On February 8th, a group of pro-Palestinian students at the Complutense University of Madrid protested the Israeli ambassador’s address to the Faculty of Philology. It was meant to mark the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accords. Such a ceremony would be akin to the 30th anniversary of the 1938 Munich Pact, under which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced with a flourish that he had guaranteed “peace in our time.” But it didn’t, did it? Nor has Oslo, largely because the Israelis refused to adhere to its provisions. So the Israeli ambassador waxing rhapsodic about an agreement her own government sabotage is ironic, if not downright hypocritical.
Her address may have been in response to the recent decision of Barcelona’s mayor to rescind its sister-city relationship with Tel Aviv. She made a strong statement denouncing Israeli apartheid in severing ties. Much of Spanish and Israeli media were aghast at the ‘effrontery’ of her action. Israelis took it as yet another insult from Europeans.
The Palestinian students were having none of the university’s attempt to whitewash Israel. They know a normalizing event when they see one. Clearly, the university and Israeli embassy saw this as an opportunity to promote Israel’s peace-loving nature. So the Palestinian solidarity group marched down the hallway shouting slogans, charging toward the door of the hall in which the ambassador had begun to speak. Just as they reached the entrance, security guards came rushing out to confront them.
In reviewing the video and consulting with eyewitnesses, there were several categories of security: private security permitted to be armed, though they did not display any weapons; a university security guard; a Spanish undercover anti-riot officer (UIP (Unidad de Intervencion Policial), and at least one Shin Bet agent (who did draw and brandish his weapon). You see each of them in the video. The slideshow isolates several frames from the video which show the gunman and his weapon clearly.
Other Shin Bet agents inside the hall rushed the ambassador out of the room. Apparently, they believed she was in physical danger. That may explain the security officer drawing his weapon. But these decisions seem a total overreaction to the actual circumstances.
Haaretz offered this misleading account of the scene in the video:
Footage of the incident, which was released on Saturday, appeared to show a security guard pointing his firearm at the activists.
Calling him a ‘security guard’ is like calling an F-16 a flying machine. As soon as I read that, I was convinced we were talking about a Shin Bet agent. Kan’s report partially confirms this, noting the gunman was “a member of the embassy staff.” The only such security agents protecting Israeli diplomats and embassies are Shin Bet. Thus, anyone protecting an Israeli ambassador is a Shin Bet agent. My hunch was confirmed by a knowledgeable Israeli security source I consulted.
I’m surprised that this hasn’t been reported in either Spanish or Israeli media. It certainly colors the incident (or should). An Israeli agent operating on foreign soil brandished a weapon against an unarmed citizen of that country. These protesters may have been doing something Israel didn’t like. But they were engaged in a peaceful protest. And if they were breaking the law it was the responsibility of local Spanish police to enforce this. Instead Israel, as is its wont, takes the law into its own hands and does whatever it sees fit. Maybe it can get away with that [expletive deleted] in Israel. But it should not be permitted abroad. That’s why countries have their own police forces. They don’t need Israeli goons to do it for them.
If the Spaniards had any [body part deleted] they would haul the ambassador into the foreign ministry for a little chat and make clear that her security forces are never to do anything like that again. And if they did, there would be a major diplomatic incident. But of course, all European governments seem to be in thrall to the Israel Lobby in their respective countries. They bow and scrape before Israel. As a result, it walks all over them.
Given the rising fascism and bellicosity of the new Israeli government; and its trigger-happy policy toward Palestinians and even 70-year-old Israeli Jewish activists engaged in solidarity efforts, this tendency toward violence has seeped into the Shin Bet as well. In any other democratic country, security agents would never engage in such dangerous behavior. There will come a time, and it may be soon, when one of these thugs will not only draw his weapon but fire it. He will either wound or kill a foreign national. And it will create an enormous uproar. And Israel and the country in which the shooting takes place will have only themselves to blame. They could have enforced strict rules of engagement on the Shin Bet. But they didn’t. And this will be the result.
Lest you argue that such a likelihood is nigh unto impossible, I remind you that an Israeli embassy security guard shot and killed a Jordanian furniture vendor and his son who were installing furniture in his apartment. The murders caused a huge rift in Jordanian-Israel relations. (I deliberately violated an Israeli gag order and reported the killer’s name). The Israeli ambassador was sent packing and there was no diplomatic representation for nearly a year. Now imagine that happening in a European country with the glare of global media.
If you argue that in the January 6th insurrection US law enforcement agents did precisely the same thing…no, they didn’t. They were protecting the US Congress from a raging armed mob seeking to overthrow the government. A far cry from a group of college students shouting in a hallway.
Shin Bet rum amok in Germany
In Germany, a similar incident occurred. The Israeli foreign ministry promotes the kinder, gentler face of its country via cultural events featuring Israeli art and artists. It brings dance troupes, musical ensembles, and films to foreign audiences, by hosting festivals in foreign countries. It funds the Seret International Film Festival in four countries. Berlin serves as the host venue in Germany. Israel cinema has a sterling global reputation. It offers Israel a chance to show its sensitive, moral conscience to foreign audiences. Which is, in turn, a flagrant attempt to conceal Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians and its other regional enemies.
Ronnie Barkan and Stavit Sinai are Israeli activists living in Germany. They engage in solidarity activism mainly there and the UK. One of their main actions is to attend such Israeli brand promotions and disrupt them in order to bring the audience’s attention to the real issues at hand: Occupation, apartheid, mass murder and state terrorism. Their goal is to expose the ruse of cultural diplomacy, which conceals the ugly face of mass violence against Palestinians.
Ronnie told me what happened next:
Four or five thugs from the embassy violently attacked Stavit and myself, dragged us out and then followed us outside with their hand on the concealed weapon underneath their jackets.
I didn’t agree to leave the building without an escort of the German police (you can see some of that in the video) as they were shouting at us and threatening us. The German police did absolutely nothing to stop them, refused my demand to file a complaint, refused to ask for their identification. Afterwards, when I wouldn’t leave until they got their ID, the policeman went to them and got back to me saying that they have diplomatic immunity.
Once again, armed Israelis representing the State of Israel in a foreign country are assaulting, intimidating and threatening to use deadly force against local residents. German authorities permit this to happen. They permit Israel to run roughshod over their laws and treat people engaged in protest as if they were common criminals.
In another case, German authorities arrested Ronnie and Stavit at a similar protest at the University of Heidelberg. They were jailed. His cell phone was confiscated. When it was returned to him, the Facebook live video he had streamed of the protest had been erased. I have a strong suspicion that German police used the Israeli spyware firm, Cellebrite’s UFED device to break his passcode. That would enable them to find his video and erase it, as if he’d done it himself. There is a possibility that German police installed spyware while they were in possession of the device.
The university filed a complaint and law enforcement brought them to a criminal trial for merely engaging in protest. Their case became known as the Heidelberg Three. Does this remind you of German attitudes toward dissent in a certain earlier era?
The four “thugs” Ronnie mentions were also Shin Bet agents. Also armed. Also prepared to use their weapons, even against fellow Israelis, merely for disrupting a film screening. A question for German authorities: is it really worth protecting a film screening or university lecture from disturbance at the expense of someone getting shot or killed? If not, you might want to reconsider your relationship with your Israeli embassy. They should not be a law unto themselves. They should follow the rules and protocols that embassies of all other democratic states honor in foreign jurisdictions.