Israeli Officials Pressured EU Foreign Policy Chief to Nix Meeting With Arab-Israeli Lawmaker

Mogherini rejects Israeli entreaties to cancel Tuesday meeting with MKs, says she would meet with Joint List as she had with other Knesset parties ■ AG Mendelblit says nation-state law doesn't harm constitutional individual rights

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh / EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Gil Eliahu, REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Israeli officials pressured the European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in recent weeks to cancel her meeting with Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh regarding the nation-state law, according to sources involved in arranging the Mogherini-Joint List meeting. 

The sources also claimed the Israeli officials tried to convince Mogherini to have a lower-level EU official meet with Odeh in her stead..

However, the sources say, Moghernini said she would meet with representatives of the Joint List as she had with other Knesset parties, and hear from them about issues involving Arab citizens in Israel.

Mogherini’s office noted that she meets on a regular basis with representatives of government and parliaments, including the opposition, and that Israel was not unusual in this regard.

Joint List MKs are lobbying European Union officials in Brussels against the nation-state law, and the slate’s chairman will meet foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Tuesday, her office said. Sources involved in arranging the meeting said Mogherini rejected Israeli entreaties to cancel it.

Odeh is expected to ask Mogherini to try to compel Israel to cancel the law and see that it is condemned in international forums, including the United Nations. The meeting was set after the nation-state law passed one of its first phases of legislation in the Knesset in May.

Contacts have continued in recent weeks ahead of the meeting, at which other senior officials in the European Union and the European Commission are expected to be present.

“We have three days filled with meetings with ambassadors and ministers in the European Union, including Mogherini,” Odeh told Haaretz, speaking from Brussels. “We are going to ask the European Union to intervene with the Israeli government to cancel the law.”

Odeh said the European Union has ways of working against the law, mainly by using trade agreements and cooperative ventures with the European Union, in which Israel is pledged to respect human rights and democratic values.

Meanwhile, on Monday Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit defended the nation-state law, saying: “The fact that the law was passed does not lower the status of constitutional individual rights.”

Odeh rejected criticism that the Joint List’s meetings with international officials about the nation-state law undermined the state. “My colleagues and I are not working to undermine the state, but to undermine Netanyahu’s government and an apartheid law like the nation-state law,” he said.

“When a woman encounters violence in the family, she turns to outside law enforcement officials like the police.” Odeh said he “wants to strengthen peace, and suppress the occupation and racism, and I believe that this serves both peoples.”

The Joint List says it does not expect the meeting with Mogherini to bring about immediate results, but they regard it as an opportunity to present issues that affect Arab society in Israel. “We are going to Brussels to ask Europe to be faithful to her principles with regard to minorities and human rights,” said Joint List MK Jamal Zahalka.

At the Israel News Corporation’s “influencers” conference Monday, Mendelblit said he had worked with lawmakers to keep two problematic elements out of the law. One would have given the nation-state law even higher status than other, quasi-constitutional basic laws, “which would have broken down the equation between Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.” He said he was also able to persuade the lawmakers not to include a clause in the law that would have allowed for the establishment of Jewish-only communities.