Netanyahu and MogheriniBrussels, March 10th, 2016 – ECI announced on Thursday its next Annual Policy Conference which will take place in Brussels on April 21. The aim of the conference is to promote closer EU-Israeli cooperation at a time when both sides are seeking to rebuild relations after a disruptive period of diplomatic conflict.

EU-Israeli relations hit an all time low in November 2015 after the EU issued an “EU Interpretative Notice on Labelling of Goods from the territories administered by Israel since 1967”. The notice was however renounced by the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz as “counterproductive” as it leads to higher unemployment among Palestinians.

In early February the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resolve differences and tensions over the notice and declared that the EU is seeking good and close relations with Israel. Mogherini further clarified that the EU labelling notice is without prejudice and does not in any way pre-determine the future borders in a final peace agreement, which can only come through direct negotiations between the two parties.

She also affirmed that the EU opposes any boycotting of Israel, thus echoing similar statements made by the British government, the French High Court, as well as the Canadian Parliament last month, which have all spoken out against calls for new boycotts against Israel.

In a statement on Thursday, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell applauded the EU initiative to repair relations with Israel as well as the moral leadership of British Prime Minister David Cameron and other European leaders who have publicly spoken out against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and its call for boycotts and diplomatic isolation of Israel.

“At the same time, extreme political and religious organisations around the world continue to demonize Israel and call for new boycotts, separating Israelis from Palestinians instead of bringing them closer together in joint projects and closer cooperation”, Sandell said. Earlier this week, at an extraordinary summit of the 57 member-strong Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), calls were made for an intensified economic war against Israel.

Meanwhile, in the city of Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories, a conference under the title “Christ at the Checkpoint” took place with a similar agenda of delegitimization of the Jewish state. The name of the conference shows its support for the historically false claim that Jesus was a Palestinian and that the Israel of today is comparable to the occupying power of Rome at the time of Jesus’ life on earth. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has presented the same false narrative when he officially questioned whether there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and often speaks of the need for the “de-judification of Jerusalem”.  He has also been on record as saying that “there can be no Jews in a future independent Palestinian state.”

“It is regrettable when political and religious leaders abuse religion and fabricate history in order to suit their own political agenda”, Sandell said. This is done deliberately as part of a strategy to delegitimize the Jewish state instead of affirming the right of the Jewish people to live in their ancestral homeland, side by side with their Arab neighbours.

Both Islamic organisations and radical left wing Christian groups have worked tirelessly for years to boycott Israel and apply sanctions by, for example, divesting their pension funds from companies who are active in Israel.

“Christians, in particular, would do well to reflect on Jewish-Christian relations in the past 100 years.  History teaches us that what may innocently start as ‘labelling of Jewish businesses for the sake of consumer protection’ may soon turn into violence and pogroms”, said Sandell. Furthermore, it is evident that aggressive anti-Israel campaigning in Europe have led to indiscriminate violence towards European Jews who are now fleeing the continent in record high numbers.

The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the feeling of insecurity in the Jewish communities have prompted EU-leaders such as First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, to state that ”if there is no future for Jews in Europe, this is no future for Europe.”

ECI applauds the sound judgement of a growing number of EU leaders who have spoken out against the BDS movement and instead have expressed their desire for close relations with the Jewish state.  ECI also commends the Anglican Church in Britain for banning clerics who have spread anti-Semitic messages on social media.

Last year, Reverend Stephen Sizer of Christ Church, Virginia Water in Surrey, England, was banned from using social media or campaigning against Israel after having shared repeatedly anti-Semitic material on social media, accusing Israel of being behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York. Reverend Sizer, who has met with leaders of the terrorist organisation Hezbollah and the Iranian regime, has been a frequent speaker at the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in Bethlehem.

ECI was founded in Brussels in 2003 as a Christian initiative to address the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Today ECI works together with a wide range of Christian groups and denominations to foster good relations between Europe and Israel and to address the latest expression of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, which includes calls for boycotts and the isolation of Israel as well as the demonization of the Jewish state. The ECI Annual Policy Conference will take place in Brussels on April 21, 2016.