Europe has gone from being critical of Israel to admiring it - opinion

New dialogue and far-reaching collaboration are underway between the European Union and Israel.

 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT President Roberta Metsola attends the Conference on the Future of Europe, in Strasbourg, France, earlier this month.  (photo credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/REUTERS)
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT President Roberta Metsola attends the Conference on the Future of Europe, in Strasbourg, France, earlier this month.
(photo credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/REUTERS)

Today, the president of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola will arrive in Jerusalem on her first official visit outside of Europe since assuming this important post last January. She will address the Knesset and be granted a state’s welcome.

Quietly and without much pomp and circumstance, Israel is witnessing an encouraging even dramatic change in Europe’s tone and approach in its relations with the Jewish state.

From the corridors of the European Parliament and the European Commission in Brussels to the halls of the Knesset and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, new dialogue and far-reaching collaboration are underway between the European Union and Israel. There is a deep understanding that both parties must enable a return to the EU-Israel Association Council, an annual bilateral forum that hasn’t been convened since 2012, due to certain EU member states’ objections on the matter.

Since the beginning of this year, we’ve heard from prominent leaders in Europe how critical Israel is for democracy and world stability. The Abraham Accords were seminal in the shift of European perception that Israel is the solution to the chaos in the Middle East and not the problem. Moreover, the Europeans have become much more suspicious of Iran. The danger of Iran’s nuclear and hegemonic ambitions was amplified after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s nuclear threats, which shook the Europeans at their core.

The initial possibility of Israel emerging as a broker between Ukraine and Russia has further magnified Israel’s importance in the realm of European diplomacy.

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR/FILE PHOTO)European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, January 18, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR/FILE PHOTO)

The language is also changing. Many European leaders have made vociferous and unprecedented condemnations of Palestinian terror. Sharp statements criticizing the masking of anti-Zionism as a disguise for antisemitism are also becoming more prevalent amongst Europe’s most influential voices. Most dramatically, the EU has adopted a policy to withhold certain funds for UNRWA due to the incitement against both Jews and Israelis in Palestinian textbooks.

The recognition of Hamas as a terrorist organization has only strengthened Israel’s position in Brussels, while the Palestinian issue as a whole has been moved to the back burner. Likewise, a number of European nations have experienced acts of radical, Islamic terror all too familiar in Israel and are weary about shifting demographics within their own societies that could be susceptible to further Islamic radicalization. Therefore, they understand that the rising antisemitism in their midst is a direct threat to their own future.

On a positive note, there is a growing recognition in Europe that Israel’s economic success, its pioneering prowess in the high tech sector, outstanding achievements in advancing higher-education and wide-ranging admiration in India, Korea, Japan and China have increased its stature in Europe.

Israel is clearly benefiting from the governmental shift in Jerusalem. The current government is portrayed in Europe as a miracle of sorts, with eight partners from left to right creating a colorful tapestry of a pluralist democracy. As chair of the Knesset Delegation for Relations with the European Parliament, I’ve been honored with the task of receiving and accompanying Metsola throughout her visit to Israel.

In a series of meetings held in Jerusalem and Brussels which helped pave the way for the President’s visit, I met with numerous European counterparts and high-ranking officials, all of whom are determined to elevate our relations and embark upon new pastures. One such meeting was with the European Commission’s antisemitism czar – Vice President Margaritas Schinas. Schinas was adamant that the European Union’s progress in combating antisemitism could only be maximized through direct and precise coordination with Israel. In Schinas, I found exceptional steadfastness and determination in his mission to eradicate antisemitism from European territory.

Indeed, it is remarkable to witness such an abrupt transformation. For years, Israel looked across the Mediterranean with skepticism for what we viewed as European complacency in countering antisemitism. Now, this skepticism has turned to admiration.

For his part, my direct counterpart and chair of the Delegation for Relations with Israel, MEP Antonio Lopez Isturiz, admitted to me that Europe was finally waking up to a reality that Israel has known for years in the fight against Islamic terror. This only echoed sentiments in Jerusalem about the need for Europe and Israel to enhance security cooperation. He is just one of a myriad of voices pressing for the reconvening of the Association Council.

And all the while, one point that kept circling back to us was the importance of the European Union’s role in helping to maximize the potential of the Abraham Accords. Just as we’ve established a mini-lateral economic forum between Israel, India, US and UAE, the establishment of similar research and economic-based forums between the EU, Israel and our new allies would foster a new age of unbridled excellence, with the potential to enhance the general stability from west of the Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf.

I truly hope that Metsola’s visit to Israel will provide another stone in strengthening EU-Israeli relations, and enlarging the alliance of free and thriving democracies.

The writer, a Yisrael Beytenu MK, is chair of the Knesset Delegation for Relations with the European Parliament and a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.