Europe, Be a Fair Friend

, December 11, 2017

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

No. 614     December 2017

  • Today, December 11, 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and have breakfast with the foreign ministers of all 28 EU member states. Israel’s sentiments accompany him.
  • Today, the Jewish people, along with all people of goodwill, are commemorating an event that has finally given historical justice to an issue that is 3,000 years old: Jerusalem has been recognized by the United States as the State of Israel’s capital.
  • How many times have you, European officials, visited Israel and the shrines of the three monotheistic religions? Today, Israel diligently preserves the fragile status quo allowing freedom of religion to all faiths, despite ongoing attacks that predominantly target Jews and jeopardize the delicate balance in this sanctum sanctorum area of Jerusalem’s Old City.
  • The Palestinian narrative rejects the indivisible relationship between the Jewish People, its homeland, and its capital, Jerusalem. That unyielding rejection has led any peace process into a deadlock.
  • For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. The EU has never recognized the dangers that Hamas and Hizbullah pose, as well as many other jihadist groups.
  • In the 1980s, Europe developed the idea that it would weaken its relations with the Arab world if it showed sympathy and friendship to Israel. Objectively, this concept has come to an end. Europe: Israel’s fight for its survival and the survival of the Jewish people is also your battle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Europe on December 9, 2017, where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron on December 10 and will meet with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and have breakfast with the foreign ministers of all 28 EU member states on December 11. Former member of the Italian Parliament, Fiamma Nirenstein, wrote this letter to European officials the Prime Minister is likely to meet.

President Emmanuel Macron greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

President Emmanuel Macron greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Government Press Office)

Today, the Jewish people, along with all people of goodwill, are commemorating an event that has finally given historical justice to an issue that is 3,000 years old: Jerusalem has been recognized by the United States as the State of Israel’s capital. It was the recognition of a de facto reality for which we express our deep gratitude to both the American people and its president.

How many times have you, European officials, visited Israel and crossed the threshold of our Knesset in Jerusalem, the only temple of democracy in the entire Middle East; met in government offices in Jerusalem with our ministers; visited the Supreme Court in Jerusalem; explored archaeological excavations in Jerusalem that testify to the city’s great Jewish past;  and seen the academic, cultural, and medical institutions in Jerusalem that provide scientific discoveries and cultural and artistic initiatives for the future?

You have visited the shrines of the three monotheistic religions, and you have noticed how, without precedent in the city’s history, each one – from the Holy Sepulcher to the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock where our ancient Temple once stood – is entrusted to its own worshipers, visited by tourists, and the world’s faithful. Never before, over the centuries, has this happened. Today, Israel diligently preserves the fragile status quo allowing freedom of religion to all faiths, despite ongoing attacks that predominantly target Jews and jeopardize the delicate balance in this sanctum sanctorum area of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israel’s democracy is the basis of the peace in which we all pray, hope, and desire. It has its roots in the Jewish people’s 3,000-year presence in Jerusalem. President Trump has simply recognized a reality and entrusted the parties to negotiate to determine the future of not only the region but also of Jerusalem itself.

Donald Trump’s gesture was one of wisdom, courage, and truth. The international objections to his decision on behalf of the Palestinians in recent days and calls for a new intifada, painfully remind us of all the innocent Jewish victims of terrorist attacks over the last 100 years and the one single message: “this isn’t your home, leave!”

The Palestinian narrative rejects the indivisible relationship between the Jewish People, its homeland, and its capital, Jerusalem. That unyielding rejection has led any peace process into a deadlock.

Europe knows this firsthand because it has always considered itself an apostle and a guarantor of any future solution. But Europe has witnessed all the failures in the process, including daring territorial sacrifices made by Israel over the years. Therefore Europe, too, should recognize reality and that the time has come to change course.

It is unthinkable that the mantra of the “return to 1967 borders” and the tireless repetition of the term “Israel occupation” are still dogmatic beliefs for those who truly want peace.

The truth is Jerusalem, the Jewish People’s beloved capital and at the same time the city where three monotheistic religions maintain their sacred sites, disproves the senseless canards about Israel, including the libel that it is an “apartheid state.” Demolishing this bastion of the biased also means convincing Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to lead his people wisely to recognize the Jewish People’s historical legitimacy. First and foremost, he must cease incitement to violence against Israel and Jews. And as soon-to-be mandated by American law, he must cease financing imprisoned terrorists and their families with monthly cash stipends that predominantly come from European aid allocations to the Palestinian Authority.

This road of truth is the one that will lead to peace, and it is a real pity that on December 9, 2017, UN Security Council members condemned President Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. [A formal UNSC condemnation will undoubtedly be vetoed by the United States.]  A joint statement by the ambassadors of Britain, Sweden, France, Germany, and Italy declared the American action was “not in line with Security Council resolutions and was unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.”

