European call for closer cooperation
The first ELNET International Policy Conference (EIPC) took place in Paris in October 2018 providing a unique platform for prominent European policymakers to voice their strong support for a closer collaboration with Israel. More than 150 ministers, prominent politicians, policymakers and opinion leaders attended the conference. The speakers called for closer Europe-Israel ties and addressed strategic challenges of mutual concern. In his keynote address, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire declared “France would always oppose an economic boycott of Israel” and called for stronger economic cooperation between Israel and France with the aim of doubling total bilateral trade. “Clearly there are political intentions behind the boycott movement. The anti-Semitism which is on the rise recently also in France takes a form of anti-Zionism, and the people who seek the weakening and disappearance of the State of Israel want the same for the Jews of France. Anti-Zionism is a new form of anti-Semitism, and that is why it needs to be fought with the same decisiveness and firmness”. Le Maire added that “France will not negotiate Israel’s security”, and that “Israel needs European support vis-à-vis Iran”.
The Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Israel, Italian Member of European Parliament Fulvio Martusciello, received a standing ovation after denouncing the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, opposing BDS, and stressing the importance of democratic governments ahead of European Parliament elections next year. Martusciello highlighted the need for better understanding of Israel’s policies, noting that ‘’too many members of the European Parliament speak about Israel without knowing Israel at all’’. Martusciello stressed that anti-Semitism has a detrimental effect on European democracies.
Other dignitaries attending the conference included Dan Meridor, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel; the Hon. Irwin Cotler, Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Prof. Uzi Arad, former Israeli National Security Advisor; Elliott Abrams, former Deputy US National Security Advisor; Maj. Gen. Amos Gilead, former Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at Israel’s Ministry of Defense; Chagai Tzuriel, Director General of the Intelligence Ministry of Israel; Dr. Joseph Draznin, Director General of the Ministry of Regional Cooperation of Israel, Zacharie Gross, Director of the Nuclear and Missile Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France; Jérôme Bonnafont, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Directorate at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France; Tzahi Gavrieli, Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs of Israel; Volker Beck, former President of the German-Israel friendship group in the Bundestag; Brig. Gen. (ret.) Mike Herzog, former head of IDF Strategic Planning and chief of staff to Israel’s Defense Minister; Col. Richard Kemp, former Commander of the British Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; Dr. Kenneth Weinstein, CEO of Hudson Institute and Yossi Vardi, a founding father of Israel’s high-tech sector.
We share regional and strategic challenges
Conference topics included Middle East security, post-war Syria, the threat of Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, transatlantic relations, the role of Russia, defense and economic cooperation, cyber-security and counter terrorism, as well as BDS and extremism.
Discussing Iran’s assertiveness in the region and its nuclear ambitions, speakers addressed Teheran’s efforts to maintain the JCPOA agreement, while continuing to pursue its regional ambitions, against the backdrop of growing economic pressure and internal discontent. The implications of U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal were widely discussed. While European and Israeli officials gave voice to the consensus that Iran should never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon program, European speakers generally disagreed with their counterparts on the best ways to prevent this outcome, arguing for more flexibility to safeguard the JCPOA.
Panelists focused extensively on Syria, with officials describing the dangerous collision course between Iran’s determination to entrench militarily in Syria, Israel’s efforts to prevent such a buildup and the implications of Russia’s role in the region. Several speakers called for closer strategic collaboration between the U.S., Europe and Israel, in the context of recent tensions between Jerusalem and Moscow over a downing of a Russian army plane in Syria. Speakers agreed that Russia traditionally cultivates key relationships with a broad spectrum of regional players and is likely to continue pursuing a policy of controlled tensions and limited military intervention to promote its influence in the region.
In a session devoted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, participants discussed the prospects for the anticipated U.S. peace plan given the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to engage Washington. The panelists discussed the urgency of addressing the Gaza situation given the growing humanitarian crisis and increased tensions across the Israel-Gaza border.
Discussing Europe-Israel ties
The conference highlighted the growing economic cooperation between Israel and Europe. The main panel on European-Israeli relations highlighted the gradual European policy shift towards a more pragmatic approach.
While Israel’s economic cooperation and trade with European countries and institutions has grown markedly stronger in recent years, Israel’s formal upgrade of relations with the EU continues to be conditioned on political issues. European panelists discussed a need for a more coherent European strategy towards Israel, given growing European interest in Israeli innovation and know-how, especially in areas such as artificial intelligence, big data and cyber security. Highlighting the danger of the BDS movement, several speakers called for greater efforts in Europe to combat the boycott movement.