PARIS — The European Union decided on Monday to cancel Tuesday’s traditional Europe Day reception because of the intention of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to participate and speak at the event.
Following a meeting earlier in the day with European ambassadors, the EU’s mission to Israel published a statement saying, “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 European Union stands for.”
Still, the EU mission intends to uphold other events marking Europe Day on May 9. “The Europe Day cultural event for the Israeli public will be maintained to celebrate with our friends and partners in Israel the strong and constructive bilateral relationship,” read the statement.
Reacting to the announcement, Ben-Gvir said it was "unfortunate that the EU, which claims to represent the values of democracy and multiculturalism, is undiplomatically engaging in censorship. It is an honor and a privilege for me to represent the government of Israel, courageous IDF soldiers and the people of Israel in every forum. Friends know how to criticize and real friends are able to hear it."
This latest crisis between Israel and the EU broke out during the weekend after it was published that Ben-Gvir would be the minister representing the government on the occasion of the traditional Europe Day reception. Ben-Gvir was apparently assigned to the task as part of a rotation and not on purpose. As such, EU diplomats sent the government messages asking that Ben-Gvir be replaced, but the minister was not deterred. He refused to give up, stating he intends to go and address the reception.
Since his appointment as minister and because of his far-right policies and his past as a follower of nationalist and racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, European ambassadors and officials have refused to meet with Ben-Gvir or invite him to their capitals. The same is true for far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. The finance minister traveled to Paris last March for what was described as a private visit. The French Foreign Ministry had told Al-Monitor before the visit it will have no contact with Smotrich.
Cancelation of the Europe Day reception comes only a week after the visit in Brussels of Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Chen and his meeting there with EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell. Israel has long considered Borrell hostile because of his pro-Palestinian stances. Officials in Jerusalem had even said he was not welcome for a visit. Still, opening a new page in Israel-EU relations, Cohen and Borrell agreed last Tuesday to convene a meeting of the Israel-EU Association Agreement Council by the end of the year, with Israel hoping for the meeting to take place in Jerusalem. The Association Agreement is the legal and formal framework defining relations.
On the other hand, in a negative development in Israel-EU relations, Israeli authorities demolished on Sunday a 2017 building that housed an EU-funded Palestinian school near Bethlehem. The school was constructed without a permit in Herodium National Park. The demolition prompted protests by both the Palestinian Authority and the EU.
Head of the National Camp party Benny Gantz attacked the government’s decision to send Ben-Gvir to the European reception, stating that ‘’the idea of sending Ben-Gvir to represent the government vis-a-vis the European Union on Europe Day is tantamount to a diplomatic attack and extreme lack of reason on the part of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.’’