"The double standard in politics is repugnant"

Nick Brauns

The Workers' Party of Belgium stands with Palestinians and supports the emancipation struggle of the Global South. A conversation with Peter Mertens
By Nick Brauns, Brussels, junge Welt, 22.11.2023

peter mertensIn Belgium, the flags and banners of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PVDA-PTB) are clearly visible at the solidaritiy marches for the Palestinian people. What is your party's position on the war in Gaza?

There is an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in Gaza. It involves huge numbers of civilian casualties, including children, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals on a large scale. We can see a war of annihilation live on television. This is not only a war against the Palestinians, but in a sense it is also a war against international law, because countries like Israel clearly think they are above the law.

What gives you that idea?

The United Nations had lodged 104 resolutions on Israel, condemning the apartheid state, occupation, settlement policy, illegal warfare against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Yet they don't take action. On the other hand, less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin for the displacement of 6,000 children, which is a war crime. Israel has now killed 5,000 children in Gaza and there has not even been a proper investigation. International Criminal Court Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan visited Rafah on the Gaza border in late October, but where are the arrest warrants against Netanyahu and the leadership of the Israeli army? The European Union immediately imposed an arms embargo on Russia, but against Israel they keep quiet. The 11th package of sanctions against Russia is currently being discussed in the EU, but there are no such sanctions against Israel. This double standard in politics is simply repugnant

What does your party want in all of this?

It is high time to end Israel's impunity. We have four immediate demands for the Belgian government: We want Belgium to file a lawsuit against Netanyahu at the International Criminal Court, because only a government can do that. The preferential association agreement between the European Union and Israel should be suspended. We want the Belgian ambassador to be recalled from Israel. Finally, we demand a full arms embargo against Israel - I have also demanded this in the Belgian parliament. If we want to enforce a ceasefire, our country must block the transit of military equipment to Israel. The trade unions in Belgium already decided not to load or unload ships or planes carrying weapons for Israel. Palestinian solidarity needs more than just words, it needs tangible actions.

So this trade union decision doesn't only exist on paper but is actually implemented?

These shipments are stopped at airports. But of course transport workers don't always know what is in each container. That's why we demand to get all the information on this. The unions must be fully informed as to whether or not Belgium will continue to supply arms to Israel. Public opinion has changed greatly in favour of solidarity with the Palestinian people. This is really very important.

What position do the seven-party Belgian government and the opposition take on the Middle East conflict?

Currently, the government is divided on this issue. There are forces in favour of an immediate cease-fire. Last week, the government decided to provide five million euros to the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes, which is a good thing. However, the francophone Liberals, the second largest party in the government, take a very pro-Israel stance, and within the opposition, the largest Flemish party, the N-VA, also openly and clearly positions itself in favour of Israel.

But right now Palestinian flags are currently ostentatiously raised on the facades of the PVDA-PTB’s offices. The contrast to the German Linke and its splinter party, the Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht, couldn't be clearer. They take issue with such visible solidarity and keep stressing Israel's right to self-defense against Hamas.

I recently published a new book "Mutiny - how our world is tilting" about the changing position of the global South vis-à-vis the imperialist camp around the United States. In it, I describe five tipping points between 1991 and 2022. Right now we are experiencing a sixth tipping point in the way the world views Europe and the US. When we look beyond European borders, we see the global South expressing its support for Palestine in one voice. Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean are also united in condemning the hypocrisy of Europe, which lectures everyone and tells them how to vote on the war between Russia and Ukraine, but lets Israel get away with everything. This is not only about Israel and Palestine, but also about international law and the position of Europe and the US in this world order, which is coming to an end. This is why I believe that all progressive forces in Europe must side with the forces of the South to defend their sovereignty and their right to resist imperialism. And this is also important for the European people. Because there can be no freedom for the working class in Europe, in Belgium, as long as the EU continues to promote colonialism and continues to export arms. Hence the call from the Belgian working class, from the labour unions: we don't want to be involved in genocide.

In Germany and also in France, there is strong pressure on Palestinians and on the solidarity movement - even banning organizations and marches. In Germany, human rights activists campaigning for a ceasefire are portrayed as supporters of Hamas. Are there similarities with what's happening in Belgium?

No, not to the same extent. Belgium is a small country between France and Germany, and the Belgian right would like to adopt the policies of its neighbours on this issue. But I don't think that would be in their favour. The pressure to end this genocidal war is just too great, the protests are too strong. Germany and France are also different at a democratic level, at the universities and in the trade unions. And the media has its red line here - the daily war crimes in Gaza are now documented and can no longer be justified. The fact that we have a press that continues to report on these war crimes is a source of annoyance to the Israeli embassy. The embassy wanted to show a film in parliament about the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7. But this was rejected because, after all, it is the Belgian parliament and not that of Israel or the US. There is, of course, a lot of pressure from the Israeli and US embassies. But if sovereignty still means anything, then of course we must be sovereign in the face of this behaviour by the United States and Israel.

We are talking here in the margins of the International Tribunal against the US blockade of Cuba in the European Parliament. In your welcome address, you highlighted the similarities between the attacks on Cuba and Palestine. What are these similarities?

In the last vote of the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 2, 187 countries voted to lift the illegal and criminal blockade against Cuba. Of all the countries in the world, the United States has found only one ally, Israel, supporting them against Cuba. Only an apartheid state that has imposed an illegal blockade on Gaza for years is on Washington's side. War mongers like the United States and Israel are becoming increasingly isolated and facing growing calls for compliance with international law and an end to the hypocritical policy of double standards, double weights.

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