Ashton: EU did not fund apartheid week

Baroness Ashton

Baroness Ashton

The European Union has distanced itself from claims that it supported Israel Apartheid Week events at a Dutch university.

Shimon Samuels, of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, wrote to EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton urging her to condemn IAW campaigns following the launch of a book about Palestinian refugees in The Hague last week.

Promotional material for the book launch linked it to IAW and stated that the EU was funding the event.

Dr Samuels accused the EU of "obstructing freedom of expression for open debate on the Middle East, under the guise of anti-Zionism".

He said IAW campaigns were "a contributing factor to antisemitism".

But a spokeswoman for Baroness Ashton denied all links to the apartheid week and said the book launch was a "separate initiative".

Last Monday's launch was organised by the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, a charity which works to reconcile social groups involved in global conflicts. Its international executive committee is chaired by Judge Richard Goldstone.

The IHJR works with the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS), part of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. The ISS supported Israel Apartheid Week activities last month.

Part of the IHJR project is funded by the EU's Partnership for Peace initiative, which provides financial backing for social schemes in the Middle East.

Maja Kocijancic, Baroness Ashton's spokeswoman, said: "We had nothing to do with Israel Apartheid Week. We have not funded any activities linked to it. The book launch and the apartheid week were two separate initiatives that cannot be mixed.

"The participation of the ISS at Erasmus University in IAW has not been funded under EU programmes.

"The Partnership for Peace programme does not fund universities as such. It finances concrete projects with clearly identified objectives and results, which should contribute to peace, reconciliation and understanding among the peoples in the Middle East. The book on the remembrances of 1948 Palestinian refugees falls within these general guidelines."

A spokeswoman for ISS and Erasmus University said: "Within university walls, intellectuals are free to exchange views. It is not the policy of our university to take a standpoint on political issues.

"There have been a number of events at which intellectual debate could take place. Any opinions expressed at those events are those of individuals and not of the university as an institution.

"Within ISS in particular, peace and conflict studies and matters concerning human rights are both the subject of research and part of the teaching curriculum."

Dr Samuels said: "Universities where IAW is hosted are, ipso facto, in violation of the EU's working definition of antisemitism. Baroness Ashton should publicly condemn IAW as a threat to European domestic and Middle East interests."

    Last updated: 12:15pm, April 14 2011