Hope that the EU will change its attitude toward Israel • By MIC HAEL GAERTNER Hope. This is one of the most important words in our lives. We hope for perfect health, peace upon Earth, a better future, for higher salaries, a lot of birthday presents, more followers on Instagram, more friends on Facebook or whatever.
Let us hope that the attitude of the European Union toward Israel will change, too.
Up to some time ago, the EU was seen in Israel as a fair negotiator in the Middle East peace process. But over the years esteem for the EU in this regard has declined, and for a couple of days now its role as a trusted negotiator has been suspended.
In November, after having discussed this matter since 2012, the EU issued new guidelines for the labeling of products from Israeli settlements in Samaria and Judea. The producers located there are not allowed to use the “Made in Israel” label anymore. No matter that this labeling affects just a small part of EU-Israeli trade, which is worth around $30 billion a year. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz clearly described this measure as “disguised anti-Semitism.”
Many other politicians in Israel soon made comparisons between the labeling and the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden” – “Do not buy from Jews.”
But the Holocaust is ancient history, especially for the new generation of Europeans.
Some of them were even raised outside of Europe, in lands where anti-Semitism is widely accepted as is, of course, being anti-Israel. Within a few years European society will be changing once again. And there is the possibility that this New Europe will not be friendly toward Israel. Dr. Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, fears some of the recent immigrants to Europe have “grown up in an environment in which hostility towards Israel and anti-Semitism are a common practice.”
Germany is one of the strongest members of the EU, and could be expected to fight anti-Semitism with all its might. But what happened instead? Last Friday the German Foreign Ministry wrote in an email to The Jerusalem Post that it backs the labeling of settlement products. On Monday even a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that she supports labeling. Groups of German and American Jewish organizations quickly and sharply criticized Merkel’s administration for the decision. Let us hope that Germany will reconsider.
Eurocrats in Brussels will say that European consumers have the right to know the “real” locations goods are produced at. In other words, that they’re doing this in favor of the consumer. But why then is Israel the only nation among 200 countries with territorial disputes, like Tibet, Crimea or Western Sahara, to which such labeling is applied? There is still no answer to this question.
Moreover there is little understanding of Israel and its situation in the Middle East.
The new faith in Europe is the “religion of human rights,” as some have called it. This is indeed a long way from the Continent’s saber-rattling empires of the 19th and 20th centuries, but nevertheless some in Europe, or better said in the EU, have lost their moral compass over the past decades. As Professor Efraim Inbar from the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies stated: “The strategic glue is melting away.”
The use of force is seen in the EU as anachronistic. Most of the European countries have abolished conscription, and have been downgrading defense budgets for years. But then a new enemy appeared: the terrorists of Islamic State (IS). The parliaments of Germany and Great Britain have now voted in favor of military action in Syria, but some people, like the Thomas Carl Schwoerer, the speaker of Deutsche Friedensgesellschaft – Vereinigte Kriegsdienstgegner [German Peace Society – United War Resisters], demanded: “We have to negotiate with the IS.” Negotiate with an enemy that assigns such low value to human life? Ridiculous.
Sometimes determination is the only answer – as Israel has demonstrated a couple of times: In June 1981 Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction only 17 kilometers from Baghdad.
Operation Opera, as it was called, led to a condemnation of Israel by the UN Security Council. In September 2007’s Operation Orchard, according to forgien reports, the Israel Air Force bombed a suspicious building in Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. Only four years later did the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirm that the building destroyed in Operation Orchard had indeed been a nuclear reactor.
Or in other words, Israel saved the Middle East and the rest of the world from a nuclear- armed Iraq, a nuclear-armed Syria or even a nuclear-armed Islamic State.
Most people do not believe the EU of today has the strength to execute similar actions. Let us hope they are wrong.
Even the terrorist attacks in Paris and the 130 deaths they caused have not changed the prevailing sentiment in the EU; there is as yet no sign of the Israeli method of dealing with terrorists being adopted.
Last week a lot of EU citizens, among them politicians, expressed the feeling that the armed soldiers and police now seen on the streets in Europe will soon be gone, as they have a strange feeling at seeing them.
They feel “intimidated” by their rifles and guns. They will not accept the world has changed and that these servicemen and women are there to protect us all from terrorists foreign and domestic – and especially those of radical Islam.
Let us hope that the EU will learn from Israel: In Israel a lot people are cheering soldiers on, or buying them meals or drinks.
They show a lot of gratitude as they all know: The Israeli armed forces (and their sacrifices) are the most important pillars of security guaranteeing that sisters, brothers, children, parents and friends can continue to enjoy the freedom we all live in.
Let us hope that the EU will think about its actions and that the relationship with Israel will improve again. Perhaps the fight against the common enemy in form of the Islamic State will be the common denominator.
But nonetheless, if the Israeli government concludes that the EU has become inflexible or even fossilized, there are still other strategic partners. And let us be clear: Indians, Chinese or Koreans will not waste one thought on labeling products.The author is a German journalist who has been following the situation in Israel for over 20 years. Currently he is reporting from Jerusalem.