Rivlin tells Spanish PM: ‘BDS must stop’

Rivlin meets with Spanish Prime Minister, calls on him to change how Spain votes in international forums such as UNESCO.

President Reuven Rivlin met today (Tuesday) with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajuez at the Prime Minister’s palace in Madrid.

Rajuez has been Prime Minister of Spain since December, 2011 and President of the People’s Party since 2004. The meeting was also attended by Minister Gila Gamliel, who accompanied the President’s entourage.

Citing the 30th anniversary of the establishment of relations between Israel and Spain, the President emphasized the special relations between the two countries and the historical roots of the relationship. The President thanked the Prime Minister for the reception and expressed his appreciation for the cooperation between Israel and Spain in various fields, stressing that Israel has a sincere desire to preserve and deepen existing ties both in the field of security and in the fields of economy and innovation.

“The secret of our relationship rests on a strong bond not only between states, but also between peoples,” the President said. “The historical family roots of many Israelis are to be found here.”

The President expressed his condolences for the terror that struck Spain last August, adding that the entire free world must join forces to ensure the eradication of terrorism: “Terrorism and religious extremism are a global and tangible threat that affect us all. Unfortunately, we have experience in the field and are willing to contribute by all means available to us in order to combat this phenomenon.”

The President spoke to the Prime Minister about the government’s stance against the boycott campaign, saying that the campaign was “tainted by anti-Semitic elements.” He also asked the Prime Minister to promote legislation in order to prevent similar steps in the future. “BDS must stop,” the President continued. “It is permitted to protest but it’s forbidden to cross the line into boycotts.”

In this context, President Rivlin said that that Israel would be pleased to see Spain change its voting pattern in international forums in a way that would reflect the good bilateral relations between the two countries. “There are decisions taken in international forums that constitute a violation of integrity and intelligent thought.”

“I want to remind you,” said the President, “that the King of Spain is also called the King of Jerusalem and to be a part of UNESCO and say that there is no connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people is not only ignorance, it is an affront to intellectual integrity. I therefore ask you to make sure that you are not taking part in decisions that result from irrelevant political struggles.”

The President and the Prime Minister discussed at length the regional situation in the Middle East. The President stressed that Iran is a subversive element leading to the establishment of a Shiite axis in Syria and the entire Middle East, in an attempt to exploit the crises in the region. “The State of Israel closely follows the growing Iranian presence in Syria and operates according to the clear red lines that we have defined.”

On this issue, the President stressed, “The terror that Iran exports is a threat to the entire world,” and explained that the Iranian hold on Yemen with the Houtis and through them could lead to damage to international trade routes, which could be very damaging to Europe as well.

As for the nuclear deal, the President told the Prime Minister that Israel and the Western world can not allow a country like Iran that supports terror and calls on the UN to destroy Israel to have nuclear capabilities and stressed to the Spanish Prime Minister: “We must work together to prevent this at all costs. The current agreement does not benefit either Israel or Europe, and even endangers the security and stability of the region,” the President said, adding personally to the Spanish Prime Minister that if the agreement does not change: “We must ensure strict adherence to all parts of the agreement and even try to improve it, alongside plans for the day after its expiration.”

After the meeting, a cooperation agreement was signed in the presence of the President and the Spanish Prime Minister, renewing the historic agreement signed between the two countries for the first time in 1987. The agreement was signed by the Israeli and Spanish ambassadors, and includes cooperation in various fields and mutual recognition in the subjects of education and cultural science as well as mutual scholarships for students and lecturers. The agreement also includes a declaration of intentions for joint work on education against racism and antisemitism as well as education on the Holocaust.

 

The article was published on Arutz 7 website


EIPA advisory board meeting

Today (25th of February) Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee and MEPs on EIPA’s Advisory Board met with Mr. Ohad Cohen, Head of Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry.

The joint event in conjunction with Israel’s Ministry of Trade and Mission to the EU, underlined the importance of strong EU-Israel bilateral trade relations.

With a current détente in relations between the EU and Israel following the fallout of the labelling guidelines, MEPs, key staffers and representatives of the Ministry of Trade, held a round table discussion about the clear mutual benefits to both Israel and the EU of continued trade arrangements and Research and Development programs.

MEPs did however hear of Israel’s concerns about the spill-over effects of the labelling guidelines and the associated possibility of a “quiet boycott” of Israeli companies and products which may happen under the radar.

Another key question raised was how to ensure that EU-Israel economic relations were decoupled from matters relating to the on-going political machinations of the peace process.


