Israel and Europe: The Positive and the Negative

, January 1, 2005

“Israeli-European relations have to be analyzed in their totality. One cannot look only at the positive or the negative. Each of my many trips to Israel enlightens me on its multiple scientific, trade, economic, and other contacts with Europe. On the other hand, the European Union’s vote in 2004 in the UN General Assembly, in favor of the resolution condemning Israel with respect to its security fence, will be a burden on European-Israeli political relations.”

Hildegard Müller, a banker by profession, is a member of the German parliament for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chairperson of the German-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group. She adds: “Israel’s security interest requires it to act in order to protect its citizens. The building of a security fence – and in some places a wall – is legitimate. Yet friends of Israel are entitled to discuss whether its location is the correct one. One can expect friends to point out difficult and critical issues. This should not be defined as a denial of Israel’s interests.

“Israelis should not consider all criticism as anti-Semitism. It is not anti-Semitism to say that at certain points the fence should be checked. Even the Israeli Supreme Court has said so. Many Israelis tell me that the fence is an Israeli issue and beyond discussion. This seems a wrong reaction, but I have also heard other ones.

“The judgment of the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Israel, however, was not balanced. The German judge’s support for this decision should not be regarded as a German political position. In Germany there is a strong separation between the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers. I cannot understand why Germany voted for the UN resolution.”

 

Discussion among Friends

“Europeans and Israelis also have to discuss Israel’s settlement policy. When traveling through Israel, I often ask myself: ‘Why has this village been built here?’ I think, as a friend of Israel, I am allowed to ask whether this policy is correct. I am in favor of existential rights for two states.

“I often have the feeling that we, friends of Israel, do not express our criticism. Whenever I did, both in Israel and with Israeli representatives in Germany, my experience was that reactions were very open-minded.

“In Europe there are countries that are friendly toward Israel and others that are less so. Those politicians who are on Israel’s side feel themselves a bit helpless receiving criticism from both sides. European critics consider that we are too pro-Israeli while Israelis say to us: ‘You are old friends of ours. Why are you are so pro-Palestinian?’

“The EU only rarely succeeds in coordinating its foreign policy. This has become even more difficult now that there are twenty-five members instead of fifteen. Only on a few foreign policy matters does Europe have a common vision. There have always been conflicts on EU foreign policy, including Middle Eastern issues. I would like Europe to commit itself more in the Middle East. Yet I realize that the EU’s vote, such as on the security fence, disqualifies it to some extent from such a role.”

 

Funding the Palestinians

When asked whether she believes that the EU’s investigation has made it clear how the Palestinian Authority uses European money, Müller replies: “I doubt it. I am sure that a substantial investigation was carried out. As a professional banker I am aware, however, how difficult it is to gain full insight into financial realities. The EU and Germany will have to do all they can to ensure that none of their funds for the Palestinian Authority are used for terror or corruption. If this cannot be accomplished, the moneys should be frozen.

“The European Parliament has frozen funding to Hamas, yet this has been done too slowly. The discussions on the financing of the Palestinian Authority in Germany do not go according to political parties. In Germany there is no sympathy for indirectly participating in the financing of terror. Nor would there be support for Palestinian terror or corruption in the Bundestag. This may lead to consequences if we do not get better transparency about the use of EU funding of the Palestinians. In Germany, the media also report more frequently now on the personal failures of Arafat.

“The CDU European Parliamentary fraction belongs to that of the European People’s Party. Several of our key Euro-parliamentarians try to ascertain that the EU funding arrives only at constructive Palestinian projects for which it is intended, and that it is properly controlled. It is the EU’s responsibility to give answers. I can fully understand Israel’s anger in view of how slow the EU has been in dealing with these matters. For me, however, the attitude toward Hamas is the best example of this.

“Also the hate promotion in Palestinian schoolbooks is unacceptable. The more so if it is financed with moneys from the EU or its member states. The EU would do well to review its control processes.”

 

The Media

“Israel’s problematic image in Europe is partly due to the media. Somebody who serves up news without verifying its truth or obtaining a second opinion is not a good journalist. We have to confront the problem that the media have to a better job researching the news that they cover.

“Yet another factor is the David and Goliath effect. Israel is perceived as a Goliath whereas the Palestinians are seen as weak. The media always show the same pictures. We might call them ‘news preserves.’ These include stone-throwing Palestinian youths confronting Israeli tanks, the latter driving into a refugee camp, or the Israeli army bombing a house with full military force. Nobody inquires why the same pictures always return.

“Several other factors also play a part. Many newspapers have no editors anymore for specific topics. They take their news from the press agencies, such as Agence France-Presse. The next day one finds the same news in tens of newspapers. No journalist in any of these media has checked the truth of this information. Slowly an overall picture is created: a small Palestinian force fights against the high-tech Israeli army. This creates the distorted image of David versus Goliath.”

 

Israel Has Friends in Europe

Müller says: “It is very important that Israelis do not have the false perception that their country is being attacked by everybody. Israel has friends in Europe who generally support it. If Israel proposes concrete approaches to bringing the truth to the light, it can find friends and partners in Europe to help it. The Israeli government should not only complain about what is going wrong, but think much harder on what can be done to improve the situation. Many of Israel’s problems in Europe result from poor information. Since Israel is the subject of the distorted news, it has to take the initiative to change this. Those who support it in Europe can then join in.

Hildegard Müller

Hildegard Müller is a member of the German Bundestag, representing the city of Düsseldorf. She is chairwoman of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group and a member of the Committee on Health and Social Security. Müller is also a member of the presidium of the CDU. She has studied business economics, is a banker by profession, and an employee of Dresdner Bank. Ms. Muller is Chairwoman of the General Executive Management Board of the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft - BDEW), Berlin. In 2005, she was appointed Minister of State by Chancellor Angela Merkel, where she was responsible for Federal/State coordination of the German federal government and for issues relating to the reduction of administrative burdens. She is Chairperson of the Society of German Friends of Yad Vashem,