The real story of the EU-Israel friendship

The EU member states themselves are working to advance relations with Israel and combat antisemitism.

By
December 24, 2017 21:22
4 minute read.
The real story of the EU-Israel friendship

European Comission First Vice President Frans Timmermans addresses a news conference on the Democracy Package in Brussels in September. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Since taking up the post of EU ambassador to Israel a few months ago I have been warmly received, meeting with people across the Israeli political spectrum – all stressing our important relationship despite differences on certain issues. I’ve seen with my own eyes how strong and deep relations are between the EU and Israel, in trade, in research, and yes – in political realms as well.

I was therefore rather surprised to read that Europe is actually “at war” with Israel both on European soil and here in Israel, according to Caroline Glick’s op-ed “Europe’s war against the Jewish state.”

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I read that “European officials have refused to call [attacks against European Jews] hate crimes. As they see it, attacks against Jews in the name of hatred for Israel are totally justified.” This statement ignores many EU officials who stood up and spoke out against antisemitism and hate speech. On December 11 (the same day the op-ed was published) EU High Representative Federica Mogherini herself condemned “in the strongest possible way all attacks on Jews everywhere in the world, including in Europe and on Israel and on Israeli citizens.”

Similarly, First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner Vera Jourova also jointly stated that day “there can be no justification” for antisemitic attacks. “There is no place for antisemitism in Europe, and in the joint battle against antisemitism we should all work together to rid us from this ideology of hatred.” These are the words of some of the most senior European officials.

There should be no doubt in readers’ minds as to the EU’s commitment to fight antisemitism in Europe not only for the sake of protecting its Jewish communities but also because it threatens European values and identity. The great work of the EU’s antisemitism coordinator, Katharina von Schnurbein, who is a frequent flyer to Israel, is testament to this.

The EU developed a Code of Conduct with major IT companies (Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and Microsoft) requiring them to take down illegal online hate speech within 24 hours. EU-wide legislation adopted in 14 member states makes Holocaust denial and antisemitic hate speech which incites violence, illegal.

But beyond this, suggesting that EU and Israel are at war when relations are flourishing is simply ignoring the facts.
Israeli exports to the EU in the first semester 2017 are up 14%. Facilitation of trade is part of our work at the EU. Thirty-four percent of Israeli exports go to the EU, which is the first export market in the world for Israeli goods.

Europeans and Israelis do trust each other. There have never been higher numbers of tourists from Europe to Israel and vice versa; the full impact of the EU-Israel Open Skies agreement signed in 2012 is now being felt. It is not by chance that the three-millionth tourist to arrive in Israel was a EU citizen. I learned that around 60% of flights leaving or arriving in Ben Gurion Airport are EU destinations.

Israeli research organizations have received over 461 million euros under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, which began in 2014 – that’s 635 cooperation agreements, benefiting 768 Israeli organizations. Of that number, 327 are small and medium enterprises. Surely this excellent record is the fruit of Israeli innovative skills, but definitely not a sign of warfare.

Great innovative development, such as Na-Nose which analyses breath to detect diseases such as cancer, the EyeMusic device which helps blind people to see by sound, V-Time, a virtual reality training system that helps prevent falls in the elderly, were achieved through this cooperation between Europe and Israel.

The EU works closely with the Israeli government in all fields of cooperation – usually out of the public eye – supporting, upon request of Israeli ministries, alignment with best EU practices on various issues ranging from agriculture, consumer protection, energy and environment, to health, justice, social affairs, telecommunications and education.

Half of Israeli higher education institutes have participated in the EU’s Erasmus+ program for higher education. 7,000 students and academic staff have traveled to or from the EU since 2010, all funded by the EU.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recently welcomed to Brussels, where he himself noted how important the partnership
between the EU and Israel is. Certainly not a sign of “subverting Israeli politics” or “working openly to overthrow the democratically elected government of Israel.”

The EU not only contributes every day to the prosperity of Israel, but also provides unique platforms for it to engage on official levels with neighboring and sometimes unfriendly countries. Only last month Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel attended a meeting of ministers in Cairo at perhaps the only official regional platform in which Israel sits as a partner with the EU and all its neighbors from Lebanon to Tunisia – 43 countries in all.

This is just a snippet. The EU member states themselves are also working to advance relations with Israel and combat antisemitism. With such a level of trade, research, people to people contacts and political engagement, I really fail to understand which “war” the article is referring to, other than the one that is sometimes waged on paper.

The author is the EU ambassador to Israel.


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