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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

Another indication that the broader Israel-Europe relationship is positive, according to Kramer, is that Israel participates in Europe’s scientific programs and contributes technology to European companies.

Goldberg said the EU’s top political priority today should not be Israel, but the European economic crisis.

“I don’t think anti-Semitism is rising because of the economic crisis, but it’s buried inside the souls of people and it comes out when they have other problems,” Goldberg said. “[The thinking in Europe is] if you have many problems and you don’t know how to solve them, take the easy way out and condemn Israel.”

Britain

British Jewry in general “tends to avoid talking about” the issue of Israeli construction, according to Sam Westrop, director of the London-based Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy. “Perhaps this is because they feel it really is a flaw within Israeli policy or perhaps it is because they just don’t know what to think about it,” Westrop told JNS.org. “Whether or not this is a wise course of action, I am not quite sure.”

Westrop believes the EU’s “obsession” with Israeli construction results from two factors. He noted the “great deal of people who feel they must apportion blame equally in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” people who “despair at Israel’s approach while strongly condemning Hamas rocket fire.”

And he cited individuals who “genuinely believe” Israeli construction “prevents peace.” “We just have to look at [the Palestinian Authority’s] rejection of Israel’s peace gestures following the offer of a settlement freeze to realize that this just is not true,” he wrote in an e-mail.

But Dr. Toby Greene, head of research at the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM), maintained it is “reasonable for the EU to press both sides not to take unilateral actions that prejudge the outcome of negotiations, meaning the Palestinians should refrain from trying to impose their version of a solution through UN resolutions, and Israel should refrain from trying to impose theirs via building in new areas of the territory under dispute.”

Westrop criticized Ashton – the EU’s foreign policy chief – for “condemning plans for Israel to build Givat Hamatos, which she wrongly claims would cut the geographic continuity between Jerusalem and Bethlehem,” while at the same time ignoring “plans to build better housing for Arabs in Beit Safafa.”

Until “EU money stops funding anti-Israel and pro-terror propaganda groups, people like Ashton should not be dictating to others at all,” Westrop added.

Greene, however, said that the EU “has also been consistently calling for the Palestinians to get back to the table without preconditions.”

“It is important to note that Britain demanded a Palestinian commitment to re-enter negotiations without preconditions as a condition for voting yes and the Palestinians refused to provide it,” she added.

Furthermore, she noted, when condemning Israel’s construction plans in E1 on Dec. 10, the EU also said it “finds inflammatory statements by Hamas leaders that deny Israel’s right to exist unacceptable.”

France

While Germany and Britain abstained from the UN vote on the Palestinians’ upgraded status, France voted in favor of the upgrade and staunchly supported it publicly. At a time when France has a number of other domestic and international issues already on its plate, some might attribute its tough line on Israel to newly elected Socialist president François Hollande.

Writing in Haaretz just before the French presidential election in May 2012, Richard Prasquier, president of the representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), was highly skeptical of Hollande’s left-wing coalition.

“The main question that arises for the Jewish community, if François Hollande becomes the president of France, is the influence that might be exerted by those Socialist leaders who have negative views towards Israel’s policies,” he wrote.

Hollande enjoys the support of the majority of French people on the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“Public opinion has been quite supportive [of the Palestinian UN vote],” Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Paris office, told JNS.org. France, which has Europe’s largest Jewish community, has also garnered significant attention over the past year for a rise in anti-Semitism, especially after last March’s Islamist terrorist attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse that left a rabbi and three children dead.

But despite the growing tensions between France and Israel, the recent spurt of anti-Semitism appears unrelated, according to Rodan-Benzaquen. Instead, many attribute the rise of French anti-Semitism directly to the growing radical Islamic presence in the country, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population.

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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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