Not widely reported, but included in the 13,000-plus crowd at the AIPAC Policy
Conference just concluded in Washington was a 70-strong delegation from Europe,
including 25 members of the European Parliament and national parliaments,
together with European pro-Israel activists. The group came to Washington as
part of a delegation led by the European Friends of Israel.
established in 2006 “to forge a stronger political relationship and a deeper
understanding between Europe and Israel” and counts as members an impressive
1,500 parliamentarians from all across the European political spectrum, making
it one of the largest and most influential pan-European parliamentary groups of
EFI’s Brussels-based director, Elinadav Heymann, says the
delegation came to AIPAC to learn more tools and real-time information on how to
be better advocates for Israel in Europe and establish critical “trilateral
contacts” with their Israeli and American counterparts.
Washington, the group attended many of the AIPAC sessions, met separately with
senior representatives of the Israeli and US governments and participated in a
high-level Homeland Security Forum. They were also briefed on a wide array of
matters by experts from around the world and from AIPAC.
Some of the hot
topics discussed included terror financing, cyber warfare, stopping the Iran
nuclear threat and increasing trade between Israel and the EU. In addition, the
blacklisting of Hezbollah and renewed efforts within the EU to boycott Israeli
products were also discussed.
Marek Siwiec, who chairs the EFI Political
Board and is also a member of the European Parliament from Poland’s Socialist
party, says that because of EFI, “you can now find more truth about Israel in
the corridors of European Parliament.”
On the issue of blacklisting
Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, Siwiec says assuming it is proved that
Hezbollah carried out the attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, last year, which occurred
on European territory, “there is no reason” to keep them off the EU terror
Frédérique Ries, the deputy chairwoman of the EFI Political Board,
and Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament on behalf of the
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, says the Europeans “know exactly
what has to be done,” but some states, especially the French, are holding back
Hezbollah’s blacklisting, because they are afraid of “destabilizing” the
Lebanese political scene.
Pointing to the recent French military action
against Islamists in Mali, Ries quotes French President François Hollande’s
justification for the action, saying “we cannot tolerate terrorism on our
doorstep.” But then she asks, “and Mali is how many thousands of kilometers
away? So why change the argument to what happened in Bulgaria?” Ries says this
is “hypocritical” and “schizophrenic,” adding that on the subject of terror, in
Europe “two plus two equals four, except when it comes to Israel.”
the renewed push by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to label Israeli
goods produced in the settlements, both Siwiec and Ries argue “this is nothing
new” and has been pushed for a number of years. Neither believe it is likely to
go far, or act as some precursor to an actual ban on such products.
says that in response to calls within the EU to boycott or downgrade bilateral
ties with Israel, pro-Israel members of the European Parliament should instead
be pushing to increase trade with Israel, especially at a time when Europe is
going through an unprecedented financial crisis. “It is in Europe’s best
interest as well,” she says.
Siwiec is adamant that any move to boycott
Israeli products would be “counter-productive,” especially when there is “real
business and real profit” for the EU. He adds that European companies invest in
Israel not necessarily because they love the Jewish state, but because there is
“very solid economic background to this cooperation.”
At a time when
there are increasing attempts within Europe to delegitimize Israel, Siwiec says
it is more important than ever for the pro-Israel forces within the EU
Parliament to speak about the Jewish state “as a country that gives a lot of
opportunity and hope for the world.”
He cites some of EFI’s activities in
this regard, including speaking out about Israel’s economic success, the role of
women in society and its humanitarian assistance throughout the world.
a sign of EFI’s increasing influence in Europe, and Israel, the group was
instrumental in facilitating the visit of President Shimon Peres to Europe,
where he is on a state visit that culminated in his historic speech Tuesday
before the European Parliament.
While the president was in Belgium, EFI
was the only organization that received its own private meeting with him,
whereas all the other organizations (Jewish or pro-Israeli) had to settle for
one time slot together. The president did so as a way to recognize the hard work
done by those parliamentarians in the EU to strengthen relations between Europe
Last Friday, the EFI also sent a letter to the EU foreign
policy chief Catherine Ashton, calling on the EU to condemn the “unacceptable
comments” made recently by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which
he called Zionism a “crime against humanity.” The letter was signed by MEPs from
five political groups and 11 EU member states.The author is an
international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist, who just attended
the recent AIPAC 2013 Policy Conference in Washington.