PA violence is elephant in the room that EU can no longer ignore

Another week and still the indiscriminate stabbing attacks against Israelis continue, another week and still no condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, nor calls on this bloodlust to cease.

Can you imagine the international uproar and the weight of worldwide opinion if Israelis were wandering around randomly stabbing Palestinian Arabs? And can you imagine if the Prime Minister and his Ministers justified it as ‘popular resistance’? It would, quite rightly, result in a deafening cacophony of condemnation.

Yet with one more off-duty sergeant dead, and a civilian and two border guards wounded as a result of stabbing attacks in Sha’ar Binyamin and Jerusalem this week, there is instead deafening silence from the European Union. No attempts to hold the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas to account. No attempts to impose cuts on their funding as they seek to wash their hands and say “this is simply a reaction to the occupation”. 

Meanwhile Israelis, stoic as always go about their daily lives and respond in the way they do best: with gallows humour.

I was in Jerusalem at the start of the week, the first time since October, and the sense of tension was palpable. People looked over their shoulders, were wary of people who didn’t look Israeli, and they make jokes about who gets to stand in the middle if they are walking in threes, as that’s the best place to be if someone tries to stab you.

Whilst waiting for an Israeli friend to show up at Cinema City in the Government quarter, I found myself leaning against a wall, rather than sitting down so as to get a better view of people passing by. And I felt bad, knowing this is daily life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

This has to stop. And the EU needs to massively up its game in getting it to stop. If the Palestinian Authority think it can get away with inciting violence, then cry crocodile tears after acts of terror take place, well, it will.

So far – and now we are now in our fifth month since the wave of stabbing started – the EU has done precious little. A few words of condemnation, but no sanctions, no holding to account, no proper scrutiny, in short nothing of real diplomatic nor political worth.

So, as a result, the Palestinian Authority can continue to act with impunity. Safe in the knowledge that the EU is a toothless tiger. And that means more stabbings. More dead Israelis and Palestinians.

As Director of a Brussels based pro-Israel advocacy group, we are actively working on a political campaign to ensure that there is conditionality when it comes to EU aid.

What do I mean by conditionality? The Palestinian Authority gets Millions of Euros in taxpayers money in aid and support. Money that currently goes to support the cradle to the grave hatred of anything Jewish or Israeli. It currently supports schools named after suicide bombers, it supports the families of incarcerated terrorists, with a sliding scale of money dependent on the atrocity committed. It supports a regime – and I use that word in its proper context – that espouses the politics of the lowest common denominator: rabble rousing and hate mongering as a tactic to avert attention from its own shortcomings, namely endemic corruption and complete impotence in meeting the pressing social and economic needs of the people it professes to ‘represent’ despite the billions in aid money it has received over the years. I put represent in parentheses for good reason, the last and only  elections, as you know, were in 2005.

And Brussels is turning a blind eye for now. Which is hardly surprising given it has its collective blinkers on when it comes to its obsession with settlements. After the labelling debacle of last November, the EU has been trying to mend bridges with the State of Israel.

But it still refuses to tackle the bloody great elephant in the room, resplendent in neon signage that flashes “Palestinian violence and incitement to violence.”

Ask any Israeli what their biggest concern is and the vast majority will answer in one word: security. Yet all of the EU’s diplomatic ammunition is pointed at settlements, thereby alienating one side of your partners for peace, and worse still playing directly into the false Palestinian assertion that “it’s the settlements stupid”.

If the EU is serious about getting the Peace Process back on track, serious about being seen as an honest broker, and serious about rebuilding its relationship with the Israeli government and its people, it needs to remove the blinkers and allow the spotlight to move to EU aid and funding Mahmoud Abbas’ hate churning Palestinian Authority.

It needs to hit the PA where it hurts: In its pockets. Conditionality means that PA funds get cut unless it stops inciting violence.

With 229 attacks to date, 340 hurt, and 32 Israelis murdered since this ‘campaign’ started, it’s essential that this incitement stops.

Turn the screws on PA bank accounts today and I’d bet it will stop tomorrow.

This Op-Ed was written by EIAP executive director, Alex Benjamin and was published at The Times of Israel as well.


The real Israel

A lot has already been said about the Swedish government’s Middle East policy and I will not get dug down in my past criticism of it. After spending a couple of days in Israel together with colleagues from the European Parliament, I would like however to underline a clear observation; The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström’s anti-Israeli statements have damaged the image of Sweden more than we so far have realized.

