Czech PM to ‘Post’: We’ll support Israel in EU

Israel’s situation is reminiscent of Czechoslovakia’s in the 1930s, Necas says, “We’ve got a special feeling for Israel’s situation – that of a small nation surrounded by enemies.

Netanyahu with Czech counterpart, Petr Necas 370 R (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Netanyahu with Czech counterpart, Petr Necas 370 R
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
PRAGUE – Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas expressed “a special feeling” for Israel as he met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Prague on Thursday.
Netanyahu arrived in the Czech Republic earlier in the day accompanied by seven cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
“We’ve got a full understanding of Israel’s situation as a small, democratic country in a very dangerous region with very dangerous neighbors,” Necas told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview before the meeting.
He said the Czech Republic would like to continue to be a strong supporter of Israel within the European Union. “We are concerned about the Iranian missile and nuclear programs,” he said.
Israel’s situation was reminiscent of Czechoslovakia’s in the 1930s, Necas said. In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded the country, citing the need to defend its German-speaking minority.
“We’ve got a special feeling for Israel’s situation – that of a small nation surrounded by enemies. We remember our situation in the 1930s, when the small democratic Czechoslovakia had neighbors that wanted to destroy it or take part of our territory.”
Necas, the leader of the conservative Civic Democratic Party, spoke to the Post on Wednesday evening at a dinner with some 40 community leaders attending the executive meeting of the European Jewish Congress.
Netanyahu met with Necas in talks designed to strengthen relations between Israel and the Czech Republic – one of Israel’s closest allies within the EU.
The Israeli and Czech delegations signed a joint declaration expressing “concern at Iran’s efforts to enrich uranium for military purposes, even as it threatens to destroy Israel.”
At a joint press conference with Netanyahu, the Czech prime minister said his government “fundamentally rejects delegitimization and any boycott of the State of Israel. We clearly support Israel’s right to defense against terrorist attacks.”
Netanyahu said Jerusalem “deeply appreciated” Prague’s friendship.
“Nowhere else in Europe are Israeli calls so well understood,” he said.
Necas expressed opposition to a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, saying “The long-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved only through direct negotiations of the two parties. The Czech Republic does not support unilateral steps that cannot contribute to the peace process in the Middle East.”
Before the press conference, the visiting Israeli ministers met their Czech counterparts in a government-to-government discussion, which included the signing of agreements to increase security cooperation and joint projects in education, infrastructure and culture.
Necas told the Post he would broach the Iranian issue in his next meeting with the new French president, François Hollande, “and other European heads of state during the next collective meeting, and at the next NATO summit in Chicago.”
Israeli diplomatic officials said that Laurent Fabius, whom Hollande just appointed as foreign minister, visited Israel immediately before the recent French elections and met with Netanyahu. Fabius is considered friendly to Israel, and officials described his meeting with Netanyahu as “good.”
Necas said at the press conference that “as a traditional supporter of Israel, the Czech Republic needs to be among the European countries that fully realize” the Iranian danger.
A related concern was for the safety of European Jewish communities in case of a conflict between Iran and Israel. Necas said he had been briefed on the issue during a conversation on Wednesday with Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress.
“The Czech Republic has become much more influential within the EU following the financial crisis,” said Arie Zuckerman, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund.
“While the strongest economies remain France, Germany and the UK, countries like Spain and Italy lost considerable clout to countries that are faring better – like the Czech Republic, Poland, Holland and Denmark,” he said.
“This shift in the balance of power, along with the Czech Republic’s favorable attitude toward Israel, is generating greater interest on the part of Jewish leaders and the Israeli government in deepening relations,” Zuckerman added.
In November, Czech cabinet members visited Israel for the first government-to-government talk. In addition to the Czech Republic, Israel holds joint cabinet meetings with Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.
Tomas Kraus, director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, told the Post that the Czech government had “an interest in learning from Israel’s experience as a start-up nation, an [information technologies] power and a partner for lucrative investments. Israel is seen and admired as a success story.”
He added that some of the Czech Republic`s leading firms are represented in the Israel-Czech Chamber of Commerce, “but the primary reason for the strong relations is a deep emotional bond.”
The only reservations to deepening relations with Israel come from the Czech Social Democratic party, he said, “where some politicians are more influenced by Brussels.” Several Social Democrat members of the European Parliament recently spoke about the need “for a more balanced policy on Israel,” but this, Kraus noted, “is a different vocabulary than the one used in Britain, France and Belgium.”
Whereas Green Parties across Europe are adopting a highly critical view of Israel, “the Czech Green Party is the greatest supporter of Israel and the Jewish community in this country,” Kraus said.
He traced the kinship between the two nations back to the 1960s, “when both countries experienced formative moments: Israel in the Six Day War and Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring.”
An op-ed about Netanyahu’s visit published in the influential daily Lidové Noviny on Thursday was less positive. Referring to the price the Czech Republic has had to pay for its Euro-skeptic politics, journalist Zbynek Petrácek wrote: “Both the Czech Republic and Israel have gained the reputation as unpredictable partners who have ended up in isolation.”