Jerusalem, September 15th, 2016 – The international board of the European Coalition for Israel has had a unique opportunity to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with a delegation of senior Israeli government officials during the week of the ECI annual board meeting in Jerusalem. The meeting took place in the official cabinet room of the government of Israel where the Prime Minister officially welcomed ECI to Jerusalem and thanked the group on behalf of the State of Israel for all the important work which ECI is doing in Europe and around the world. Referring to the evangelical community in Europe and around the world he said: “You are our best friends”.
But he was clearly disappointed with the European Union. “The world has changed in a dramatic way in the last few years, but the only ones who do not seem to understand these changes are the EU-leaders”, he said. This was a strong message for the European Union in Brussels which in recent years has adopted a number of measures aimed at isolating Israel, especially with regard to the disputed territories.
“Israel is Europe’s best line of defence against terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Without the State of Israel, the western area of the Middle East would collapse,” he continued. “The Arab world understands this but Europe ignores it.” The Prime Minister acknowledged that there are many friendly governments in Europe who are very supportive of Israel in bilateral meetings, but once they meet in closed meetings in the European Council in Brussels their conclusions automatically seem to be unanimously against Israel.
“But Israel is not alone”, the Prime Minister assured ECI. “From Africa and Latin America to Asia, a growing number of nations are looking to Israel for solutions and cooperation and want to benefit from the many technological innovations from Israel, as well as looking for ways to invest in the dynamic Israeli economy.”
“Practically every day the Prime Minister receives governmental delegations from all corners of the world,” National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel explained. Prior to meeting the ECI board members the Prime Minister had met with the Foreign Minister of Australia, Julie Bishop, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, as well as with the opposition leader Anna Kinberg Batra from Sweden. During his state visit to the Netherlands last week he made a personal phone call to Roger van Oordt from Christians for Israel to thank the group for their support. Christians for Israel, based in the Netherlands, is one of the founding members of the European Coalition for Israel.
In the meeting with ECI, the Prime Minister explained the importance of support for Israel by Christians. He went on to thank ECI for all its work in the European Union in Brussels, and also at the United Nations in New York where the ECI Forum for Cultural Diplomacy and the Israeli Permanent Representation to the UN worked together to promote the request for the recognition of a Jewish holiday in the UN. As the 71st session of the UN General Assembly opened on September 13th, it was the first time since the creation of the UN in 1945 that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has been recognised as an official UN holiday and is no longer a working day.
“This recognition has not only benefitted the State of Israel but also some 100 other member states whose religious holidays will now be recognised by the UN, thanks to the initiative to ask for UN recognition of a Jewish holiday,” ECI Director for UN affairs, Gregory Lafitte, pointed out.
In his brief statement to the Prime Minister, Founding Director Tomas Sandell gave a short history of ECI saying that it was founded in 2003 as “a coalition of all the others.” This expression comes from a speech made by the late Elie Wiesel, who at an EU crisis summit in 2004, observed that he felt that it was only the Jews in Europe who seemed to be reacting to the rise of antisemitism. “Where are all the others?”, he asked.
“There may be a small but vocal minority in Europe which has a problem, not only with the policies of the Israeli government but also with the mere existence of Israel, but we believe we represent a silent majority which shares the values and principles of the Jewish State”, Sandell said. “Our goal is to make this silent majority a vocal majority. Our message to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is that Europe needs more of Israel, not less, and that Israel is not the problem but the solution to many of our problems in Europe and the Middle East. We do not simply want to “tolerate” the Jewish people but we want to “celebrate” Israel and the Jewish people who have contributed so much to our European culture and society.”
“We will never forget that it was your people, the Jewish people, who gave us our Holy Scriptures and this is something for which we will be forever grateful”, Sandell concluded. The Prime Minister acknowledged his great appreciation for the Bible. At a cabinet meeting the previous week, in connection with the beginning of the new school year, he had encouraged the students to study the Bible, in order to learn why the Jewish people have returned to Israel.
Joining the Prime Minister at the meeting was National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel, Deputy Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, Deputy Head of Foreign Affairs at the National Security Council Orma Mizrahi, Foreign Policy Adviser Jonathan Schachter, and Foreign Media Adviser David Keyes.
The ECI delegation comprised newly elected ECI Chairman Tor G Gull, outgoing Chairman Rudolf Geigy, his wife Elizabeth Geigy, Founding Director Tomas Sandell, UN Director Gregory Lafitte and board members Bedros Nassanian, Harald Eckert, Antti Hämäläinen and Rick Ridings.