A pro-Israel organization comprising European parliamentarians was officially launched last week at a reception in Brussels attended by members of the Knesset, European Parliament and European national parliaments, and an array of diplomats and dignitaries.
European Friends of Israel (EFI) will focus on promoting closer ties between Israel and the European Union. With offices next to the European Commission in Brussels, the new organization plans to work closely with the 25 EU member states and the two next candidates for membership, Bulgaria and Romania.
Dimitri Dombret, director of EFI, said, "Our goal is to deepen and strengthen the relationship between the EU and Israel, both on a political and commercial level. In order to do this we will gather not only MEPs but also members of the national parliaments across Europe. We want to enlarge European support to Israel.
"The organization exists to improve Israel's image and help members if they need information about Israel. We will also network and organize missions of MEPs and national MPs and take them out to Israel."
Dr. Charles Tannock, a British MEP from the Conservative Party and a member of EFI's steering committee, told The Jerusalem Post, "There is a clear need to reverse some of the demonizing of Israel and the black propaganda peddled by its enemies both within and outside of the EU. Israel remains a vibrant democracy which shares fundamental common values with the EU and is part of the European Neighborhood Policy, for which I am rapporteur, and enjoys an Association Agreement with the EU. Israel is at the front line in fighting international terrorism, which threatens us all, and therefore deserves our strong support."
EFI is expected to have an initial membership of some 1,500 from all of Europe's mainstream political parties, making it one of the largest pan-European parliamentary groups of its kind.
The EFI's premise is that Israel's close cultural and democratic bonds with the EU deserve better recognition. It will also work to enhance Israel's commercial interests.
The event was attended by representatives of Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and approximately 200 European parliamentarians, diplomats and senior EU officials, including European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament's Committee for Foreign Affairs.
Gunnar H kmark, Swedish Christian-Democrat MEP, chairman of EFI's steering committee and president of the Swedish-Israel Friendship Association, said, "This is an historic event. Never have we seen parliamentarians from so many member states of the EU and never have so many friends of Israel come together at the same time."
"I believe EFI can help us change the debate in our parliaments by both identifying and indeed helping many more colleagues who think like we do," he said.
In a pre-recorded video address, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to participants on the importance of relations between Israel and Europe and the EU's role in building the diplomatic process in the Middle East.
"Europe is a key player and can help create the conditions for a peaceful Middle East," he said.
MK Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) said, "This is a very important initiative, not only because it is going to improve the relationship between Europe and Israel, but also because people will get to understand that Israel is on the forefront of the fight against terrorism and totalitarianism."