'Israel needs to engage EU, not call it irrelevant’

Czech FM Schwarzenberg tells ‘Post’ that Israel not properly understood by Europeans who "have become great peaceniks.”

European Union flags in Brussels 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
European Union flags in Brussels 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg, considered one of Israel’s strongest supporters inside the EU, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday that Israel needs to engage more intensively with Europe, and is not doing itself any favors by declaring that the European Union is in danger of becoming irrelevant in the Middle East.
Schwarzenberg, attending the 12th annual Herzliya Conference at the IDC, was referring to a statement put out by the Foreign Ministry last month following a communique very critical of Israel issued by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal.
The Czech Republic is considered, along with the Netherlands and Italy, among Israel’s strongest supporters inside the EU, and those countries – along with Romania, Bulgaria, and at times, Germany – form a bloc inside the EU that often tones down or stops critical statements and policies coming out of Brussels.
Jerusalem, Schwarzenberg said, could do more to win over other EU nations by engaging more actively both with the individual countries, and with the EU institutions in Brussels.
Israel has not, he added, won over friends by essentially telling the EU over the last few decades that its ally is the United States, and that “we want them to be active in the Middle East, we don’t want you to be active. Keep out.”
That attitude, he said, has “left some residue.”
“If you say to someone we are irrelevant,” he said, “the natural reaction is for the person to say, ‘We will show you how irrelevant we are.’”
Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic’s high-profile support of Israel inside the EU institutions does not cause problems for his country.
“They patiently listen to me,” he said.
Schwarzenberg said “thank God” he did not have to work alone, and that “we can rely on the Dutch, and now very much on the Romanians and Bulgarians, and sometimes the Germans.”
Poland, he said, is “more neutral, they are not so engaged. They are not against, but they are not engaged. Whereas the Dutch are more engaged.”
Schwarzenberg said he did not feel Israel was properly understood in the EU. The most recent example of a lack of understanding was Operation Cast Lead. He said that Europeans, not accustomed to war for 70 years, have a difficulty understanding the use of force in any situation.
“Europeans have become great peaceniks,” he said, explaining this attitude.
Schwarzenberg said the European lack of understanding of the need of force does not only apply to Israel, but also extends to the American use of force in Afghanistan, adding: “one does not understand the settlement policy as it is now.”
Asked to explain the Czech Republic’s strong support for Israel, Schwarzenberg cited four reasons.
The first is friendly historical connections going back to the time of the founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Masaryk, who was a strong advocate of Zionism. Secondly is a shared fate both countries face as small nations threatened by bigger neighbors. Thirdly, he said, the support stems from a backlash against Soviet domination of Czechoslovakia.
“We had for quite a long time difficult relations with our neighbors. So what they did, we didn’t like, and did the opposite,” he said of the Soviet Union’s anti-Israel policy.
And finally, he said, the strong Czech support also comes from that fact that “so many people of Jewish origin are part of our culture.”