Comments made by the president of the European Parliament, in which he criticized Israeli settlements and implied that Israelis receive four times more water than Palestinians, has stoked anger in Israel.
The speech, made by Martin Schulz on Wednesday, prompted the far-right Jewish Home party to storm out of the parliament and the spat made the front pages of Israel’s main newspapers.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett warned against Germans criticizing his country, in reference to the European country’s Nazi past.
“I am not prepared to accept a situation in which someone stands up in the heart of the Israeli Knesset and delivers a speech – in German, to boot – and tells lies about Israel,” Bennett, a member of the Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio.
“I say, unequivocally, that someone speaking in German should be even more careful about saying things critical of the State of Israel. I have that expectation.”
A European Union source who declined to be named said it was hard to find a more pro-Israeli politician in Europe than Schulz, and that he was “shaken” by a controversy that had overshadowed what was meant to be a positive message.
It was Schulz’s remarks on water allocation that were the most provocative.
“How can it be that an Israeli is allowed to use 70 liters of water per day, but a Palestinian only 17?” Schulz asked.
The municipal water consumption per capita per day in Israel in 2011 was 250 liters, while among Palestinians in the West Bank … it was 70 liters.
But he also admitted he had not had time to verify the numbers.
Shortly afterwards, Schulz criticized settlements as an obstacle to peace and warned that the Gaza blockade could “undermine, rather than strengthen, Israel’s security”.
Bennett denounced Schulz’s remarks as being “deceitful propaganda”.
Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waded in, accusing Schulz of being quick to cast blame without checking the facts.
“What was disturbing in Schulz’s speech was the selective hearing that is becoming prevalent in many circles in Europe,” he said in remarks published on the parliament’s website.
“These are figures which are not true. [Schulz] said he didn’t check the figures but it didn’t stop him from straight away casting blame.”
In an interview with German daily Die Welt published on Thursday, Schulz said he was taken aback by the tirade.
“The angry reaction from some parliamentarians in Jerusalem surprised me and made me concerned,” he said, adding that he considered his Jerusalem address to be “pro-Israel”.
“The people who disturbed my speech belong to a party of hardliners who answer each critical word that bothers them in this way.”
The headline in the Israel HaYom freesheet, which is close to Netanyahu, read: “Shock in parliament over slander of Israel.”
It accused Schultz of choosing to use “false libel” provided by anti-Israeli groups.
Other papers published figures showing a completely different picture of Israeli-Palestinian water usage.
The spat prompted several NGOs to publish their own figures on water usage, with Friends of the Earth Middle East citing statistics from 2011 showing the ratio was close to four to one.
“The municipal water consumption per capita per day in Israel in 2011 was 250 liters, while among Palestinians in the West Bank, after taking into consideration an average loss of approximately 30 percent of the water – due to theft and lack of infrastructure – it was 70 liters,” the group said.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem also said there was “discrimination in water allocation”, with Israelis receiving “much more water than Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip”.
According to the Israeli national water company, Mekorot, the average household water consumption in Israel is between 100 and 230 liters per person per day.
For Palestinians in the West Bank connected to the water mains, the average daily consumption is about 73 liters.
Those not connected to the network – around 113,000 people – rely on stored rainwater and water sold from tanker trucks, which is very expensive.
Typically, they consume less than 60 liters per person per day with shepherding communities in the northern Jordan Valley consuming just 20 liters, the group said.
Average consumption in Gaza is 70-90 liters per person daily, but the water quality is extremely poor, with 90 percent of supplies pumped there unpotable, according to World Health Organization standards.
(Agencies via Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.com)