EU envoy angers Israel over visit to ‘occupation’ exhibition

Israel on Monday harshly criticized the European Union over a plan for its ambassador to participate in an event marking “50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank.”

The dispute comes ahead of a planned visit next week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Brussels for talks with EU foreign ministers.

“For reasons unknown, the EU people believe that the way to Israelis’ hearts is by spitting in their faces,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, in comments to the Haaretz newspaper, which he later confirmed to AFP.

“We are again seeing the same patronizing approach of preaching hypocritical, condescending morality that just pushes away rather than bringing closer. It is sad and superfluous.”

He was referring to an exhibition featuring portraits of 50 Palestinians born in 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank, organized by Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

An EU official confirmed to AFP that the bloc’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, planned to visit the exhibition in connection with International Human Rights Day on Thursday in Jaffa, a part of Tel Aviv.

Israel’s government accuses groups such as B’Tselem of unfairly tarnishing the country’s image for political reasons, charges they firmly deny.

In April, in a rare move, Netanyahu cancelled talks with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, after the visiting diplomat declined to call off meetings with rights groups critical of Israel’s government, including B’Tselem.

Netanyahu’s talks with EU foreign ministers on December 11 are considered “informal” and come amid continuing tensions over Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

A number of European Union states have refused for several months to approve a formal meeting with Israel’s government due to a lack of unanimity among members on how to treat Israeli settlement construction and to express frustration over stalled peace efforts.

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