Parley-vous Israel?

No one knows what the aftershocks of the recent European Parliament elections will be once the dust settles in the months to come. What is clear is that the face of European politics has been drastically changed and we must face a new reality. With extreme parties gaining momentum, there is a sense of an impending standoff regarding the future of the European Union.

How might this affect Israel and its ever fluctuating relationship with countries across Europe?

Israeli diplomacy efforts have led to hard-earned cooperation and collaboration with numerous European countries in a variety of fields. This is notable since Israel is continuously under attack from anti-Israel activists and seasoned Palestinian diplomatic representatives in Europe. Will these hard-won gains be threatened now that there is a new political reality in Europe? If some in the mainstream of European leadership found it difficult to find common ground with Israel, what are we to expect from the respective incoming parliament members? And proactively – How can we best express the complex challenges and daily reality that face Israel and her leaders?

While they play an important role, these pressing issues should not be the burden of government bodies alone. Social media and instant access to people throughout the globe give individuals the ability to act like never before on an international scale. Person-to-person diplomacy is vital. We must stand ready to enter into a discussion about our beliefs, ideas and reality and engage with people regarding the political hot-button issues. This is exactly what my friends and I from Hebrew University have decided to do. We have been taking part in the yearlong StandWithUs Israel Fellowship, which empowers young adult Israelis to become better ambassadors for their own country. It’s the go-to extra-curricular program for Israeli public diplomacy on university campuses and the organization challenges us to take on a project to elevate Israel in the world.

Courtesy: Wiki Commons

As a group of emerging leaders from across the spectrum of Israeli society, we felt that the issue of Israeli-European relations is of vital importance. Like most Israeli groups, we have plenty of diverse opinions. What unites us is that we are all bound by a deep connection to the State of Israel and want to ensure that it is fairly represented on the international stage.

Following hours of discussions, study and seminars together we decided to create “Parley”, a five-day conference in August which will host European parliamentary assistants in Jerusalem. The purpose of the Parley Conference is to expose up-and-coming future European leaders to Israel – politics, economics, history, geography and society – and give them a unique opportunity to learn about what is happening here in a balanced and informed manner. These budding diplomats are similar to us in age and life stage, and most have yet to formulate a clear opinion regarding Israel and the myriad of issues it faces. We want to make sure that when they are faced with issues related to the Middle East and questions regarding Israel in particular, that they have both the experience and contacts to help them make considered decisions.

As Israelis, we are constantly frustrated when the Israel that we know is not fully depicted in international public opinion. We know that addressing this challenge is complex. We seek to play a role by engaging in dialogue and conversation with young, fresh and diverse players on the international political scene. We would like them to see that Israel that we see, rather than via the prism of international and local media, or worse, through those who campaign against Israel in Europe.

Feel free to visit our website to learn more about our project and find out how you can help.

About the Author
Avi Staiman is a Master's student at the Melton Center for Jewish Education at Hebrew University. He is currently participating in the yearlong Stand With Us Fellowship. In addition, Avi is an intern at Makom Center for Israel Education at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.