Jewish life in Europe stands at a crossroads. Rising extremism and anti-Semitism in Europe has led to attacks on home soil, in Paris, Copenhagen and Brussels, which have shocked Europeans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Religious extremism and growing personal insecurity are now at the forefront of European discussions and are resulting in European leaders rethinking their priorities. There is an opportunity for European Jews and Israel to play a constructive role in the development of European polices. In 2015, Europe and Israel both face considerable uncertainty and challenges to their security on the global, regional and national levels. How they choose to respond will be critical.
Europe and Israel are in agreement on eighty percent of issues but all too often the bilateral relations are dictated by a singular issue, which dominates and influences the whole relationship. EU-Israel political and economic partnerships have been curbed by focusing on divisive issues, rather than looking at the bigger picture. There is now an opportunity to work together within the area of consensus and an imperative to advance a common understanding in the areas of disagreement.
Bilateral relations can offer great mutual benefit. For Israel, Europe is increasingly more important, no longer united by just the memory of the past, but tied together geographically, economically and politically for the future. For Europe, apart from Israel being the only democratic and law-abiding nation in the Middle East, Israel also offers economic, scientific, technological and counter terrorism expertise.
Changes in leadership offer the possibility to alter long-standing attitudes, which have dominated the relations and created mistrust between the EU and Israel. In the EU it is the beginning of a new political cycle. Federica Mogherini replaced Catherine Ashton as the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and immediately expressed a strong interest in the Middle East. Other new appointments in the EU institutions offer the potential for greater and smoother cooperation and should be capitalized upon. In Israel, national elections and a new Knesset will open up the potential of fresh diplomatic momentum.
The decisions made in 2015 in Israel and Europe will set the tone and direction for bilateral relations for years to come. This year includes the challenge of reviewing and renewing the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which constitutes the baseline of relations between the two. The scope of cooperation can be maintained, upgraded, or downgraded. A reduction would only serve to increase the distance and mutual frustration between Israel and Europe. Israel holds answers to many of Europe’s pressing challenges. It can be part of the solution but this can only be achieved through meaningful strategic partnership.
In response to the notorious issue of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) one prominent European Ambassador based in Israel suggested in a private conversation recently, that their country “supports PDS – Promoting, Developing, and Sustaining the relationship between Israel and Europe, rather than the opposite.” Increased public insecurity and anti-Semitic attacks in Europe may serve as an incentive for cooperation, encouraging Europe and Israel to focus on their similarities and the convergence of interests.