JERUSALEM (AP) — In a protest tinged with references to the Holocaust, lawmakers from a nationalist Israeli political party stormed out of parliament on Wednesday to object to comments by the visiting German president of the European Parliament.
The incident marred what had largely been a conciliatory speech by Martin Schulz and added new fuel to recurring tensions between Israel and the European Union over Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank.
Schulz began his speech by condemning Nazi Germany's "barbaric murder" of six million Jews during the Holocaust. He even thanked the chamber for allowing him to speak in German.
But as Schulz moved from niceties into policy issues, Israeli hardliners began to object. Schulz enraged the lawmakers when he asked whether claims he had heard from a young Palestinian about Israel's control over water resources were true.
"One of the questions these young people asked me which I found move moving — although I could not check the exact figures — was this: How can it be that an Israeli is allowed to use 70 liters of water per day, but a Palestinian only 17?" He later criticized Israeli settlement construction in war-won lands claimed by the Palestinians and questioned Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, saying it was strengthening extremists.
Members of Jewish Home, a nationalist party aligned with the settler movement, heckled him, accusing him of spreading lies and anti-Israel propaganda before storming out. The protests included veiled references to the Holocaust and his German heritage.
Party leader Naftali Bennett demanded an apology. "I will not accept untruthful patronizing of the people of Israel in our parliament, certainly not in German."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more diplomatic, but also accused Schulz of "selective hearing" by repeating an erroneous Palestinian claim.
According to Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental advocacy group, the numbers cited by Schulz indeed were wrong. But the trend he cited — that Israeli water consumption is more than triple that of the Palestinians — is true.
Mira Edelstein, a spokeswoman for the group, said Israeli domestic per capita consumption is about 250 liters of water a day, compared to about 70 liters a day per Palestinian. She said the water-sharing arrangements were set in interim peace accords 20 years ago and were never updated.
"It's a well-known fact," she said. "The water allocation is not a fair allocation. The Palestinians are not getting what they need." The World Health Organization says 50 to 100 liters of water per person each day are needed to ensure most basic needs.
She said the numbers were compiled from data from various sources, including the World Bank and the Israeli and Palestinian national water carriers.
The uproar over Schulz's comments illustrated Israel's fragile relationship with Germany. Seven decades after the Holocaust, Germany is one of Israel's closest European allies, in part due to a sense of responsibility for the genocide of European Jewry. Yet memories of the Holocaust remain fresh, and many Israelis bristle at the thought of Germany criticizing their actions.
Israel has also been feuding with the European Union over settlement policies. The EU has been outspoken in its criticism of the settlements, saying Israeli construction of homes in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians is undermining hopes for a negotiated peace settlement.
A small but growing number of European businesses and investment funds have cut ties with firms involved in West Bank settlements, and the EU's ambassador to Israel has warned the Jewish state faces increased isolation and threats of economic boycotts if peace talks collapse.