That the Israeli government´s representatives, parliamentarians and media began speaking about a flaring diplomatic crisis is one thing, but when the general public and ideological supporters of Wallström react in the same way it illustrates the seriousness of the situation. In fact, Sweden’s reputation has been destroyed as a result of Wallström´s actions and some of the foremost critics are her own Social Democratic Party friends in the Israeli Labour Party.

In the meetings and conversations that I participated in, both in the Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish government’s actions have been a recurring topic. This was clearly expressed in Knesset’s Vice President, Social Democrat Nachman Shai, who explained that Margot Wallström not only has hurt her own image, but also Israel´s:

”What we are talking about is a terrible mistake. Tell her that we are hoping for a quick generation shift in Swedish Social democracy.”

Alongside this debacle, Israeli domestic politics are dominated by the country’s security situation. A special focus is of course on the Palestinian attacks against innocent civilians, attacks who are currently spreading terror among the population. Since the wave of terror began last year, over a hundred attacks have been conducted in which around thirty people have been killed and hundreds injured.

The functions of fundamental social institutions is being challenged and people’s daily lives have been limited. What previously was easy suddenly became impossible. At the same time, I was impressed by how well the society seems to work, how people’s concerns are taken care of and how quickly the necessary political decisions and measures have been taken. The handling of national crises in Israel is part of normality.

The security challenge is constantly present, and it also applies to the neighbouring countries, regionally and globally. Israel is surrounded by more or less hard line, hostile dictatorships ruling over their 450 million inhabitants. In addition a number of militant terrorist organizations are currently operating in Israel’s immediate vicinity; Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Sinai. All sharing the expressed purpose to destroy Israel.

This is relevant and important to recall in a political context where Israel is often portrayed as the stronger and militarily superior party. This is of course correct in relation to the Palestinians but in a broader perspective the country is in a vulnerable position facing the surrounding dictatorships and terror organizations.

After days of political discussions, meetings and field trips, I can conclude not only that the outside world´s perceptions of Israel’s security situation is at odds with reality. In the Swedish and European context it is almost only the occupation and the settlements that are discussed, which makes the picture incomplete. Other major events and phenomena are neglected or silenced.

People interested in foreign policy and media consumers seldom get to see the true Israel. A country with successful enterprises, entrepreneurship, research and education with empathetic and involved citizens.

Let me mention some of these citizens – people who daily are involved in shaping the Israeli society. Recently I met them in their different situations and places:

Salman Zarka, doctor at the Ziv hospital in Safed near the border with Lebanon and Syria. For years he has been responsible for projects treating victims of the civil war in Syria. Often the patients are people who were rescued by Israeli army patrols in the border areas.

When I met Salman Zarka he explained that the main focus is treating seriously injured and traumatized patients – both soldiers and civilians. So far, he and his team have been able to save the lives of 580 severely injured people out of the total of 3000 war wounded Syrians who so far have received care in Israeli hospitals.

”Most of them have learned at an early stage to see Israel as the worst enemy. But as a doctor and human being, it is my job to save lives, regardless of nationality”.

Gad Moshe Yarkony, Mayor in Eshkol in southern Israel. Born and raised on the Kibbutz Nirim, just a few kilometres from the border with Gaza, Yarkony lived for many years under attacks from Palestinian terrorist groups. In the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas he served in the Israeli army when a Palestinian rocket attack changed his life. Two of his closest friends were killed in the attack that also wounded himself. Hit by shrapnel both his legs are today amputated.

”The attack took place on the last day of the war. But I made a decision; to survive and work for peace with the Palestinians. From my hospital bed, I announced my candidacy for mayor.”

Yehuda Cohen, head of the Lipski company in Ariel in the West Bank. For several years Lipski is one of the leading manufacturers of plastic products in the region. The company is profitable, sales are steadily increasing and 20 per cent of what is produced is exported to Europe.

Half of Lipskis over a hundred employees are Israelis, half of them Palestinians. Yehuda Cohen said that staff turnover is low, and wages and employment conditions are the same for Palestinians and Israelis.

”For me, this job is a peace project. The owner of the company is considering moving the production because of the uncertainty regarding the EU’s decision on labelling of goods from the occupied territories. If so, I will not follow, since I want to continue working for coexistence with the Palestinians.”

Israel, like all countries is neither perfect nor flawless. But in all its simplicity, the meetings with Salman Zarka, Gad Moshe Yarkony and Yehuda Cohen, however complete the widely recognized and unfortunately one sided negative picture of the Middle East’s only democracy.

It’s time for that picture to change.

(This is an English translation of the blog post in Swedish ”Det verkliga Israel” published on this blog on February 13th 2016)

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