“To many Israelis, the allegations about water are one step removed from blood libel. Water is a sensitive issue and is deeply symbolic, especially in the Middle East. […]
Had Martin Schulz [the president of the European Union Parliament, addressing the Israeli Knesset] checked the facts, and wanted to bring up this issue in a serious and constructive manner, he could have said: ‘There is a difference in water usage between Israelis and Palestinians of about 2:1. I am aware that part of this is due to different levels of economic development, that a share of it is due to mismanagement by the Palestinian Authority of the water systems, and another due to the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, I think that given the important symbolism and sensitivity of water in this region, and the technological advancement of desalination and water re-usage, in which Israel is a world leader, Israel could and should go above and beyond the official agreements it signed with the Palestinian Authority, even more than it already does now, to provide Palestinians with more water.’
Such a paragraph in the speech would not have raised such criticism, but is also would not have created such intense media coverage. Could this be the real reason that Schulz preferred to not check his facts? Could it be that he knew that provocative allegations would create a greater stir than level-headed analysis that highlights the complexity of the situation? For many Israelis, Schulz’ act in the Knesset represents a dangerous and slippery slope, where even those who support Israel are willing to believe the worst about it, and lend their credibility to voicing problematic allegations against it.
The Jewish people are keenly aware that mass acts of physical cruelty towards other human beings are preceded by laying an ideological groundwork. They fear that this is what is taking place in the world today with respect to Israel and Zionism. In this war of ideas […] that is being waged against Israel and Zionism, lies, provocative allegations, stereotypes, misrepresentations, and false interpretations are employed as weapons. The purpose of this war, like all previous ones, is to roll back the great achievement of Zionism – the establishment of a sovereign state for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. The strategy of this war is to associate Israel and Zionism with all that is evil in our world, so that one day the physical the destruction of the modern state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people will not seem like a great loss, and maybe even be a blessing.”
Einat Wilf, Fact Checking in the Knesset (English original of an op-ed published in German in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, February 18, 2014).
I have previously written about the water libel, explaining that I used this term because current accusations against Israel on various water-related issues echo the medieval accusations that Jews were poisoning wells.