Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening castigated comments by EU Parliament President Martin Schulz regarding the alleged unequal consumption of water by Palestinians as compared to Israelis.
Speaking to the Knesset plenum, Netanyahu accused the EU head of having “selective hearing,” which, he maintained, is characteristic of many in European circles.
“He said that he visited Ramallah and heard [from Palestinians] that an Israeli citizen uses four times as much water as a Palestinian,” Netanyahu said of Shultz. “According to both the Palestinian water authority and our data, these facts are incorrect. The parliament president said, in all honestly, ‘I didn’t check.’ But that didn’t prevent him from casting aspersions,” the prime minister complained.
“While they repeat accusations against Israel without examining them, they seal their ears from other things,” Netanyahu said, referring to reassurances from the EU president that Iran is no longer calling for the demise of Israel.
Schulz had addressed the Knesset plenum Wednesday morning, delivering a generally pro-Israel speech that included his recounting of a meeting held two days earlier with young Palestinians in Ramallah.
“One of the questions from these young men that moved me the most was: How can it be that Israelis are allowed to use 70 liters [of water] per day and Palestinians only 17?” Schulz related.
At this point in his speech, several right-wing MKs yelled out in protest, calling the figures Palestinian lies, and a number of Jewish Home party lawmakers, including Orit Struck and Moti Yogev, walked out. Minutes after Schulz finished speaking, Economy Minister and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett released a statement demanding an apology.
The right-wing walkout garnered harsh criticism from dovish MKs.
“The behavior of the Jewish Home MKs was shameful and scandalous,” said opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Labor). “I think some of the [MKs] didn’t even hear the speech,” Herzog told Israel Radio shortly after the incident. “My colleagues and I were embarrassed. We know Martin Schulz. He defends Israel’s position, including in the European Parliament.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also responded to Schulz’s address, and said he would try to clarify the issue in a personal meeting with the EU president.
“Regarding the content, I won’t surprise anyone if I said that there were parts that I disagreed with and it’s likely he has been misled by various sources,” he said.
In a wide-ranging speech, Schulz, who spoke in his mother tongue of German, reassured Israel of the European Union’s friendship, asserting that it plans no boycott against Israel and is committed to the Jewish people’s right to live in peace and security. On the other hand, he criticized certain Israeli settlement policies and called on Israel to consider easing its blockade of Gaza, suggesting that it increases Palestinian frustration and thus makes Israelis less secure.
In a meeting between Schulz and President Shimon Peres following his address, Peres thanked the EU president for his efforts to advance peace in spite of disagreements in policy.
“I thank you for your ongoing interest in peace which is at a crucial time. We negotiate because we disagree and we are all making major efforts to overcome those differences,” he said.
Peres also reassured Schulz of Israel’s commitment to the peace negotiations.
“Our policy is equality. We want to see our neighbors succeed. Our intention is to live in peace, not just diplomatically but also economically,” he said, in an apparent reference to the looming threat of European boycotts.
Raphael Ahren and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report