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Is the EU an enemy of Israel?

by Michael Mertes

A conference discloses misconceptions

On March 24, 2014, KAS Israel and the conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) jointly organized an all-day symposium on “Europe and Israel: A New Paradigm”. The symposium revealed considerable prejudices and a lack of information that parts of the right side of the political spectrum in Israel bear towards the EU, such as the misperception that the EU is hostile against Israel and driven by anti-Semitic sentiments.

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In their welcoming remarks Michael Mertes, head of the Israel office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and Dr. Dore Gold, president of JCPA, underlined the “paradox” of European-Israeli relations: on the one hand there is no other non-European country, to which the EU entertains such intensive relations as with Israel, and on the other hand, a majority of the Israeli public perceive these relations to be afflicted. Mertes stressed that is was irresponsible to incite fear of an impending European boycott against Israel. Gold reproached the EU for applying double standards: While constantly criticizing Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank, the EU refrained from criticism in other cases (e.g. regarding Turkey in terms of Northern Cyprus or Morocco in terms of West Sahara).

Lars Faaborg-Anderson, the EU Ambassador to Israel, emphasized the extraordinarily high quality and intensity of EU-Israel relations. In particular he considered the EU's offer of December 2013 – to engage in a “Special Privileged Partnership” with Israel as soon as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is achieved – to create the “New Paradigm” that is mentioned in the title of this conference.

Faaborg-Anderson explained that the European criticism against the settlement policy of the Netanyahu government was based on the fact that the development of settlements continued to undermine the chances of a two-state solution. The EU – if only out of self-interest – could not be indifferent to this matter. Although a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not be the key to resolving all the region's political issues, it would allow many Arab states to normalize relations with Israel which would in turn contribute to strengthening the stability of the region. Faaborg-Anderson explicitly rejected all allegations of an impending EU boycott against Israel as false.

The following panel on “Mutual Interests in Economy, Energy and Research” illustrated the EU Ambassador's statements with many examples. Among other things, the speakers at the conference emphasized that Israel's participation in the “Horizon 2020” program would both be beneficial for Israel and the EU – Israel's scientific research would benefit from substantial financial resources, the European economy, on the other hand, would benefit from participating in Israel's inventive spirit and high innovative strength. As a “Start-up Nation” Israel had a lot to offer to the Europeans – together, Israel and the EU had the potential to overcome Silicon Valley's predominance over the IT sector. The speakers also underlined that it was factually incorrect to denounce EU plans for an obligation to label products that derive from the West Bank as a form of “boycott”. Apart from that, such products only represented about 0,5% of Israel's exports to the EU.

Both the panels on “Security and Strategy: Shared Strategic Threats” and on “Is Anti-Semitism a Factor?” revealed much of the distorted picture that parts of the political right wing in Israel have on the EU. According to the speakers, Europe was taking the “Islamic threat” in general and the Iranian threat in particular far too lightly. Furthermore, around 150,000 million Europeans would have to be classified as anti-Semites. If those Europeans spoke of human rights violations conducted by Israel in the Palestinian territories, they in truth were reactivating the anti-Semitic blood libel. Even criticism of Israel's settlement policy was driven by anti-Semitic sentiments, because it applied other standards to Israel than to countries that pursue a similar policy.

The closing panel “A Look Ahead: What Can Be Done in Order to Improve Future Cooperation” was an opportunity to correct a number of blatant misconceptions, last but not least the recurring false claim that the EU was thinking of a boycott against Israel. Overall, the unpleasant feeling remained that parts of the political right wing perceive the EU as hostile towards Israel and are not willing to be dissuaded from this impression by facts and arguments. In any event, there is still a lot of work to be done in persuading.

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