Israel summons Belgian envoy over UN invite to children rights activist

Philippe Goffin, Foreign Minister of Belgium and current President of the UN Security Council (R) listens alongside United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (L) as Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine addresses the Security Council about the situation in the Middle East at the United Nations headquarters in New York, USA, 11 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/JASON SZENES]

Israel has summoned a top Belgian diplomat for a “very harsh” rebuke after it invited activist Brad Parker to address the UN Security Council on Tuesday (11 February).

Parker represents the NGO Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), which describes itself as working to protect “the human rights of Palestinian children” but is seen by Tel Aviv as biased against the Jewish state.

Israel, meanwhile, claims the NGO’s board includes people affiliated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organisation by the EU, the US and Israel.

It was the second time this week that Pascal Buffin, number two at the Belgian embassy, had been summoned by Israel’s foreign ministry, Israeli officials said. In February, Belgium holds the UN Security Council’s rotating presidency and has the privilege to invite speakers in front of the body.

On Friday (7 February) both countries engaged in diplomatic mudslinging after Tel Aviv accused Brussels of a “systematic campaign to demonise the Jewish state at the United Nations”.

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, Emmanuel Nahshon, wrote on Twitter that the speaking invitation to Parker created “unnecessary tension” that was “easily avoidable.”

In return, the Belgian foreign ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Belgium,  and reprimanded Emmanuel Nahshon over tweets related to the dispute.

In a statement sent to Israeli reporters, the Belgian foreign ministry said it was “surprised and dismayed” by the attitude of Israeli officials who publicly expressed their discontent about the issue in the media.

Brussels has “taken good note” of Israel’s protests and said it is “open to dialogue”. But it noted that other UN institutions such as UNICEF and UNESCO have also given DCI-P consultive status, the statement said.

The Belgian foreign ministry also pointed out that the country currently chairs the working group on children and armed conflict, which would make the subject a priority for Brussels.

Belgian King Philip and Queen Matilda flew Monday to New York, accompanied by the Belgian foreign minister, Philippe Goffin (MR), who is meant to chair a debate on the protection of children in armed conflict, an issue that affects more than 420 million children worldwide .

“We have called in the Israeli Ambassador this morning to express our dismay at certain tweets which he has retweeted in his official capacity as Ambassador to Belgium. We have expressed our clear disagreement both on substance and form,” the statement said.

“Belgium is attached to good relations with Israel and wants to maintain an open and frank dialogue among friends. Indeed, we have reached out proactively to Israel on this particular topic. However, that should/will not stop us from having an opinion.”

The diplomatic spat unfolded ahead of a UN Security Council session to debate US President Donald Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan, which has been rejected by the Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israeli.

Trump’s plan, staunchly backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gives Israel a green light to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and would entrench Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”

Speaking to The Times of Israel after the incident, Parker denied allegations against his organisation, adding that he was “asked to brief the council specifically on grave violations against children as part of the UN’s children and armed conflict agenda which includes the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

“It is an evidence-based mechanism led by UNICEF on the ground in the OPT and my remarks, once heard, should not be controversial. These allegations are an attempt to silence legitimate human rights work exposing the reality for children impacted by Israeli military occupation,” he told the Israeli newspaper.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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