The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, was invited to address the Israeli Knesset on Wednesday, but ended up offending his hosts by slinging a slanderous accusation against the Jewish state.
Speaking in German, Schulz told the gathered Israeli lawmakers that "the Palestinian people, like the Israeli people, have a right to fulfill their dream of creating their own viable democratic state."
Schulz said he understood Israel's need to implement security measures that would lessen the impact of Palestinian terrorism. But, he wondered if Israeli policies weren't going too far. Instead of boosting security, he suggested that checkpoints and what he called the "siege" of Gaza were actually creating more despair among Palestinians, and therefore more Palestinian terrorism.
As an example of the injustices at which he was hinting, Schulz cited young Palestinians from Ramallah who a day earlier had told him that "an Israeli is allowed to use 70 liters of water per day, but a Palestinian only 17."
Schulz admitted that he had not actually checked the figures before repeating the Palestinian accusation from the podium of the Knesset.
But for many Israelis, this claim is nothing new, and several Knesset members, including Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, were thoroughly incensed to the point of briefly heckling Schulz before storming out of the auditorium.
"I am completely prepared to hear criticism from friends. I am not prepared to remain silent in the face of lies. That is why I left together with my party from the plenum," Bennett later wrote on his Facebook page, noting that he would have had no problem with Schulz merely criticizing Jewish settlements and calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.
MK Orit Struk, another member of Bennett's Jewish Home Party, added, "When the President of the European Parliament spits on you, you cannot just remain silent, wipe your face and call it rain. It is unprecedented gall to stand up in the Knesset of Israel and proceed to slander the entire body of elected officials and the entire Jewish People - in German!"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from making a scene during Schulz speech, but later told the Knesset plenum that their European guest had been wholly incorrect, and should consider checking facts before hurling accusations.
"He said that he visited Ramallah and heard that an Israeli citizen uses four times as much water as a Palestinian. According to both the Palestinian water authority and our data, these claims are incorrect. [Schulz] said, in all honestly, 'I didn't check.' But that didn't prevent him from casting aspersions," Netanyahu complained.
A report in Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper later revealed the truth that Schulz couldn't be bothered to check himself.
A 2011 Palestinian Authority water report revealed that residents in Palestinian-controlled areas received a rough average of 103 liters of water per day. A similar report by Israel's Mekorot Water Authority a year later showed that Israelis receive about 183 liters of water per day.
And while there is still a considerable gap between those two numbers, other experts have noted that the daily water use by Palestinians is on par with the average from across the Arab world. Israel's usage is higher because the Jewish state has poured considerable investment into national recycling and desalination programs in order to supplement its water supply.
And while what might have truly been an innocent mistake wouldn't seem like grounds for Bennett's outburst, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein tried to explain to Schulz why it was so problematic for a public figure like himself to propagate unverified claims.
"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," Edelstein told Schulz at a state dinner on Wednesday evening.
For his part, Schulz maintained that his address was totally pro-Israel, and, indeed, much of it was. European officials said their parliamentary president had been offended by the Israeli reaction to his repeating Palestinian propaganda in the midst of a speech that was generally sympathetic toward the Jewish state.
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