December 19, 2018

Europe is not lost

I'm the Chairman and Co-founder of an organization called Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network) whose European affiliates promote relations between Europe and Israel.  I travel often for site visits to Paris, Berlin, and other capitals in Europe to assess the situation firsthand.  Often, before I go, an American friend warns me, “Things are pretty bad there, the situation might be hopeless.”  Sometimes they just saw an article about an anti-Semitic incident in Marseilles, or a British labor union voting to boycott Israel.   There are a lot of news stories about things like that, more than any positive developments.

But what I actually witness on the ground in Europe is a very different story.  Yes, there are certainly some problems.  But overall, Europe's relations with Israel are flourishing, not dying.  Israel’s trade with the EU has increased from 20 to 30 billion euros per year over the last 10 years.    Europe's partnership with Israel is among the closest the EU has with any non-member state.  The EU stated officially that it is “against the so-called 'BDS' and we are against any attempts to isolate Israel.” 

British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, and the top European Council–all have expressed strong opposition to any boycott of Israel.  In fact, all have expressed support for expanding Israel's economic relations with the European Union, not curtailing them. 

Europe is not turning its back on Israel.  In the ten years since the BDS movement was launched in July 2005, declaring Europe to be its number one target, the EU has signed twelve additional commercial agreements significantly expanding relations with Israel. 

In October 2012, against fierce opposition from leaders of the BDS movement, the European Parliament ratified a critical framework agreement on Israeli industrial products, by a vote of 379-230.  In July 2012, the EU approved unprecedented steps to enhance Israel-EU relations in 60 trade and diplomatic policy areas, including increased access to the EU’s single market, closer cooperation on transport and energy, and enhanced ties with nine EU agencies.   

Jews hold high positions many European governments.  Many Jews in European countries continue to prosper and succeed.   Jewish populations are generally stable and in some places growing, not declining.  The problems are real, but the sky is not falling. 

Yes, Moslem immigrant populations are large and growing more rapidly, sometimes bringing with them virulent anti-Israel ideologies and not a little anti-Semitism.  But where these attitudes have emerged, they have provoked strong opposition and passionate rejection from the vast majority of Europeans.  They have also led to the rise of powerful opposition movements in many European countries.  In fact, the European political parties hostile to these foreign ideologies, are much larger than the radical elements coming in, so the balance is not necessarily against Israel.

The fact that there are more Moslems than Jews in Europe does not mean that the Jewish cause there is mathematically doomed.  In the world there are one and a half billion Moslems and close to four hundred million Arabs, but Israel has the strongest air force within a thousand mile radius.  In the United States, Jews comprise under 2% of the population, but we punch way above our weight in the political system and in economic and cultural affairs.  It is our destiny to be the few among the many, but this does not mean we are destined to perish.  Why should Europe be different?

The eruption of terrorism in Paris and Brussels has awakened Europeans to the reality of Middle Eastern extremism.  There is greater understanding that the animosity in the Middle East is not open to sweet reason, and that strong measures are sometimes required to deal with the threats.  There is more understanding why Israel finds it so difficult to come to a political accommodation with some of its neighbors.

Europe is far from lost for Israel.  The misperception that Europe is lost discourages friends of Israel in Europe and beyond from taking steps that can actually make the situation better.  It shrinks the international resources available to invest in pro-Israel activity in Europe, when potential American supporters think the money would be wasted.

Yes, there are dangers in Europe, but there are also opportunities.  Bringing modern methods of advocacy and political action to bear in key European capitals, make it possible to answer the threats and even go to new heights in many areas.   The future will not belong to those who pile up lists of problems that are supposedly insurmountable, but to those who see the potential and act to build a better future.

Larry J. Hochberg is the Chairman and Co-founder, Friends of ELNET (European Leadership Network)