Authority, after months in which hundreds of millions of euros were held up in a fight over whether to condition the aid on reforms to PA textbooks, three sources told The Times of Israel.
A vote was held in the European Commission to release aid for the year 2021, reportedly about $220 million in direct budget support to the PA. EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi had proposed conditioning some of the money on reforms to Palestinian textbooks to remove alleged incitement, sparking a months-long battle in Brussels as officials argued for and against.
Palestinian officials claimed the funding was ultimately released without any strings attached. But the vote’s results are not yet public, and the EU’s envoy to the Palestinians declined to comment.
The decision to release the funding comes as EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen begins a three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. She is set to meet with PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh Tuesday in Ramallah.
The European Union, the PA’s largest donor, helps to pay the salaries of the PA’s many civil servants, constituting a significant chunk of the West Bank economy. Between 2008 and 2020, Brussels sent around $2.5 billion in direct budget support to the PA.
But PA textbooks have long been a subject of controversy. Watchdogs have slammed the curricula for allegedly promoting violence and glorifying terrorism. The PA defends them as a faithful reflection of their national narrative.
In late 2021, senior EU Commission official Oliver Varhelyi – a conservative appointee close to Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban – proposed conditioning about $10 million of the EU’s aid to the PA on reforming the textbooks.
Ramallah has been plagued by repeated financial difficulties and dwindling international support, making the loss of EU funding a serious blow.
Both Palestinian and Israeli officials have warned that the PA could face fiscal collapse, in part due to the lack of aid.
Many PA civil servants had to get by on partial or delayed wages for months. Meanwhile, the PA has fallen ever further behind on payments to Israel for electricity and water, and has struggled to pay medical costs for Palestinians seeking treatment in Israeli hospitals.
European states have been debating Varhelyi’s proposal heatedly ever since, with strong feelings for and against it in Brussels. The delay compounded a two-year period in which the funds were already frozen for technical reasons.
“The broader question is: Should such substantive financial aid be linked to one element of the relationship between Europe and the Palestinians?” one European diplomat critical of the proposal said in a February interview.
By contrast, the IMPACT-se nonprofit, which regularly issues reports analyzing Palestinian curricula, hailed the proposal.
“There is now too much opposition from the European Parliament, the Commission, and the Council itself to transfer massive sums of money to the PA while it brazenly continues to produce antisemitic and violent textbooks,” IMPACT-se director Marcus Sheff said in March.
Palestinian Authority officials have repeatedly said that they will not accept conditioning the aid on changes to Palestinian textbooks. The PA has also consistently rejected the accusation that its textbooks promote violence and terrorism.
“We are made to explain and justify what appears in our educational materials, even though it explains our narrative and our national identity. Meanwhile, no one demands to review Israeli curricula and media, so the world can see the true incitement by Israeli institutions,” PA President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech to the United Nations last year.
Facing gas ‘blackmail’ by Russia, EU turns to Israel: AFP
AFP , Tuesday 14 Jun 2022
The European Union wants to strengthen its energy cooperation with Israel in light of Russia’s use of gas supplies to “blackmail” its members over the Ukraine conflict, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.
“The Kremlin has used our dependency on Russian fossil fuels to blackmail us,” she said in a speech at the Ben Gurion University in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.
“Since the beginning of the war, Russia has deliberately cut off its gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, and Dutch and Danish companies, in retaliation for our support to Ukraine.”
But Moscow’s conduct “only strengthens our resolve to break free of our dependence on Russian fossil fuels,” she said, noting the EU was “exploring ways to step up our energy cooperation with Israel,” with work on an underwater power cable and a gas pipeline in the eastern Mediterranean.
Israel exports gas to Egypt, some of which is then liquefied and shipped to Europe. A significant increase in gas exports would require major long-term infrastructure investments.
In talks with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar on Monday, von der Leyen reiterated “the EU need for Israeli gas,” the minister’s spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said there had been talks since March on establishing the legal framework to enable more Israeli gas exports to Europe via Egypt.
Another option would be the EastMed project, a proposal for a seafloor pipeline linking Israel with Cyprus and Greece. But US President Joe Biden’s administration has questioned the viability of the project, given its huge cost and the time it would take to complete.
Another proposal is a pipeline connecting Israel to Turkey.
Israel’s ties with Ankara have thawed in recent months after more than a decade of frosty relations and analysts have said Turkey’s desire for joint energy projects has partly triggered its outreach to Israel.
That pipeline project would cost $1.5 billion and take two to three years to complete, according to estimates.
Israel is estimated to have gas reserves of at least one trillion cubic metres, with domestic use over the next three decades expected to total no more than 300 billion.
Von der Leyen was due to hold talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett later Tuesday, before travelling on to Egypt.