The day after Yom Kippur, Israel’s interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid planned to sign an agreement that would make Israeli citizens living in the towns of Katzrin, Ariel and Pisgat Ze’ev second-class citizens, at least in terms of their right to consume culture. The agreement that was supposed to be signed with the European Union would have officially and institutionally discriminated against everyone who lives in areas beyond the Green Line, including the Golan Heights, the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem neighborhoods built after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Minister of Culture Hili Tropper refused to admit that these are the consequences of signing the agreement. This denial is false.
Signing the agreement would be unprecedented. In 2017, the Israeli government specifically refused to sign the agreement precisely because of the territorial issue. Although it was reported last summer that the government had decided to move forward with the agreement, the decision only concerned the actual conduct of the negotiations. Now, after the end of the negotiations and Israel’s surrender to the territorial discrimination clause, the agreement was expected to be signed and come into effect during Lapid’s October visit to Europe.
In the past, under much heavier political pressure, Israel signed the Horizon 2020 program that funds scientific research, which also includes the same territorial discrimination. But there is no reason to repeat such a mistake. Moreover, the cultural agreement is worse than the Horizon agreement because the latter “only” discriminated against scientific institutions. For example, Ariel University could not receive E.U. funding. Government funds can compensate for this kind of damage. Cultural funding, however, involves consumers. The cultural agreement would mean that anything using E.U. funds, such as an exhibition or an entire theater, would not be able to operate in the Old City of Jerusalem or in Katzrin. This is discrimination that is prohibited under Israeli law.
In addition to this, the scientific agreement was in a highly competitive field where countries are fiercely fighting for supremacy. With all due respect, this is not the case in the fields of, say, dance or visual arts.
More importantly, since the signing of Horizon 2020, Israel has garnered major and hard-won political achievements, such as anti-BDS laws passed in many U.S. states and prohibitions on boycotting the settlements; American recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; and the change in American policy that enabled the funding of research institutions in Judea and Samaria.
Signing this latest regressive text will set Israel back diplomatically by at least a decade and weaken anti-BDS laws and anti-boycott actions. How can American activists demand that U.S. states punish Ben & Jerry’s for refusing to sell beyond the Green Line while the State of Israel agrees that the Europeans can pay theaters in Israel to do exactly that?
After Horizon 2020, the E.U. did not wait long. It immediately acted to anchor the separation between the territories inside and beyond the Green Line in the lamentable U.N. Resolution 2334. Israeli leaders, including the current leadership, claim that they are determined to fight Resolution 2334. This cannot be done if the Israeli government signs an agreement that actually implements the resolution.
Israel will do all this damage for a handful of euros—a few million a year. Israel will pay 33 million euros for the agreement and will receive back funding, according to estimates, of about seven million euros per year.
Signing the cultural agreement is unprecedented. It will harm Israel’s supporters fighting BDS; it will harm Israel’s claims against its detractors; it will cause prohibited discrimination against about 800,000 Israeli citizens—and all this for a very small profit.
Professor of law Eugene Kontorovich is one of the world’s preeminent experts on universal jurisdiction and maritime piracy, as well as international law and the Israel-Arab conflict.
This article was first published in Hebrew by Makor Rishon.