(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Seeking to combat a perceived growing anti-Israel trend in Europe, Knesset leaders have joined a new alliance intended to strengthen ties with European parliaments.
Funded by wealthy patrons within European Jewish circles, the alliance is seeking to lower the rhetorical temperature on the Palestinian issue and heighten awareness of a potential Iranian nuclear threat, which has been downplayed by many European leaders.
Last week, the lobbying group European Friends of Israel (EFI) launched the European Forum of the Knesset, a coalition spearheaded by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) with the blessing of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud).
"I welcome you from the bottom of my heart," Rivlin told European diplomats and ambassadors gathered at the Knesset for the inaugural meeting of the alliance. Rivlin acknowledged Israel's somewhat troublesome relationship with Europe, but asserted, "The right not to agree between two friends is very important, so long as everyone understands the opinion."
The Knesset alliance is the next step in EFI's growing relationship with Europe. The organization is headquartered in Finland and maintains offices in Spain, Germany and Belgium. EFI sponsored a policy conference in Paris last year, and a spokeswoman said the new Knesset alliance would help deepen the growing outreach.
MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima), former foreign minister and head of the opposition coalition in the Knesset, was also on hand to welcome the European guests.
"There is a huge gap between Israel's image in Europe and vice versa," Livni told them. "I could say that this is less important, but unfortunately there is a connection between public opinion and decision makers. Therefore, we need to work together in order to make the Israeli values be more familiar to the public in Europe."
Livni said Israel's was located in a "difficult neighborhood," that required a stringent approach.
"Any sign of weakness or lack of determination in order to stop Iran, this can lead to kind of a domino effect of states trying to appease Iran in the understanding that Iran is going to be a regional power in the future," Livni said. "Let's understand together that time works against us, that there is a very small window in terms of time and the determination of the international community in stopping Iran or avoiding a nuclear Iran. It's not an Israeli problem, this is a problem of the entire region and the world."
Fiamma Nirenstein, a Jewish member of the Italian parliament, also addressed the diplomats, who represented a range of countries including Sweden, Lithuania, Germany and Austria.
"What we're in front of is a wave of ant-Semitism," Nirenstein said. "We need very much to establish this relationship now, and quickly."
Nirenstein condemned European financing of pro-Palestinian organizations that she said sowed "seeds of war and not of peace." Uzi Rabi, a Middle East lecturer at Tel Aviv University, condemned European investment in Iran, saying it encouraged Iran to maintain the status quo in its uranium enrichment program.
Rabi singled out Russia, Germany, Switzerland and Austria - to which an Austrian diplomat objected, saying a 22-billion-euro deal between Iran and Austrian energy giant OMV was nixed amid pressure in 2007 - as problematic players in refusing to divest from Iran.
"If somebody is going to have that kind of a huge deal with Iran in terms of energy, gas, whatever, this gives [Iran] the feeling that they can go on doing whatever," Rabi said. "If Europe could reduce the amount or the volume of financial transactions with Iran, that could be kind of a sign that Europe is giving some kind of momentum for declarations from Washington."
MK Majallie Whbee (Kadima), deputy speaker of the Knesset, told the gathered diplomats that he understood they were facing troubling demographic trends in maintaining traditional ethnic majorities due to what he called the "Islamization of Europe."
"It's not easy to come to any organization, especially the European parliament, to feel that you are in the minority," said Whbee, who is Druse. "I am one of the minorities in the parliament so I know how you are feeling. Please, be balanced when you are dealing with the issues of Israel and the Israelis."