A common destiny: Strengthening relations between Israel and Europe

Last week, 24 leading European parliamentarians demonstrated in Poland that Israel does indeed have many friends in Europe.

Members of a Knesset delegation stand in front of former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during ceremonies marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of a Knesset delegation stand in front of former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during ceremonies marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We often hear in Israel that we should “cut our losses” with Europe; that it’s a lost cause and we have no friends there. But last week, 24 leading European parliamentarians demonstrated in Poland that Israel does indeed have many friends in Europe, and reinforced the need for us to work even harder to strengthen this special bond and relationship.
The European parliamentarians came to Poland to join the Knesset’s historic delegation to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the official International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The delegation, from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom, included five deputy speakers and seven chairpeople of parliamentary Israel-friendship groups. Their trip was made possible through the close cooperation of the Knesset, the European Friends of Israel (EFI) organization and the Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC).
While the primary purpose of the parliamentarians’ visit was to pay their respects and honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust, this was not their sole purpose. They also came to meet with us, their Israeli colleagues, and to discuss practical ways they can support Israel in the European arena, and what steps they can take to combat the rise in anti-Semitism and growing de-legitimization of Israel in Europe.
As chairman of the European Forum of the Knesset, I was proud to host a special gathering of these parliamentarians and Knesset Members. The European Forum consists of MKs from across the political spectrum. We seek to promote and strengthen relations between Israel and Europe and work in close cooperation with European parliamentarians, Jewish communities of Europe and with the support of the EFI and IJC organizations.
The group was re-launched in November 2013, after a period of hiatus and in light of the many challenges facing our relationship with Europe, including the rise in anti-Semitism, growing vilification of Israel, proposals to ban circumcision and shechita, and increasing calls to boycott the Jewish state and Israeli companies.
Nonetheless, despite repeated calls by many critics and Israeli “Euro-sceptics” for us to step away from Europe, the participation of these leading parliamentarians was a resounding sign that we still have many friends in Europe, who legitimately and sincerely support Israel and care about the well-being of the Jewish communities of Europe.
As chairman of the European Forum, I made a commitment that this group not simply be another forum for MKs to make flowery speeches, but rather produce action items and tangible results.
The first such action item was that the European Parliamentarians unanimously agreed at the European Forum meeting in Poland that they would push the European Parliament and their individual governments to adopt a comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism in Europe.
The impetus behind this came primarily from the decision last year by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) to remove its Working Definition of anti-Semitism.
Before its removal, the FRA Working Definition was one of the most comprehensive definitions of anti-Semitism, which also included calls for the de-legitimization of Israel as a form of anti-Semitism. With a spate of recent reports about the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe, the concerned parliamentarians said they will seek to have FRA “unequivocally stand behind its own working definition of anti-Semitism.”
Discussions were also held about the possibility of creating an EU special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to be modeled on a similar position in the United States, currently held by Ira Forman.
Some of the parliamentarians also noted that they often lack the information necessary for them to help make the case for Israel in their own communities.
As a result, the European Forum undertook, through regular newsletters and open lines of communication, to ensure a constant flow of information from Israel to our friends in Europe.
And lastly, bearing in mind the great symbolism of this meeting having immediately followed the parliamentarians’ visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a unanimous decision was also made to update the “Never Again Declaration” adopted at the EFI Policy Conference in Jerusalem 2011, which was based on the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
It was agreed that Irwin Cotler, a member of the Canadian parliament and an international human rights law expert, who joined us at the forum meeting, will take a leading role in amending the “Never Again Declaration” based on new developments in the international arena, specifically relating to the Iranian regime’s repeated calls of incitement to genocide against the State of Israel.
Israel and Europe are united not only by geographic proximity, but also in our shared values of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Through their actions, these Parliamentarians, who are true friends of the State of Israel, have demonstrated their commitment and determination to fight the growing anti-Semitism and the de-legitimization of Israel, and to honor the memory of those who perished during the Holocaust.
The European parliamentarians have the full support of the Knesset in this most important mission and I look forward to welcoming them next time in Israel.
The author, an MK, is Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the European Forum of the Knesset.