The UN Security Council must restore justice after its Resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016, deemed Jerusalem’s Jewish holy sites as “occupied territory.”

Do great countries like England and France really want to repeat this lie? Does Europe want to go along the shameful path voting in favor or abstaining on anti-Israel UNESCO resolutions that disavow Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem?  European actions will never encourage the Palestinians to abandon their aggression, cease their absolute denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or stop following their unproductive road of criminalizing and delegitimizing Israel.

We still have hope and even observe various signs that countries of the European Union will eventually change course and that they will decide to renew their commitment to peace, and place themselves on the right side of history – recognizing the reality that Jerusalem is forever Israel’s capital and that Israel democratically respects all religions.

Europe Is the Cradle of Zionism and the Grave for Millions of Jews

The ties between the State of Israel and Europe are not only deeply linked with Israel’s history but are also ingrained within the souls of many of its citizens. “Zionism” itself was conceived in Europe, and almost all of Israel’s Founding Fathers spoke European languages and grew up in European countries. Europe, in fact, is the continent that championed the Balfour Declaration. It led the way for the League of Nations to ratify a state for the Jewish People, and later for the historic 1947 UN General Assembly’s vote.

Unfortunately, Europe is also responsible for the Holocaust, and the source of vicious pogroms and hatred with which Jews have been persecuted over the centuries. The Arch of Titus in Rome serves as testimony to the deportation from our eternal capital, Jerusalem. Yet, despite the many tragic experiences, the ancient seeds of the Jewish culture and tradition – both humanistic and spiritual – were never lost and they went on to foster democracy, scientific progress, art, and love for life itself.

Israel’s Great Contribution

Today, Israel provides important services and innovations for the entire world. Its thousands of cooperative agreements with Europe reflect the world’s recognition: our capabilities in high-tech advance the world’s cybernetic activity, our advancements in medicine allow for breakthroughs to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, our agricultural research offers solutions that can benefit the entire world, especially Africa and Asia.

Israel-Europe’s economic relations are continually growing – with Israel’s current exports totaling $15 billion and imports $21 billion annually. Only a few days ago, joint military exercises took place in Israel with the air forces of France, Germany, Italy, and Greece.

On December 5, 2017, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Israel, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy to lay a 2,100 km underwater gas pipeline connecting gas fields off the shores of Israel to the three European countries, making Israel an important player in the European energy market, strengthening the energy security of the EU, and diversifying Europe’s sources of supply of natural gas.

The EU Accusations against Israel

 And yet, if we take a close look at the relationship between the European Union and Israel we immediately hear a tune that is off-key. For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace such as its disengagement from Gaza but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers that Hamas and Hizbullah pose, as well as many other jihadist groups, including those backed by Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its Commission and Assembly decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters and appeals.  Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary – a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that we – the Israelis – would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

Unrealistic Solutions

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Palestinian-Israel issue, and the results have only led to unnecessarily aggravating the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close down industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided.

Europe Cannot Be an Honest Broker as Long It’s One-Sided

Europe has largely ignored many aspects of the conflict’s reality, including, first and foremost, the Palestinian’s support for terrorism, which is explicitly expressed in documents, TV programs, school texts, public statements of the PA, and Mahmoud Abbas’ policy of paying convicted terrorists, along with their families (often with funds provided by European taxpayers for “humanitarian” purposes).

Europe ignores the Palestinians’ rejection of the very existence of a Jewish State, which is often linked to the Islamist religious positions that aim to subjugate both Jews and Christians. In short, the Europeans tend to ignore that the Palestinian rejection of Israel is a national commitment and a religious imperative, and the consequence is a continuous campaign of delegitimization that includes political, cultural, and institutional assaults. The consequence is that Europe, while pressuring Israel on territorial issues, ignores the necessity of pressuring the Palestinians to abandon its unwavering warfare that includes terror, incitement, assaults, and BDS.

It sometimes seems that some European nations are influenced or intimidated by the most extreme Islamist aspirations of Muslim immigrant communities hosted in their cities. This week, Sweden, where a synagogue was firebombed, comes to mind. This attitude precludes Europe serving as an honest broker in any peace negotiation.

Times Are Changing 

Times are changing quickly, and there is an urgent need to overcome the old, unsuccessful, outdated, and misleading positions that nowadays only damage the possibility of peace.

In the 1980s, Europe developed the idea that it would weaken its relations with the Arab world if it showed sympathy and friendship to Israel. Objectively, this concept has come to an end. Today, the Arab world shares common interests with Israel, especially with the terrible Syrian War, the rise of Al Qaeda/Islamic State terrorism, and the hydra-like Iranian imperialism.

