ECI Conference in BrusselsBrussels, April 21st, 2016 – The European Coalition for Israel Annual Policy Conference took place in the European Parliament on Thursday 21st April, days after having co-hosted the first ever Passover Seder at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

“Renewing EU-Israeli partnership” was the theme of the Conference and in speeches from Members of the European Parliament and EU officials the need to strengthen the EU-Israel partnership in different areas of cooperation was highlighted repeatedly.

“Israeli innovations create jobs for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” said Senior Policy Advisor at the World Economic Forum and President of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce, Jan Sturesson. “This promotes peace and coexistence and prevents conflicts and radicalisation,” he concluded in his presentation of Israel as one of the most innovative countries in the world which can help EU member states to achieve similar levels of innovation.

Newly appointed European Commission Coordinator against Anti-Semitism, Katharina von Schnurbein, illustrated the same point when she said that “we should not only think about the Holocaust but also about Einstein when we think of the Jewish people,” she said, to underscore one of the many significant contributions of Jewish people to science and innovation, as well as European culture.

She went on to say that Antisemitism can hide behind Antizionism and quoted HRVP Mogherini who recently stressed the EU’s firm rejection of Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) attempts to isolate Israel.
“In the context of fighting Antisemitism here in Europe we are particularly worried about the discriminatory repercussions activities by the BDS movement might have on Jews and in particular Jewish students across Europe. Surveys show that Antisemitic incidents rise after BDS activities on campuses,” she concluded.

Her sentiments were echoed also by other speakers who emphasised the need for the EU to seek closer and deeper cooperation with Israel.  Parliament Conference host, MEP Hannu Takkula pointed out that innovation and start-ups need the right environment to flourish. “Europe and Israel need to build a closer partnership in order to achieve this,” he said and concluded that anti-BDS regulations are needed because BDS calls upon upon intellectuals and academics worldwide to “comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions”.

Hungarian MEP Peter Niedermueller urged the EU to learn from Israel as we seek to defend our way of life from terrorism and radical Islam. “Israel has lived under this terrorist threat for many years and they can help us,” he said referring to the current level of security threat that Europe is facing following the recent attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Dutch MEP Bas Belder, who is a Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, asked how EU rapprochement towards Iran is compatible with our European values. “I cannot remain silent when I see the survival of the Jewish state being at stake,” he said, concluding that our Foreign Affairs policy must address this issue, otherwise we will be guilty of assisting in the destruction of Israel as sovereign State.

ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell reminded the EU officials at the Conference that Israeli innovations promote peace while BDS breeds anti-Semitism and how Iran has repeatedly asked for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. “This is unacceptable. There should be no ‘business as usual’ with Iran as long as they do not recognise the state of Israel and call for its destruction,” he said.

ECI Legal Counsel Andrew Tucker summarised the concerns of ECI by asking the EU to expose the BDS movement and encourage cooperation between Israeli and Palestinians in areas A and B in the disputed territories instead of boycotting the Jewish people who live there. “We cannot have freedom and democracy without security. Jews have the right to live peacefully in these areas and should not be demonised,” he stated.

The ECI team presented the European Commission and the European Parliament with an open letter during the Conference, addressed to the President of the European Parliament, urging the European institutions to take the moral leadership in the international fight against the BDS movement.  “BDS seeks to legitimize anti-Israel rhetoric from radical elements who advocate publicly for Israel’s elimination, as well as promote incitement and discrimination against Jewish people and therefore an anti-BDS resolution is urgently needed,” Conference co-hosts MEP Hannu Takkula and ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell stated.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) was represented at the Conference by Political Counsel, Lucas Cibor, who spoke of EU’s “sincere desire to see peace in Israel” and referred to last January’s Council conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process.  The Israeli government was represented by the Head of European Parliament Department of the Israeli Mission to the EU, Michal Tal-Weiner, who thanked the European Coalition for Israel (ECI) and the participants for their support and commitment to Israel’s survival in the Middle East.

The first ECI Policy Conference was held in the European Parliament in Brussels in March 2004.