In November 2015, the European Union issued guidelines for labeling products made on land Europe considers occupied by Israel. This included products made in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel, naturally, claimed that the move was discriminatory and denounced it as a political move aimed at pressuring the country into making concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “hypocritical and a double standard.”
A few months later, I happened to meet the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen and asked him a simple question. Let’s assume, I said, that labeling products in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is understandable. Those are territories in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and their status will need to wait to be resolved in a comprehensive peace agreement between the sides.
“But what about the Golan,” I asked. “Who exactly does the EU want Israel to give it back to?” My question referred to the ongoing civil war in Syria, which erupted in 2011 and has seen the rise of ISIS, and al-Qaida as well as the entrance of Iran and Hezbollah into the country, now the focus of Netanyahu’s most recent diplomatic efforts. I did not receive an answer but the question lingers still today as just one example of how Europe lacks a clear understanding of the Middle East.
I mention this story since on Tuesday, in a final briefing to the press before leaving the country after four years as the EU envoy, Faaborg-Andersen said that Israel can learn from Europe how to effectively combat terrorism.
“Fighting terrorism,” he said, “is an endeavor that requires the whole tool box of instruments.” One of those tools, he went on to explain, is a “strong security dimension,” which Israel uses effectively. But, he added, there are other aspects involved as well, including “de-radicalization,” working with social services, and education.
Now that is an interesting idea considering how many of the terrorist attacks perpetrated in Europe are carried out by citizens, some born and bred in their respective countries. In Israel, a small percentage of the attacks - like the recent one at the Temple Mount - are carried out by Israeli Arabs. Most are perpetrated by Palestinians.
Looking at the numbers this is an even stranger idea. According to EUROPOL, the EU agency for law enforcement cooperation, 142 people were killed in terrorist attacks in EU member states in 2016. In Israel, on the other hand, 17 people were killed. While 2017 is not yet over, the discrepancy is stark. In Israel 12 people have been killed, nine of them soldiers and policemen, while in EU member states there are already nearly 60 people who have been killed in Islamic terrorist attacks.
While the numbers don’t tell the full story, they are definitely part of it. So what exactly was Faaborg-Andersen referring to? Richard Kemp, the former British military officer and staunch defender of Israel, called Faaborg-Andersen’s statements “chutzpah,” citing the numerical discrepancy. “Not only does Israel have nothing to learn from the EU,” Kemp said, “but the EU is guilty of encouraging terrorism in Israel.”
Sadly, Kemp is right. For years, the EU has failed to articulate a clear account of who is right and wrong in this conflict. The failure to make a distinction between the Golan and Judea and Samaria is just one example of a confused moral compass.
This failure impacts not only the skewed way Israel is perceived throughout Europe but also the way countries are combating terrorism on the continent. The first step Europe can take is identifying its enemy and understanding who it is that it is up against. The enemy has a name and in this case, it is called radical Islamic terror. I am not saying that Israel is perfect. This country makes mistakes and many of them you can read in our newspaper. But I do have a message for Amb. Faaborg-Andersen: We appreciate your offer but no thanks. Israel will pass.
For years I was of the opinion that Israel’s might – its economic power and diplomatic clout – rested on three key pillars.
The first is the country’s conventional military, the IDF, one of the most powerful and technologically advanced armies in the world.
The second is the country’s purported nuclear program. Israel doesn’t admit to having nuclear weapons but also doesn’t deny that it does. This ambiguity leaves its enemies uncertain and that uncertainty bolsters deterrence.
The third pillar is Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States. This transcends administrations and presidents and has, until now, been deep and meaningful whether it is a Republican or a Democrat sitting in the White House.
There is, however, a fourth - it is education.
While Israelis tend to get caught up in the political debate surrounding issues like the settlements or our continued presence in Judea and Samaria, we need to ensure that we are instilling within our children a strong and vibrant Jewish identity. They need that basic foundation, since without it, the political debate will be shallow and lack purpose.
The fact that at their draft date a few years ago, 50% of IDF soldiers had not been to Jerusalem, is a national disaster. If their schools don’t take them there then something is wrong. If their families don’t see value in visiting the location that is the bedrock of the Jewish nation, then something is missing. How can we expect these soldiers to fight in defense of the Jewish state if they don’t under - stand why we are here to begin with? Last week, I had the opportunity to join my family at Camp Moshava in the rolling green Poconos Mountains of northern Pennsylvania. There, I saw up close the work that is being done – under the leadership of Alan Silverman and Channah Spiegelman – to entrench within American and Israeli youth a sense of Zionism, a love for Israel and strong Jewish values. (A disclaimer – my wife, Chaya, worked there this summer).
On Monday, two families, both longtime campers and staffers, left early to catch the Nefesh B’Nefesh group aliya flight to Israel. When I told a member of staff how strange I thought it was that someone would make aliya directly from camp, she looked at me and said: “That’s exactly what I did with my family a few years ago.” Apparently, this has become an annual camp tradition, marked by an emotional and moving ceremony attended by the more than 1,000 people there.
Israel has a lot to learn from the Diaspora. Research has shown how impactful summer camps can be on the formation of a Zionist Jewish identity. One of my daughters felt that she learned more about Jerusalem and its 50th anniversary during a month at Moshava than all of last year as an eighth-grader. Other camps, like the Ramah chain, and informal programs like Birthright see similar success.
As quality of life in Israel continues to rise, the need for nationalistic motivations will continue to decline. Israel is no longer a country fighting for survival. Yes, it has threats along its borders, but it also enjoys a level of security unprecedented in its almost 70 years of existence.
While the conflicts we face – whether inside our borders or the antisemitic attacks against Jews around the world – are often a reminder of Israel’s purpose, we cannot rely solely on wars to bring us together. More needs to be done to foster a strong sense of identity and peoplehood even when Jews are not being cursed by neo-Nazis marching in Virginia.
Next week approximately 2 million students will enter their school classrooms, some for the very first time. It is an opportunity to ask ourselves what type of children we want to see exiting those same classrooms next June. Are we just looking for students with good grades or should we expect something more?