 ISIS and Iran

The Arab world now finds itself having to tackle the same major dangers as those of Israel and Europe: ISIS is the extreme jihadi force carrying out attacks in the streets of Europe, the Arab world, and against civilian populations everywhere. Israel, with its decades-long experience combatting terrorism, can provide concrete aid in this struggle. Israel is the country that represents a line of defense for the democratic world, as well as moderate Arab countries.

The other deeply felt risk that connects Arab interests to those of Israel and Europe is the regional instability, which has led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of people, panicked by Sunni and Iran-backed Shiite terrorism. Indeed, Iran itself, using its own Revolutionary Guards and proxies, is currently waging war for Shiite hegemony throughout the Middle East.

Iran carries out the highest number of executions in the world and doesn’t hesitate to hang homosexuals in its squares. Iran discriminates against women and persecutes dissidents; it displays a genocidal hostility towards Israel and the West; and it hides its quest to acquire nuclear weapons after the conclusion of a sham nuclear deal.

Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and puts the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while its closest proxy, Hizbullah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat.

Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizbullah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran. The Iranian nuclear deal, in which Europe played a major role, has allowed Iran to become increasingly aggressive, and not vice versa.

Europe embraced the deal with Iran, agreeing to large business proposals that will provide billions of dollars to Iran. Europe must decide if it will continue to invest in morally and economically questionable deals when Tehran is violating the spirit of the nuclear deal, if not the letter. Tension is increasing in the Sunni-Shiite arena, and it could lead to an explosion also pulling Israel into the conflagration.  Where does Europe want to find itself?

Israel Can Help the World 

Despite the fact that it poses considerable risks, Israel opts to carry out rescue operations whoever the wounded are – including Syria. Israel’s value for human life is apparent in its willingness to help those who are suffering – women, men, and children. “All of those suffering would like to come to Israel” a Syrian woman recently stated. 

The instability caused by those fleeing from war in the Middle East and hunger in Africa has caused a historic assault on the shores of Europe. Israel is at the forefront alongside Europe both in the war against terrorism and as a partner to improve living conditions for hundreds of thousands of people through its knowledge in the fields of agriculture, education, and health. Israel is a powerful and respected actor who can help in Africa and Asia to deter the flight towards Europe by fostering development.

Europe’s path to renewed friendship and cooperation with Israel requires Europe to give up on obsolete peace schemes.

The New Anti-Semitism in Europe 

The chill wind that sometimes flows from the EU towards Israel is squall that can develop into a tsunami releasing a monstrous wave of anti-Semitism which flourishes in Europe today, much to our dismay. The great historian Robert Wistrich wrote, “The Nazi poison was by no means extinguished, having infiltrated (in its day) the Soviet Union and especially the Arab Muslim world, where hard core anti-Semitism systematically defamed Israel and the Jews and was widely and officially propagated.”

The old European culture of hatred continues to permeate books, magazines, newspapers, sermons, Internet, TV, and radio on an unprecedented scale not seen since Nazi Germany’s heyday.

Europe must become aware of the demonic images circulating in much of the Islamic world which are sufficiently radical in tone and content to constitute a warrant for genocide. Europe, in the wake of its problems caused by immigration and the economy, is also infected with political difficulties that have led to widespread discontent and populism. Furthermore, it suffers overall from an anti-Semitic bigotry that can’t be understood in terms of the Arab Israeli conflict, but instead through the myths and conspiracy theories that the Nazi model propagated. The “perfidious Jewish influence” is again a myth that brings murder in Paris, Toulouse, and elsewhere. In short, terrorism is the same enemy everywhere. There is no difference between the myths of Jews seeking to the Mosque of Al Aqsa and the idea that the West is evil incarnate.

Europe, Become Our Best Friends 

Remember, Europe: Israel’s fight for its survival and the survival of the Jewish people is also your battle. In addition, Israel has a love for democracy and social justice just like you. If you want to be part of a peace process, help us to stop the Palestinians from using incitement, criminalization, and demonization; stop them from fueling terrorism and violence; and invite them to come back to the negotiation table.

Be a fair friend. Now is the right time. 

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Translation by Amy Rosenthal

Fiamma Nirenstein

Fiamma Nirenstein was a Member of the Italian Parliament; Vice President, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chamber of Deputies; Chair, Parliamentary Committee for the Inquiry on Antisemitism; Fellow, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; Board Member, Magna Carta Foundation, European Friends of Israel (EFI); Member, Steering Committee, Interparliamentary Coalition on Combating Antisemitism (ICCA); Founding Member, Friends of Israel Initiative. Author: Israel is Us (2009). Recipient: Israeli Knesset Award for Commitment in the fight against antisemitism.