Between Berlin and Jerusalem

How quickly the past and present have become interconnected.

KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein addresses the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (photo credit: BOAZ ARAD)
KNESSET SPEAKER Yuli Edelstein addresses the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
(photo credit: BOAZ ARAD)
In Berlin at this time of year, the sun sets early and the cold of early winter is in the air. The streets are lit up by thousands of small lanterns that have been hung throughout the city to herald the upcoming Christmas holiday. No matter what craziness is happening around the world, no one can take away from the Germans the happy feelings that accompany the winter holiday season.
I was visiting Berlin recently with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and a number of other Knesset members to attend the celebratory events in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany.
How quickly the past and present have become interconnected. The moving memorial ceremony took place at Platform 17, the location where so many Jews boarded trains that took them to concentration camps. Just 100 meters from where we stood, there were still trains coming and going; life goes on. Every corner here reminds us of the past, and also makes us proud of the rebuilding, empowerment and new leadership.
It was the week the EU recommended that its member countries mark all products coming from the territories, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel looks up to Germany, and hopes to carry out great cooperation with this ally. If any country has a chance of putting a stop to the anti-Israel bias, it’s Germany, the strongest and richest country in Europe.
But it’s unlikely this will happen, since Germany is obliged to follow EU regulations like all the other countries in Europe and mark products coming from the territories. Volker Beck, president of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group and a true friend of Israel, recently told me, “The labeling of products will not end even in 10 years,” but then added, “But don’t worry – this is not BDS and not a boycott. That is prohibited by law.”
Israel considers the marking of its products an outright anti-Israeli move, and many people even go so far as to call it anti-Semitic. But here in Israel, we view things differently. Marking products is a consumer service which clarifies a product’s origin, which is acceptable since consumers should know where products originate.
The part that Israel finds problematic is not that Israeli products will be labeled, but that this ruling is not being applied to other “occupied” areas in counties like Cyprus, Western Sahara and China.
Many Israelis are asking why Israel is being singled out.
Israel’s response to the marking of its products therefore appears to be exaggerated.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resembles Don Quixote who would rush out to battle with windmills. His recent public battle with President Barack Obama over the Iranian nuclear agreement ended in defeat. He should have quickly learned his lesson from this encounter. Public confrontations such as this might improve his image at home, but they do nothing to improve Israel’s precarious position in Europe.
Proclaiming that we are severing relations with the EU on the subject of political negotiations (when was the last time we even held such negotiations?) is an act of desperation that merely demonstrates how helpless we feel. Israel has not succeeded in convincing Europe that it is serious about reaching a two-state solution.
The opposite is true – more and more European countries are convinced that Israel is slowly trying to annex more and more territory so that it can rule over the Palestinians in a one-state solution.
These threats that Israel is making against the Europeans, that we won’t include them in negotiations, are ridiculous.
Expressing no confidence in the same EU that has worked for decades to help Israel achieve such a high economic status will just end up hurting Israel in the end. The marking of Israeli products might possibly cause a decrease of a few tens of millions of dollars in exports, but Israeli exports to Europe amount to billions of dollars, so this won’t seriously harm the Israeli economy. Thirty-one percent of Israeli exports are to Europe. If we lose this market, which one will fill the void? China? India? Abu Dhabi, where Israel has just opened an Israeli International Renewable Energy Agency office? The Europeans want to see progress on the political front. They’re reinforcing and financing the Palestinian Authority because they don’t want to see all of their previous investments come to naught.
They’re extremely concerned that the Palestinian Authority could implode, and they’re afraid terrorism could increase, which would be bad for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. They view themselves as true partners in Israel’s quest for a political settlement. The message to Israel from Europe and the EU is clear: Find a political solution and stop building settlements that hinder the chances of reaching an agreement.
Have the courage to look for a solution, reach it and implement it.
Then, and only then, will products from Israel cease being marked. Only then will other EU initiatives directed at pushing negotiations forward also be stopped. And only then will Germany mobilize and begin helping Israel, as we have learned during our many meetings with the Germans that they want to do.
We need to remember that Europe is not our enemy and that Europe is not the problem. In fact, Europe holds one of the most important keys that will help us solve our problems.
The writer is a Knesset member from the Zionist Union Party, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the chairman of the Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.