By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
Nobody does double standards quite like the Europeans. And if recent developments are anything to go by, they will remain the market leader in this field of human endeavor for quite some time.
Where the Middle East is concerned, there are two complementary messages coming out of the European Union at the moment. The first proclaims that Israel is a legitimate target for boycotts and divestment for as long as the “occupation” continues–and here, “occupation” principally refers to the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem, feebly eliding the fact that the Palestinian leadership, through its insistence on the so-called “right of return,” regards the entire territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan as “occupied.” As for the second message, that can be neatly summarized in a potential advertising slogan: Iran is open for business!
According to the Washington Post, Europeans are banking on a business “bonanza” with Iran, now that sanctions have been relaxed in accordance with the deal on the mullahs’ nuclear program reached last November in Geneva. Both Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and its Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, rubbed shoulders with the global business and political elite at the World Economic Forum’s annual powwow in Davos. Leading French companies, among them Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Airbus, are said to be sending executives to Tehran by the planeload. French car manufacturers like Renault and Peugeot are drooling at the thought of recovering their former, dominant positions in the Iranian automobile market. European carriers like Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines are increasing the number of weekly flights to Tehran in anticipation of growing demand. The Dutch Ambassador in Tehran, Jos Douma, even held what he ludicrously termed a “speed-date session” for companies wanting in on the Iranian gold rush.
You won’t, however, find a similar openness towards Israel within the EU. As the Financial Times reported, the enormous Dutch ABP pension fund, as well as two Scandinavian funds, are reviewing their investments in Israel over–as the Financial Times exquisitely phrased it–“concerns that the banks finance illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian-occupied territories.” This follows the decision by PGGM, another Dutch pension fund, to divest its holdings in five Israeli banks, citing their “involvement in the financing of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
In a statement explaining its decision, PGGM asserted that its dialogue with these banks about the settlements issue had not yielded any results, and therefore “it was concluded that engagement as a tool to bring about change will not be effective in this case.” For PGGM, engagement is futile in the case of a democracy like Israel, but it’s apparently effective in the case of communist China. As the Dutch …read more