Likud supporters celebrate at party headquarters on Election Day.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When then-Likud leader Ariel Sharon took then-Texas governor George W. Bush on a helicopter ride over Israel’s narrow waistline in 1998, it was seen as a wise investment of time in a man who would later become the president of the United States.
In a new initiative by Likud, such investments are now being made in the young leadership of conservative parties throughout Europe, their counterparts with whom they share ideology.
“It is important for Israel’s public diplomacy to reach out to parties whose leaders, either currently or in the future, will set their national agenda,” said Eli Hazan, the Likud’s director of communications and international relations, who is spearheading the effort. “The information we give them now can be critical later on.”
Hazan has been inviting the current and young leadership of the European parties to come to Israel, where he takes them to Jerusalem’s Old City and explains why he believes it cannot be divided. His regular itinerary for his visitors also includes the Jabotinsky Institute and Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv and the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.
The 38-year-old has also been traveling to Europe to meet young politicians there, explain Israel’s policies, and defend the leader of the Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His meetings with politicians open doors to other opinion setters like journalists, businessmen, academics, and cultural icons.
“There is a lot of lies and disinformation to correct, some of which is put out by the Left,” said Hazan, who is not related to Likud MK Oren Hazan.
Hazan initially volunteered to lecture for the Likud inside Israel and abroad. He was sent to speak to visiting groups when the Likud faction’s top English speakers were not available.
During the Likud’s campaign for the March 17 election, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who as head of the party’s secretariat oversees the Likud’s finances, asked Hazan to work officially for the party. He was part of the Likud campaign in which social media and short videos sent by WhatsApp were utilized successfully, and after the election he stayed on with the party, in charge of its communications in and out of Israel.
Hazan’s responsibilities include maintaining the Likud’s website and social media presence, lecturing around the country, and rebuilding the party’s international relations, including its connections with parties abroad.
To that end, he has reached out to most conservative parties and some right-wing parties in Europe. He must be careful and selective in his outreach, because some right-wing parties are seen as extremist or even anti-Semitic.
Parties whose representatives the Likud has brought to Israel include Germany’s Christian Democrats and the Danish People’s Party. Hazan has built ties with the European People’s Party in the European Union, Sweden, Latvia, and Spain.
He has invited the ruling party in Hungary, Fidesz, which made news last week by attempting to block the entrance of migrant workers.
“We built a fence on the border with Egypt and got thousands of migrants to leave, so we have much to advise Hungary,” Hazan said. “The rise of Muslims in Europe is on one hand good for Israel because they understand us, but on the other hand, we don’t want Europe to fall.
"The golden path must be found.”
Hazan said he is encouraged by decreasing support for the Left, not only in Israel but also in many European countries.
“The Left is disappearing because it’s not reading reality, and we can capitalize on that,” he said.