Israel’s public relations in Europe are “miserable,” and the estrangement
between Israel and the EU is both because Israeli politicians for whom Europe
was the center of gravity are dying off, and because the Holocaust is receding
into the “mist of history” for European politicians, Czech Foreign Minister Karl
Schwarzenberg has told The Jerusalem Post.
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Schwarzenberg, whose country
is among the most supportive of Israel inside the EU, said there had been a
significant shift in mood toward Israel in Europe over the last year, and “it
would be nonsense to deny it.”
Schwarzenberg, who met on Monday with
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, is on a two-day visit to Israel and the
“Whereas 10 or 20 years ago there was a vast
majority of EU countries who were definitely for Israel, now we can really rely
on two countries,” he said.
“A lot of countries are rather neutral, and
some clearly have the other view.”
Schwarzenberg, sitting on the veranda
of the King David Hotel in a jacket and signature bow-tie while puffing on a
pipe, candidly named the Netherlands and Bulgaria as the two countries Israel
could rely on.
“There are two countries who are now very supportive,” he
said. “The Dutch, with their new foreign minister [Uri Rosenthal], and the
The young [foreign] minister of Bulgaria [Nikolay Mladenov]
is a very talented man, and he seems to be very active.”
other Central and Eastern European countries that recently joined the EU and
were widely considered friendly, such as Hungary, Poland and Romania,
Schwarzenberg said they were indeed pro-Israel, “but they are not so
The Baltic states were supportive, but “not so much in the
center of EU politics,” he said.
His own country’s voice on the Middle
East, Schwarzenberg said, was heard inside the EU institutions, but was not
Schwarzenberg responded in the affirmative when asked if
the overall mood and attitude inside Europe toward Israel was something that
should be a cause for worry in Jerusalem.
“I will tell you something
honestly,” he said. “I think the PR of Israel in Europe during the last 10-12
years was miserable.
The public relations were really
Saying that some of Israel’s military actions were “not
really helpful” on this score, the Czech foreign minister bewailed the images
coming out of the country.
“You must not forget that for the average
European who is not involved in politics, who sits down with a beer and wine and
looks at the news on the television, the pictures he gets from here are the war
on Gaza,” he said.
“The normal man and woman who look at the television
see a hi-tech, superbly armed army attacking overcrowded people living in not
very good conditions. So of course the sympathy is with the people there. And,
of course, they hear the news of houses pulled down – there is something here in
the Old Town [the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah], or olive trees cut down –
and this creates impressions.”
Particularly rough on European
sensibilities was the West Bank security barrier, he said.
Europeans, who remember the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, this [the security
barrier] brings back bad memories,” he said.
“The image of Israel
nowadays is not a good one. A friend of Israel has to put it clearly: Your image
Schwarzenberg, who was born in Prague in 1937 to a wealthy
family in Bohemia before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, and whose family
fled to Austria after the communist takeover in 1948, said that Europeans were
not swayed by Israel’s argument – that the barrier simply saves lives and is a
“For a long time, the Berlin Wall was explained in
the same way by the communist regime – to protect against the imperialist spies
and devils,” he said. “It was explained in the same way.
So you see, it
has limited credibility.”
Europeans, he said, “are not impressed by the
danger that Israel is facing. They think that Israel is so strong, so superbly
armed – a nuclear power – that they are not really endangered.”
whether he himself understood the need for the barrier, the foreign minister
said he did, but would probably have drawn it along a different route.
understand it, but I know it makes a terrible impression,” he
Despite highly critical voices of Israel in Europe, Schwarzenberg
said that “nobody would want to see Israel vanish. It is a part of our culture,
our work. Even the most critical of Israel see it as a partner.”
Czech foreign minister said he felt that the dialogue between Israel and the EU
was undeveloped, and placed part of the onus for this on Israel, which he said
was naturally much more interested in the US.
Israel’s former leaders, he
said, grew up in Europe and had a great understanding of the continent. By
contrast, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “spent a great deal of his life in
This, he said, was reflective of a generational change in
Israel’s leadership that was leading to a degree of political
“When the generation of politicians who grew up in Europe
died out, it changed the whole situation. The sabras were not interested in
Europe anymore,” he said.
And a similar type of situation is taking place
among politicians in Europe, he said.
“World War II and the Holocaust is
65 years ago. Of all my colleagues in the EU, I am the last one who still saw a
Yellow Star,” he said.
“The Holocaust, for those actively involved in
politics [in Europe today], is as far away as the pre-World War I
The fact that “everything slowly disappears in the mist of
history was also playing an “enormous role” in changing the tenor of the
Israeli-European relationship, Schwarzenberg said.