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European Union delegation cancels event in Israel over Ben Gvir’s participation

Delegation says it doesn't want to platform someone whose views 'contradict the values the EU stands for'
Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks during a ceremony for Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers in Beersheba on 25 April 2023.
Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks during a ceremony in Beersheba, Israel, on 25 April 2023 (AFP)

The European Union's delegation to Israel has cancelled a diplomatic event over the planned participation of far-right minister, Itamar Ben Gvir.

The EU delegation in Tel Aviv had been scheduled to host a reception marking Europe Day on Tuesday. However, following a meeting of EU ambassadors, it decided to cancel the event.

“Regrettably, this year we have decided to cancel the diplomatic reception as we do not want to offer a platform to someone whose views contradict the values the EU stands for,” the delegation said in a Twitter post on Monday.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told Kan radio on Sunday that Ben Gvir had been assigned to attend the event “not as a representative of the Jewish Power party … but to represent the government of Israel”.

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Ben Gvir, who currently serves as Israel's minister of national security and also heads the far-right Jewish Power party, is a hardline Jewish settler in the occupied West Bank with past convictions for support for “terrorism” and incitement against Palestinians.

He was recently given the approval to form a “national guard” whose units would work alongside Israeli police and military and deal with “civil unrest” such as “disturbances” or pro-Palestinian protests.

Since last year, Ben Gvir has provoked controversy both in Israel and internationally for pushing for hardline reforms to the judiciary and security.

“It’s a shame that the EU, which pretends to represent democratic values and multiculturalism, behaves with undiplomatic gagging,” Ben Gvir said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Strained EU-Israel ties

The act of protest by the EU’s delegation in Israel against Ben Gvir, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, comes just days before the 75th anniversary of the Nakba - a term used to describe the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the lead-up to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

The EU also made its decision just weeks after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was slammed for comments saying Israel makes “the desert bloom” when marking its 75th “independence” day.

The Palestinian Authority's foreign ministry said the comment is an “anti-Palestinian racist trope” that amounts to the erasure of the Palestinian people.

The cancellation of Tuesday's celebration could cause a diplomatic dispute between Israel and the EU, which have already had strained relations due to Israel's actions in the occupied West Bank.

In December, the EU abandoned an intelligence cooperation agreement between the Israeli police and Europol. The agreement aimed to facilitate the transfer of information between Israeli and EU police in the fight against crime and terrorism.

On Sunday, the EU issued a sharp rebuke after Israeli forces demolished a Palestinian primary school in the occupied West Bank. The European body, which had funded the school, said it was "appalled" at the demolition.

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