Four years seem to go by very quickly, said Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of the delegation of the European Union, in private conversation at the Europe Day reception that he and his wife, Jean Marie Murphy, hosted this week at the European residence in Herzliya Pituah.
Andersen is in the process of getting ready to wind up his term and will leave Israel on September 1.
Brexit notwithstanding, guests attending included British Ambassador David Quarrey. Russian Ambassador Alexander Shein was also present, though Russia is not an EU member state.
During the formal part of the evening, Andersen said that this year’s Europe Day is special because the EU has just turned 60, which, he added, is also his own age. “The union rose from the ashes of two world wars and was shaped by the hands and the iron will of those who returned from the battlefields and even Jewish survivors from the concentration camps only a few years earlier,” said Andersen. “It was the generation of our fathers and grandfathers who turned the cry “never again war” into an ambitious political project that has changed the life of Europeans from that day onwards.”
The UK decision to leave the union, the refugee crisis and a spate of terrorist attacks have in the past year tested the union’s unity, said Andersen, but nonetheless cautious optimism is replacing gloom and doom. Last year, he said, growth returned for the first time to all member states of the EU, and unemployment was at its lowest since the onset of the financial crisis of 2008.
In spite of the challenges that it faces, Europe is and will remain a formidable power for good in global affairs, declared Andersen. After painting a somewhat rosy economic picture of Europe, Andersen turned to politics, saying: “Politically, we will remain a core player in world affairs.”
Even though Israel and the EU have had their ups and downs, Andersen assured his guests, including National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, that “the relations between the European Union and Israel are rock solid.”
Europe is strongly committed to the fight against antisemitism and to keep the memory of the Shoah alive,” he said.
He also noted that Europe is Israel’s “biggest trading partner, biggest partner in science and technology, biggest partner in transportation, and maybe soon to be biggest energy partner, “following Israel’s discovery of natural gas deposits.
Europe cooperates closely with Israel on counterterrorism and on shoring up some of the fragile states in Israel’s neighborhood, in an effort to achieve a modicum of regional stability, said Andersen.
But “the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue remains a thorn in the flesh, with ramifications that extend far beyond the conflict itself. It goes to the heart of Israeli society, which is increasingly polarized on the issue of an occupation that has lasted for 50 years,” said Andersen.
“Too many Israelis and Palestinians seem to be trapped in a victim- villain narrative, where they each see themselves as the absolute victim and the other as the absolute villain,” Andersen observed. “Palestinians see themselves as victims of a historical injustice and occupation, while Israelis see themselves as victims of terrorism, incitement and lingering doubt about the legitimacy of their state. It is imperative that we do not allow narratives of victimhood to thrive,” he cautioned.
Andersen described his period in Israel as fascinating and at times frustrating, but said that he felt “truly privileged” to have served here, in spite of occasional disagreements. He also raised a laugh when he said that those who incited against him on social media never called his office to arrange a meeting.
Like so many young Europeans and Americans who wanted to take part in the socialist kibbutz experiment, Andersen first came to Israel in 1976 to work as a volunteer at Kibbutz Neot Mordechai in the north of the country. He was struck with how Israel has changed from a backwater, basically agricultural society to a modern, strong and prosperous nation and one of the innovation hubs of the world.
Steinitz, who was representing the government, said that he found it very symbolic to be present at Europe Day, as he had just come from a ceremony with veterans of the Red Army, and he definitely saw a correlation between the defeat of the Nazi monster and the establishment of the European Union.
Emphasizing Europe’s importance to Israel, Steinitz said that Israel was one of the first non-European countries to set up an embassy to the EU in Brussels.
Steinitz suggested that the EU should support Israel “not only when we are trying to promote peace, such as when we moved out of Gaza,” but also when Israel is hit by rockets fired from Gaza.
At the same time, he said, Israel appreciates what the EU is doing to fight antisemitism and racism, “but Europe should pay more attention to anti-Israel incitement.”
■ PAYING LIP service in opposition to any social evil is easy, but when one has to put one’s money where one’s mouth is, it is not so easy. Racism is becoming all too rampant in the world, and to demonstrate the evil of racism, Castro is promoting its fashion creations using a female model with a light complexion and a male model with a very dark complexion.
Ann Zak and Alan Godin appear to be completely indifferent to their racial differences, and Castro’s message is that there are other things to worry about, besides which color is part of art.
■ IN THE general confusion surrounding the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the launch at long last of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, many listeners and viewers may have been surprised when turning on their radios and television sets that sound is still emanating from Reshet Bet and other stations and that there are still programs on the IBA TV channels. That’s because the frequencies remained open for hourly bulletins on radio, with music and an overload of commercials in between, and because Educational Television shares the television frequency that used to belong to Channel 1 and as of 6 a.m. on Monday will become KAN11TV.
The closure of Channel 1 and Israel Radio was an emotional jolt for all IBA employees, including those who are transferring to IBC, but the person who took it hardest was Ronen Glick, who led the protest campaign against closure. Despite all the documentary films about IBA staff, appeals and demonstrations, the campaign hit a brick wall. Friends and colleagues say that Glick has not stopped crying – not just for himself and his former workplace, but for the number of single mothers who have been left jobless.
■ GERMAN PRESIDENT Frank-Walter Steinmeier has a home away from home in Israel. It’s called the King David Hotel. Steinmeier, who was in Israel this week, checked into the hotel for the 18th time. This was his first stay as president.
The previous 17 visits were as his country’s foreign minister.
The last guests staying at the hotel next week will have to vacate at the end of the week, because as of May 21, the hotel will be closed till the evening of May 23 in preparation for and during the visit of US President Donald Trump. America’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is expected to arrive next week and will present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin prior to Trump’s arrival.
The final Friday night dinner before Trump and his entourage take over the hotel will be for an Australian trade mission, one of several this year. Three more are due to arrive in June, two in September and one in October.
■ ALL MAJOR hotels have arrangements with physicians to call in an emergency when a guest takes ill. But in the case of 35-year-old Jurgen Freire from Heidelberg, Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel staff had to act quickly before the arrival of a doctor.
Around two weeks ago, at approximately noon, Freire was taking a swim in the hotel pool when he suddenly lost consciousness. Happily, there were other guests in the pool who noticed that he wasn’t moving and immediately alerted pool supervisor Avi Buzaglo, who wasted no time in attempting to resuscitate Freire. Security team leader Jonathan Licht quickly joined him with the hotel’s defibrillator – the device that gives a high energy electric shock to the heart. Freire was in the good hands of both team members, until the arrival of an ambulance with paramedics.
Freire was immediately transferred to the emergency unit of the nearby Sourasky Medical Center.
After a week in the hospital, he returned to the hotel safe and sound and flew back to Germany last Monday. On Friday, he made a point of thanking Buzaglo and Licht for their crucial and professional assistance. “You saved my life,” he said.
■ EMBASSIES ARE constantly on the lookout for new ways in which to make their own countries attractive to people in their host countries.
Sometimes it’s a food festival, a film festival or a dance festival, but the current thing appears to be a reception on ship. This week it was the visit of three Indian naval ships at Haifa Port; and toward the end of the month, Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo and Cmdr. Francesco Pagnotta, commanding officer of the Italian Navy frigate Carabinieri, will host a reception on board while the ship is moored in Haifa.