Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused European Parliament President Martin Schulz of "selective hearing" on Wednesday for repeating during a visit to the Knesset an unverified claim that Israelis use four times as much water as Palestinians
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Schulz's statement prompted a walkout by Habayit Hayehudi MKs, led by party leader Naftali Bennett.
"The fault in these comments is what I call selective hearing, which unfortunately has become the legacy of many groups in Europe," Netanyahu told the Knesset later in the day.
"The president of the European Parliament visited Ramallah and heard from some Palestinian youths about water usage, that according to them an Israeli citizen uses four times more water than Palestinians use per person. According to the statistics we received from the Palestinian authority, including in official releases from the Palestinian water authority and our data, this number is not true, but significantly smaller," the prime minister said.
"The parliament president said frankly, 'I haven't checked.' But that didn't stop him from making repeated [accusations] right away. They hear, they don't check, they hurl [accusations]. It would be fitting for him to check," he added.
Netanyahu said baseless accusations tend to make Israelis ignore all criticism. When such comments are repeated without checking, people end up "closing their ears to wild attacks against the State of Israel," he said.
Edelstein to Schulz: You were misinformed
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein held aprivate conversation with Schulz later Wednesday evening, before a state dinner in the EU parliament chief's honor inJerusalem, and rold to him that the figures regarding Palestinian water usage were in fact incorrect, as was his statement regarding ablockade of Gaza. For that reason, Edelstein explained, several MKs had left the plenum.
"Incorrect statements that are made daily are ammunition in the campaign of delegitimization against Israel and one needs to be very careful," Edelstein told his European counterpart. "There is noblockade of Gaza. Since Israel left there, our citizens and communities have been sitting inshelters and bombarded by missiles.
Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, meanwhile, slammed Bennett and members of his Habayit Hayehudi party for their pointed attack at Schulz as a German national, in which they hinted that because of the Holocaust, the latter had no right to express criticism of Israel.
“Mr. Schulz is a committed supporter of Israel,” Michaelis said. “When he engages in dialogue with the Israeli people, this dialogue should be conducted in a serious and respectful manner.”
In the speech delivered in his native German, Schulz told MKs that "the Palestinians want to live in peace and unrestricted freedom of movement. The Palestinians also have the right to self-definition and to justice."
"A Palestinian youth asked me why an Israeli can use 70 cubic liters of water and a Palestinian just 17," he added. "I haven't checked the data. I'm asking you if this is correct."
MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) called to Schulz: "Shame on you, you support someone who is inciting against Jews." Shortly after, the Habayit Hayehudi MKs stormed out of the room.
Party chairman Naftali Bennett responded heatedly to Schulz's remarks, saying: "The comments made in the Knesset are very serious. Habayit Hayehudi demands an apology from the president of the European Parliament, who said two lies in his speech, which Palestinians fed him. Silence in the face of lying propaganda grants legitimacy to activities against Israeli citizens."
The walkout prompted mixed reactions from lawmakers:
MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor) subsequently filed a complaint to the Knesset's ethics committee, deeming the walkout "in contempt of the Knesset." Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On also said she objected to the damage done to the Knesset as an institution.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (Likud), however, spoke out in favor:
"Give him all due respect, but the president of the [European] Parliament stands here and says a blatant lie as though Israelis have the right to use 70 cubic liters of water and the Palestinians 17 cubic liters," she said. "That is a blatant lie. This speech will be spread all around the world as though this is true. When he says these things, and in German yet, it's no wonder that Knesset members and ministers are objecting to these comments."
During his address, Schulz also called settlement construction "a stumbling block to a solution" and said that the blockade of Gaza causes a desperation that "helps the extremist people in the area, and it might lead to greater insecurity."
On the other hand, the European Parliament chief also condemned "rocket attacks on the innocent," praised Israel's "values of freedom and democracy," and said there was no economic boycott of Israel.
"The European Union will always stand at the side of the State of Israel," Schulz said. "As for the economic boycott, there is no boycott, and I can tell you that such a boycott is not being considered."
Despite his criticism of Schulz's remarks pertaining to water, Netanyahu did laud some of the parliament chief's points as "important."
"He opposes a European boycott of Israel. That is an important statement," said Netanyahu. "The second thing is that he is in favor of scientific cooperation between Israel and Europe. I am sure that's something we all agree on."