Europeans at AIPAC

70-strong delegation from Europe, including 25 members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, together with European pro-Israel activists attended AIPAC conference.

AIPAC 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Not widely reported, but included in the 13,000-plus crowd at the AIPAC Policy Conference just concluded in Washington was a 70-strong delegation from Europe, including 25 members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, together with European pro-Israel activists. The group came to Washington as part of a delegation led by the European Friends of Israel.
EFI was established in 2006 “to forge a stronger political relationship and a deeper understanding between Europe and Israel” and counts as members an impressive 1,500 parliamentarians from all across the European political spectrum, making it one of the largest and most influential pan-European parliamentary groups of its kind.
EFI’s Brussels-based director, Elinadav Heymann, says the delegation came to AIPAC to learn more tools and real-time information on how to be better advocates for Israel in Europe and establish critical “trilateral contacts” with their Israeli and American counterparts.
While in Washington, the group attended many of the AIPAC sessions, met separately with senior representatives of the Israeli and US governments and participated in a high-level Homeland Security Forum. They were also briefed on a wide array of matters by experts from around the world and from AIPAC.
Some of the hot topics discussed included terror financing, cyber warfare, stopping the Iran nuclear threat and increasing trade between Israel and the EU. In addition, the blacklisting of Hezbollah and renewed efforts within the EU to boycott Israeli products were also discussed.
Marek Siwiec, who chairs the EFI Political Board and is also a member of the European Parliament from Poland’s Socialist party, says that because of EFI, “you can now find more truth about Israel in the corridors of European Parliament.”
On the issue of blacklisting Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, Siwiec says assuming it is proved that Hezbollah carried out the attack in Burgas, Bulgaria, last year, which occurred on European territory, “there is no reason” to keep them off the EU terror list.
Frédérique Ries, the deputy chairwoman of the EFI Political Board, and Belgian politician and member of the European Parliament on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, says the Europeans “know exactly what has to be done,” but some states, especially the French, are holding back Hezbollah’s blacklisting, because they are afraid of “destabilizing” the Lebanese political scene.
Pointing to the recent French military action against Islamists in Mali, Ries quotes French President François Hollande’s justification for the action, saying “we cannot tolerate terrorism on our doorstep.” But then she asks, “and Mali is how many thousands of kilometers away? So why change the argument to what happened in Bulgaria?” Ries says this is “hypocritical” and “schizophrenic,” adding that on the subject of terror, in Europe “two plus two equals four, except when it comes to Israel.”
As for the renewed push by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to label Israeli goods produced in the settlements, both Siwiec and Ries argue “this is nothing new” and has been pushed for a number of years. Neither believe it is likely to go far, or act as some precursor to an actual ban on such products.
Ries says that in response to calls within the EU to boycott or downgrade bilateral ties with Israel, pro-Israel members of the European Parliament should instead be pushing to increase trade with Israel, especially at a time when Europe is going through an unprecedented financial crisis. “It is in Europe’s best interest as well,” she says.
Siwiec is adamant that any move to boycott Israeli products would be “counter-productive,” especially when there is “real business and real profit” for the EU. He adds that European companies invest in Israel not necessarily because they love the Jewish state, but because there is “very solid economic background to this cooperation.”
At a time when there are increasing attempts within Europe to delegitimize Israel, Siwiec says it is more important than ever for the pro-Israel forces within the EU Parliament to speak about the Jewish state “as a country that gives a lot of opportunity and hope for the world.”
He cites some of EFI’s activities in this regard, including speaking out about Israel’s economic success, the role of women in society and its humanitarian assistance throughout the world.
In a sign of EFI’s increasing influence in Europe, and Israel, the group was instrumental in facilitating the visit of President Shimon Peres to Europe, where he is on a state visit that culminated in his historic speech Tuesday before the European Parliament.
While the president was in Belgium, EFI was the only organization that received its own private meeting with him, whereas all the other organizations (Jewish or pro-Israeli) had to settle for one time slot together. The president did so as a way to recognize the hard work done by those parliamentarians in the EU to strengthen relations between Europe and Israel.
Last Friday, the EFI also sent a letter to the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, calling on the EU to condemn the “unacceptable comments” made recently by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in which he called Zionism a “crime against humanity.” The letter was signed by MEPs from five political groups and 11 EU member states.
The author is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist, who just attended the recent AIPAC 2013 Policy Conference in Washington.