– Time for a new chapter in EU-Israel relations

Knesset_with_EdelsteinBrussels, 18th September, 2014 – As the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is drawing near and the new five-year term of the European Parliament has just begun, ECI is calling for a new chapter in EU-Israeli relations.

Over the last few weeks, ECI has had high level meetings both in Jerusalem and Brussels, discussing the aftermath of the Gaza conflict and ways of strengthening the strategic partnership between Europe and Israel.

Over the last few weeks, ECI has had high level meetings both in Jerusalem and Brussels, discussing the aftermath of the Gaza conflict and ways of strengthening the strategic partnership between Europe and Israel.

In meetings in Jerusalem with the Speaker of the Knesset, Yuli-Joel Edelstein, Tomas Sandell and Harald Eckert (picture) emphasised the need for closer relations between Europe and Israel.  This is at a time when anti-Semitism is raising its ugly head once more in Europe and Jihadist movements in the Middle East are threatening anyone who disagrees with their medieval vision of a repressive Islamic caliphate.

‘The general public, by and large, remains loyal to Israel although they do not march in the streets’, Sandell said. He referred to a recent survey in Finland which showed that a clear majority of those who had an opinion about the recent Gaza conflict were in favour of Israel, whilst the large majority is simply not interested in the conflict.
‘Although we are very much concerned with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, we should not underestimate the potential influence of the silent majority of Europeans who remain committed to the safety and security of the Jewish people in Europe and in Israel. Our challenge as a European grassroots movement is to mobilise and empower these people’, he said.

After a week in Jerusalem, ECI travelled to Brussels for high-level meetings with EU-officials and members of the new European Parliament.  The purpose was to discuss how strategic relations with Israel could be strengthened at a time when there are calls for boycotts and divestments and international media remain biased and critical of Israel.

ECI has been at odds with the European External Action Service of the European Union since last summer when it issued new guidelines for EU financing, banning EU funds from being spent in the disputed territories in Judea and Samaria, including East Jerusalem. In May, the EU banned import of poultry from these territories, citing ‘insufficient veterinary control.’

In an open letter to the EU, published earlier in the year, ECI and 42 European political leaders called for a review of EU policy in the disputed territories, in order to better reflect historical and practical realities on the ground as well as relevant international law.

In the meetings in Brussels, ECI’s crucial role as a grassroots movement was re-emphasised. It was agreed that EU policy is a reflection of European public opinion. Those who shape public opinion ultimately also shape European policies.

‘We need to win back the European street’, Sandell said. ‘Winning back public opinion simply means mobilising and empowering the vast majority of Europeans who support tolerance and freedom in Europe and in the Middle East and appreciate Israel as the only democracy in the region.’