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Israel-EU Tension: the View from Europe


Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem On October 24.

Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem On October 24.
Photo Credit: Moshe Milner/GPO / FLASH90

This month some of Israel’s strongest friends in Europe – Britain, France and Germany – summoned their ambassadors to protest the Jewish state’s construction decisions.

As a result, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said European governments are willing to abandon Israel in a similar fashion to the way they gave up Czechoslovakia to the Nazis before World War II.

Gabriel Goldberg, director of youth services for the Umbrella Organizations of the Jewish Communities of the North-Rhine Region in Germany, disagrees with Lieberman’s actual comparison, but said that “The frustration that lies behind his statement is absolutely understandable.”

At the European Union, officials seem to have had a singular focus of late – and it isn’t their continent’s ongoing economic crisis.

The EU’s 27 foreign ministers first condemned Israel’s plans construction plans in the E1 area between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim. More recently, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton called construction plans in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos and the Orthodox northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo “extremely troubling.”

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – the EU’s four UN Security Council members – asked the Israeli government to rescind its recent construction approvals.

EU criticism of Israel hasn’t been limited to building. On its website, the EU insisted that Israel process its tax transfer to the Palestinians because of “contractual obligations.”

But as many Israelis and supporters of Israel have pointed out, 14 of 27 EU countries, by voting in favor of “Palestine” as a nonmember observer state at the UN, effectively approved the Palestinians’ violation of their contractual obligation under the Oslo Accords to reach a final status agreement with Israel only through direct negotiations.

Not all has been sour in recent Israel-EU relations. In October, when the EU bolstered its economic sanctions against Iran, Lieberman – the same man who made the Holocaust analogy – sent a letter to Ashton thanking her for the EU’s “resolute and important step, worthy of significant appreciation, especially as it has been taken in a difficult economic period [for Europe].”

On Dec. 22, those strengthened sanctions officially became EU law.

Yet the EU has defied calls from both the U.S. and Israel to officially designate Hizbullah as a terrorist organization, and has drawn criticism from Israel for underemphasizing Hamas’s calls for the Jewish state’s destruction (a condemnation of Hamas was clause No. 9 of 10 points published by the EU within its succession of condemnations of Israel for E1 construction on Dec. 10).

What do European Jews think of the EU’s heavy focus on Israel? What are the reasons behind that focus, and what are its implications for Israel’s relationships with European nations?

Germany

Gabriel Goldberg, the 34-year-old son of Soviet dissidents who moved to Israel, said that among many in German society, “the common sense is that Israel is the aggressive entity in the world.” He added that it’s “in style to have an opinion about the Middle East conflict without any facts.”

One reason for this, according to Goldberg, involves a projection of German guilt over the Holocaust onto Israeli Jews. Many Germans mistakenly believe that the Israeli Jews are “doing no better than what the Nazis have done” with the Palestinians, Goldberg said.

Stephan J. Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, does not believe that either the EU or Germany is anti-Israel. “We know that Chancellor Angela Merkel has a very positive attitude toward the State of Israel, although she has disagreements with [prime minister] Netanyahu,” he told JNS.org in an e-mail.

Kramer, however, is concerned with the danger of European appeasement of the Palestinians. Many EU members “favored or refrained from opposing the Palestinians’ [UN] upgrade because they wanted to convey the message of supporting the general idea of Palestinian statehood,” according to Kramer. Germany abstained from the vote.

Still, Kramer would not go as far as Avigdor Lieberman’s Holocaust analogy when it comes to current relations between Israel and Europe, writing “I would draw too many parallels between 1938 and 2012.”

He said that Israel today has Germany as an ally and that Israel also has one of the strongest armies in the world.

“The Czechoslovakian government of 1938 would have loved to be in such a situation,” Kramer wrote.

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Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem On October 24.

This month some of Israel’s strongest friends in Europe – Britain, France and Germany – summoned their ambassadors to protest the Jewish state’s construction decisions.

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