Europe's love-hate relationship with Israel?

Europe loves Israel's high-tech economy, but hates its nature as a Jewish state that won't yield to international efforts to undermine its very existence. Europe is conflicted about the Jews, as it always has been, argues the Director of Christian Middle East Watch

EU's Barroso and Israel's Netanyahu pointing fingers
Nick Gray
On 19 December 2013 12:46

Does Europe love Israel or hate her? Increasingly over the past few months the EU as a body and some EU states individually have been sending conflicting messages about their relationship with the Jewish state. Trade between the two increases apace, while wild, false claims of illegality and brutality persist.

As part of the “Quartet”, the EU has been a senior negotiating partner in the Israel-Palestinian peace process, but cannot claim to be a neutral interlocutor as long as it takes a biased position on final-status issues between the parties.

The most blatant example of this is the new EU funding regulations that come into force on 1st January 2014 by which Israeli companies in, or with branches in, the disputed West Bank territories will be ineligible to win major funding from the EU or its institutions.

Trying to force Israel to say that everything within the “1948 borders” is outside her jurisdiction is prejudging an issue to be decided by the Israelis and Palestinians by negotiation. The EU is effectively attempting to force Israel to accept a redundant armistice line as her international border.

Unfortunately for the bureaucrats who created this obstructive set of regulations, the EU was at the same time involving Israel in “Horizon 2012”, an  €80 billion funding scheme billed as, “…the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever… more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Horizon 2020 is not a handout by Brussels, it is a joint venture and Israel is the only non-EU country taking part. Her start-ups are the envy of the world and the EU contribution to the scheme will be a huge further boost to game-changing Israeli research and development in all kinds of fields.

So what does the EU want; to support Israeli research and reap the benefits down the line or wreck the whole partnership by excluding every Israeli company with connections, staff or offices in the disputed territories? Some frantic negotiations have led to a typical bureaucratic fudge that allows Israel to stay in the scheme and the EU to protest her occupation of and settlements in the West Bank.

Within the last week there have also been two seemingly contradictory incidents that illustrate the love-hate relationship Europe has with Israel. The Dutch state-owned water company Vitens has had an ongoing partnership with Israeli opposite number Mekorot, one of the most technologically advanced companies of its kind in the world.

The environmental challenges Israel presents to agriculture, industry and just plain living in a water-starved region have helped make Mekorot world leaders in desalination, water engineering and water quality, all of which were benefitting Europe through Mekorot’s links to Vitens.

Vitens, however, has just decided that all the plusses of working with world-leading Mekorot are cancelled out by its presence in the West Bank “in a clear violation of international laws and has broken off the relationship. They won’t find another more eligible corporate partner!

What is so contradictory is that in the same week Israel has become the only non-European state invited to become a full member of the CERN European nuclear research centre in Switzerland, famously the creator of the Large Hadron Collider. Does Europe want Israeli brains or doesn’t it?

The answer, of course, is that Europe DOES want Israeli brains and it DOES want Israeli trade. The EU is Israel’s number one trading partner, with over €29 billion of trade in 2011. A trade agreement has been in force since 2000 and additional agricultural trade agreements were concluded in 2008.

Israel is a member of the “Euromed” group of nations around the Mediterranean, a partnership that has as its chief aim the creation of a “Euro-Mediterranean” free trade area that stretches from Morocco round to Turkey and includes Israel.

So far, so economically wonderful! Several factors, however, militate against this encouraging state of affairs.

Both the EU corporately and individual states and corporations within it are under continual attack from BDS boycott supporters, who are not beyond lies and deceit in order to damage Israel in the eyes of anyone and everyone.

A prime example is the campaign waged against Veolia and Alstrom, two French multi-nationals that were part of the Jerusalem Light Rail construction consortium. Both companies are leaders in the creation of efficient and “green” city transport and infrastructure and the result of their work is of huge benefit to both the Jewish and Arab populations of Jerusalem.

Despite the Light Rail project being a direct outworking of the Oslo accords to increase integration and economic growth in the city, both these companies have been under attack. In Britain, Veolia has been opposed in every local authority where it has applied for or tendered for a contract.

Fortunately, as you can read in CMEW’s report on the campaign, the BDS groups failed in almost every case to force councils to vote down Veolia on political grounds. Where Veolia did lose contract bids, it was solely on commercial and economic grounds - in other words a failure for BDS!

Furthermore, a French court dismissed a case brought by Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS) against Veolia on the grounds that Veolia was not at fault in helping to construct the Light Railway and AFPS should have been suing the State of Israel if anyone.

Accusations that Veolia was actively supporting “occupation of Palestinian lands” and the expansion of “illegal settlements” in Israel were not considered good grounds for a legal action in France!

Although neither Veolia nor Alstrom have any share in the now completed and successful “trams”, BDS campaigns against both companies have continued, which simply illustrates spite on the part of the BDS groups and a refusal to accept defeat!

Right across Europe states, corporations and individuals are also under continual indirect pressure to support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel as BDS groups publicise false accusations and half truths about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Emotions overrule economics sometimes, when the Middle East’s only democratic state is compared with apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany; historical comparisons that even a cursory Google search shows don’t match up at all.

What weighs most heavily in Israel’s favour, however, is the innate pragmatism of politicians needing votes and corporations needing to satisfy shareholders!

Britain, for example, is pushing for closer commercial, academic and research ties with Israel all the time, yet simultaneously condemns “illegal settlements” and “breaches of international law”.

Anti-Israel political mutterings in Whitehall, however, are trumped by the need for economic growth -- with a view to a national election in 2015.

Even the Palestinians have come out in opposition to BDS campaigns. They are happy for settlement produce to be boycotted, but as long as Israel supplies construction materials for the new Palestinian city being built and as long as Israeli Shekels are coming into the Palestinian economy please don’t rock the boat, Mr BDS.

Europe will continue to both love and hate Israel. BDS claims will continue to fuel a degree of underlying anti-Semitism. But as long as Israel continues to outshine the rest of the world technologically, European trade and commerce will continue to beat a path to her door in search of the economic benefits she brings and the brains she has to offer.

Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick blogs at

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