Jerusalem, 31 October 2019 - A leadership delegation of Members of the European Parliament associated with the Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI), the inter-parliamentary friendship group founded this July, concluded a four-day mission to Israel.
On the trip organized by the Brussels-based AJC Transatlantic Institute and AJC Project Interchange, the lawmakers visited the Knesset, exchanged views with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, toured Israel’s northern border, visited kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza Strip, and engaged with the Jewish state’s vibrant tech and start-up scene.
“I think what’s missing in Europe is a genuine understanding of Israel’s security situation. EU governments and the EEAS must work to change this. Deeper mutual understanding would not only improve the EU-Israel relationship, it would pay enormous dividends to European citizens. A global leader in innovation, counterterrorism, and research, Israel is our friend and a key member of the Western family of democracies,” said Austrian MEP Lukas Mandl who heads the cross-party TFI friendship group in the EU legislature.
“More dialogue on the highest political level is urgently needed to deepen understanding. We Transatlantic Friends of Israel will therefore continue to push for an EU-Israel Association Council which astonishingly hasn’t been convened since 2012,“ Mandl said.
“Given the fact that among other things, Israel has the largest number of start-ups per capita, there are so many opportunities for an even more prosperous future in the interest of everyone,” Mandl added.
Greek EU lawmaker and TFI member Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou, Vice Chair of the EU legislature’s powerful trade committee said: “Israel is our partner and our friend. Alongside bolstering political dialogue, European companies should partner more with their Israeli counterparts. Having seen with my own eyes Israel’s unique tech eco-system, can-do mentality, and a thriving start-up scene, it’s critical that the EU should define mutually-beneficial Partnership Priorities with our key ally in the Middle East.”
From the vantage point of the Golan Heights overlooking positions of the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah and Syria, David Lega - Swedish former Paralympic swimmer turned Christian Democrat lawmaker and TFI member - is concerned about Hezbollah’s recent rearmament. In contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Iran’s terrorist arm threatens to trigger another major war with potentially devastating consequences both for Israel and Lebanon.
“The EU likes to say that it takes Israel’s security seriously. But our Israeli friends have reason to question this commitment if Europe continues to separate between Hezbollah’s ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings. The EU should blacklist the group in its entirety. This isn’t even to speak of the threat Iran’s proxy poses to European citizens and especially our Jewish communities as it stokes antisemitism in our cities,” Lega said.
Travelling to Israel for the first time, German Social Democrat and member of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Dietmar Köster said: “I was fascinated by Israelis’ unbowing will and great accomplishment to thrive in a hostile environment. As a socialist myself, being at kibbutz Nahal Oz just a stone’s throw from Gaza was very meaningful. It opened my eyes to Israel’s collective tradition and its citizens’ continued hope for a peaceful future with their Palestinian neighbors despite the rocket attacks. However, this hope currently seems as remote as ever as long as Hamas doesn't recognize the right of Israel to exist and does not stop the rocket attacks from Gaza and most importantly the Iranian government must give up their goal to destroy Israel,” Köster said.
At the TFI group’s launch last July in the European Parliament, Israel’s ambassador to the EU and the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires delivered keynote addresses.
From left to right: MEP Dietmar Köster, MEP David Lega, MEP Niclas Herbst, MEP Veronika Vrecionová, MEP Lukas Mandl, Daniel Kaddik (Head of „European Liberal Foundation“ think tank).