Brussels – 9 July 2019 –The AJC Transatlantic Institute launched today the inter-parliamentary “Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI)” group in the EU Parliament. Chaired by Austrian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Lukas Mandl (EPP), this is the first-ever cross-party friendship caucus specifically committed to strengthening the trilateral partnership between the U.S., Israel, and Europe. The standing-room only audience of some 60 people included 25 MEPs from 13 countries, representing four of the five major political groups. Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to the EU and NATO, and Christina Tomlinson, the Chargé d’Affairs of the U.S. Mission to the EU, delivered special addresses to the gathering. Senator Marco Rubio (R) and Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D) sent written statements of strong bipartisan support for the initiative.
Coming only a week after the newly elected EU Parliament took office in Strasbourg, Mandl, who co-hosted the kick-off event with German MEP Dietmar Köster (S&D) and Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries (Renew Europe), urged his fellow parliamentarians to help bolster ties with the Jewish state and combat Jerusalem’s isolation in international fora like the United Nations. “I consider the transatlantic alliance with Israel -- a global leader in technology, defense, and innovation – one of the most important issues of our time. This trilateral partnership, based on shared Western values, interests, and history, is crucial for our collective security and prosperity. That’s why we have created the ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ as a key inter-parliamentary group to help advance this critical work,” Mandl said.
“The impressive turn-out at this morning’s launch of the ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ is a powerful message to the EU to strengthen and deepen this vital trilateral partnership,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Brussels-based EU office, the AJC Transatlantic Institute. “Israel ought to be understood as an integral part of the West which is less a geographical concept than a community of shared values and interests. With its first-class security services, cutting-edge high-tech sector, and thriving knowledge-based economy, Europe and the U.S. couldn’t ask for a better partner to tackle today’s challenges, from rising extremism and terrorism to radical regimes and nuclear proliferation.”
One of TFI’s Vice Chairs, Lithuanian lawmaker Petras Auštrevičius, explained that the group will promote a more balanced treatment of Israel within the EU. “It’s astonishing that the EU has in recent months held Association Councils with Egypt, Morocco, and other Arab countries, but not with Israel, the Middle East’s only liberal democracy. This unfair treatment hurts not just Israeli but also European interests,” Auštrevičius said.
“Despite current political differences, the allegiance between North America, Europe and Israel runs deep due to the shared values of a social democracy, freedom and an open society based on the rule of law,” Dietmar Köster said.
Israel’s envoy to the EU and NATO, Ambassador Leshno-Yaar, expressed his full support for the group’s activities: „Europe, the U.S. and Israel are challenged by forces that are hostile to our values and way of life. We can, we must work together, to find common solutions to those challenges.”
Christina Tomlinson, representing U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland who was out of country, said: “To our friends from the European Parliament who are here today, your presence is remarkable. That just a few days after taking office you would take the time and make the commitment to be here speaks volumes about your dedication to the transatlantic relationship and your willingness to have an open and mutually beneficial relationship with Israel.”
“Today, individual liberty, democracy, and national sovereignty are the cornerstones of American, European, and Israeli societies. We look forward to working with the ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ and our friends and partners in the EU to continue to foster these ideals on both sides of the Atlantic,” Tomlinson added.
In a written statement to his peers in the European Parliament, Senator Rubio highlighted that America’s close alliance with the Jewish state enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress: “Given Israel's military and technological prowess, closer strategic relations have significantly advanced American national security interests and values, and also ought to be as much in Europe's interests as in Israel's,” Rubio said.
Echoing her Senate colleague, Chairwoman Lowey wished the group great success: “I was delighted to learn about AJC’s new ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ inter-parliamentary friendship group. With a clear set of common interests and values, this trilateral project could not have come soon enough. As this group continues to grow and expand, I look forward to working together to pursue our agenda of partnership and friendship,” Lowey said.