Cool map with coin 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The new EU guidelines concerning the West Bank, Golan Heights and east Jerusalem
were not the surprise our prime minister, many of our government officials,
foreign ministry diplomats and right-wing columnists and bloggers made it out to
be. It had been on the cards for a long time, had been discussed quite openly in
Brussels among EU officials, and has been on the individual agendas of quite a
few European countries for well over a year.
Only this time, no amount of
back-room lobbying and pressure was able to delay the decision any longer. The
EU and many of its member countries were simply fed up with the continued lack
of progress on the peace front, and with what they see as the blatant promotion
of policies aimed at strengthening, rather than freezing, the
This includes the expansion of settlements and civilian
infrastructure and, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the recognition of
Ariel as a university following years of EU rejection of any form of academic
sanctions or boycotts against Israel on the grounds that this was not relevant
since all of Israel’s universities and institutes of higher education are inside
the recognized sovereign borders of Israel.
The inclusion of east
Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as part of the new regulations surprised many
who have come, intuitively, to make a distinction between these areas and the
Whether or not they are all defined as “occupied territories”
under international law, most Israelis view these areas differently than the
West Bank, and could have been expected to have been more sympathetic toward a
partial decision. It might have won over a greater part of the Israeli
But even for those who strongly oppose the new EU guidelines, the
venom and strength of the Israeli responses were nothing short of hysterical,
strong on the rhetoric but totally divorced from reality – a sort of reflex
action the minute anyone with “Europe” attached to his name dares to be critical
of Israeli government policies.
The use of Holocaust and anti-Semitism
rhetoric the moment there is the slightest criticism from Europe is cheap and
sensational. The most irresponsible of all of the responses was from one of the
country’s most respected journalists, Dan Margalit, who used the imagery of the
“yellow star” to characterize the impact of the EU decision on Israeli residents
impacted by the new regulations.
Such rhetoric does no more than cheapen
the very real memory of the Holocaust and the very real dangers of
Those who use such arguments to counter a political
criticism clearly have lost all sense of perspective concerning contemporary
Israel and contemporary Europe. The use of such invective is irresponsible and
displays a clear lack of clarity on the part of people who occupy positions of
power and who should know a lot better – even if they strongly disagree with the
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Economy and Trade
Minister Naftali Bennett are certainly doing their best to even further destroy
Israel’s image abroad – especially in Europe. But why should we be surprised?
These are the same people who have come out against the re-opening of
negotiations with the Palestinians, and who want Israel to renege on its prior
commitments to the principle of a two-state solution.
They continue to
promote settlements and occupation at every possible opportunity. This is the
face of the current Israeli government and it does not make for very sympathetic
acceptance even among our best friends, such as the EU or the US.
most laughable of all statements was issued by none other than Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu. He accused the EU of destroying the peace process – just two
days before he finally accepted the new Kerry diplomacy. Wouldn’t it have been
convenient if he could have saved himself the trouble of having to return,
clearly against his will, to the negotiation table, by placing the blame on the
shoulders of those terrible Europeans.
But it seems that the US
administration was not having any of this and, quite rightly, has maintained a
dignified silence on the EU decision – probably backing (perhaps even
coordinating) it in the privacy of their own back rooms in the White House and
the State Department.
Europe remains one of Israel’s most important
allies – politically and economically. Israel retains favored status in almost
all of its relations with Europe – cultural, academic, economic and
The EU strongly supports the principle of a two-state solution
in which Israel’s security as a Jewish state is guaranteed – alongside an
independent Palestinian state. The Europeans, like the Americans, strongly
believe that it is in the long term interests of both the Palestinians AND the
Israelis for them to have separate political entities, each of whose security
and long-term existence is guaranteed – and that the continuation of the present
situation will only result in more conflict and violence and, at the end of the
day, a binational state which the vast majority of Israelis are opposed
It is ironic that the official Foreign Ministry statement rebuked the
EU for not investing its time in promoting peace, when this is exactly what the
Europeans have been doing. If anyone has not invested in peace in recent years,
it is the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, each of which have
done their utmost to put obstacles in the way.
We can’t continue to
expect to enjoy the best of both worlds – favored-nation status on the one hand,
but rejection of the European (and US) position on our future security and peace
on the other. It is not as though the European and American positions are vastly
different, but it is clear that only the strong arm of the US will ever bring
real conflict resolution to the negotiation table, while Europe will have an
important, but secondary, role to play.
That does not excuse the use of
irresponsible rhetoric on behalf of the state. When we disagree, it is incumbent
upon us to refrain from a form of invective which only serves to cheapen those
things which are of such great importance to the Israeli public, such as
Holocaust remembrance and anti-Semitism. This only serves to weaken our cause in
the eyes of the world.The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities
and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.