The head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, was offended by the MKs who stormed out of the Knesset during his speech, officials in the European Union (EU) told the Hebrew-language Walla! news website on Wednesday night.
These officials said that Schulz was “surprised and hurt” and stressed that “he is a friend of Israel” who came to Jerusalem to "express support for Israel and strengthen it."
Schulz roiled many MKs when he accused Israel of discriminating against Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria when allocating water resources, and of imposing a "siege" on Hamas-ruled Gaza. In response, Jewish Home MKs walked out of the plenum and the party’s chairman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, demanded that Schulz apologize.
The officials who spoke to Walla! said that Schulz wanted to visit Israel to show support for the peace process and deliver a clear message that he opposes boycotts against Israel, which he had done a day earlier when he spoke at the Hebrew University.
"He never imagined he would be embroiled into such a storm," they said. "His goal was to strengthen Israel, and the Israeli response reinforces those elements who have a negative attitude towards Israel.”
The officials added that Schulz was particularly hurt by Bennett’s remarks and by the fact that Bennett had chosen to use Schulz’s German citizenship in order to attack him, referring to Bennett’s statements that he “listened attentively to the European Parliament Chairman's speech... he expressed friendship towards Israel and pain and empathy regarding the Holocaust and the past.”
Schultz was further offended, according to the EU officials, by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s remarks. Netanyahu responded from the Knesset plenum to the furor surrounding Schulz’s speech, saying the European President had not bothered to check the facts.
The officials explained that Europe had expected Netanyahu to reprimand Bennett for his criticism and positively emphasize Schulz’s opposition to boycotts. Instead, they said, Netanyahu joined the criticism and presented Schulz as a sucker who is influenced by Palestinian lies.
In an attempt to calm the storm, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told Schulz on Wednesday evening that he was wrong about what he said about there being a “siege” on Gaza, explaining that this had angered the Jewish Home MKs.
"Incorrect facts that are sounded every day are later used as weapons in the delegitimization campaign against Israel, and we must be wary of them," said Edelstein.
He told Schulz that "there is no siege in Gaza. Since Israel withdrew from the region, its citizens are forced to sit in shelters under missile attacks.”
Walla! reported that President Shimon Peres, who met with Schulz several hours after the incident in the Knesset, tried to calm things down as well, praising Schulz’s support for Israel and emphasizing the cooperation between the EU and Israel in science and economics.
Schulz himself admitted, in conversation with the German magazine Die Welt on Wednesday night, that he had been surprised by the reaction his speech received.
"I was surprised and filled with sadness in the face of the criticism," he told the magazine, stressing that he is pro-Israel.
Schulz further said that he was obliged to present to the Knesset the position of the European Parliament and could not “restrict my remarks to things that everyone loves to hear.”