Jerusalem, February 2, 2004
Mr Kobi Benatoff, President of the European Jewish Congress, Leaders from across Europe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you today, and to have this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on the issues which are of shared concern to both Israel and the Jewish communities of Europe.
Allow me to open by congratulating the EJC on its work and on the new life which it is showing on behalf of Israel and European Jewry. Under the leadership of Kobi, and in partnership with the World Jewish Congress under the leadership of Israel Singer and his collegues, I am confident that the EJC will contribute to meeting the challenges which face us all at this time.
I am convinced that strong Jewish communities are good for Israel, just as a strong Israel is good for the Jewish communities around the world. I wish you success in your deliberations here and in your ongoing work.
Last week I addressed a distinguished forum of Jewish leaders from around the world on the question of anti-Semitism. Some of you may have been in the audience, in which case you may have heard some of my comments.
We see Europe as our natural partner. We share common values and common objectives, as well as huge trade and commercial relations. Closer ties between us are a strategic asset for us both. I have worked very hard from the moment I entered office to enhance these ties. I meet regularly with the leaders of Europe and talk to them on the phone all the time.
There is, I believe, new and positive momentum in these ties at the governmental level. Agreements have been signed, we are talking of beginning a strategic dialogue, an official European delegation is here today to discuss Israel’s inclusion in the Wider Europe program.
At the same time, at the public level, relations are suffering. Israel’s enemies are making inroads in the natural European support for Israel and our cause. Of particular concern in the recent rise of renewed anti-Semitism in Europe.
The wave of anti-Semitism of the past three years is much stronger than anything we have seen since the end of World War II. Attacks are on the rise. Familiar and dangerous stereo-types and prejudice are creeping back into public discourse. This anti-Semitism is a grave danger to the well-being of Jews and their communities around the world.
It also fosters the hostility towards the State of Israel which fuels the suicide bombers, while also undermining our diplomatic efforts to bring peace and security to our citizens.
Israel is committed to doing everything we can to combat this common enemy. We are determined that Jews whether they live in Jerusalem or Paris or Stockholm, in Djerba or Haifa or Istanbul should be able to live their lives, free of the fear of verbal or physical attack.
But I would say something more. This wave of hostility to Jews – and their basic rights as individuals and as a nation – does not only present a challenge to Israel and the Jewish world. It presents a grave challenge to the international community as a whole. When Jews cannot pray in their synagogues without fear, European society itself is in danger.
Since becoming Foreign Minister last February, I have focused effort on mobilizing the political leadership of Europe to engage in the battle against anti-Semitism. My message to them has been clear this is Europe’s problem as much as it is ours. I have told them: Europe has a moral, political and historic obligation to ensure that the evil of anti-Semitism is stamped out.
In Brussels in November, in a meeting with the heads of the European Union, I proposed the formation of an IsraelEurope inter-ministerial committee to combat anti-Semitism, racism and terrorism. These phenomena are all linked and it is critical that they be addressed together.
In a first response to this call and to our efforts to place the issue of anti-Semitism on the agenda of the European Union, we were pleased to see European leaders include a specific condemnation of anti-Semitism in the final communiqu of their December summit in Rome. This is, of course, not enough, but it is a welcome start and a useful platform for further work.
I am convinced that the leaders of Europe share our rejection of anti-Semitism. In my conversations with Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents across the continent, I have found them to be sensitive and willing to help. Indeed, many European governments, including France and others, have taken concrete initiatives to deal with this problem.
At the same time, more must be done. There is a real need for immediate and concrete action, particularly in the field of education. We also need to change the terms of the debate about Israel. The speed and ease with which Israel and the Jews are blamed for every problem in the peace process is terrible, and a source of real concern.
The flow of vicious anti-Semitic incitement in the Arab world today is becoming a strategic problem. It poisons public discourse about Israel in the Arab world and in Europe. The leadership of Europe must stand up and be counted in the face of this threat.
And in this context, I believe that the leadership of the European Jewish communities can make a difference. Your concerted efforts and your united message must be heard. Patterns of partnership and dialogue must be built with governments and the media and opinion leaders in order to combat the negative influence of our enemies.
The link between terrorism, anti-Israeli and anti-Western incitement, and anti-Semitism, is direct and it is strong. In recent years we have seen how classic European anti-Semitism is today combining with extreme left-wing hostility to Israel and Jews, and the anti-Semitism coming from the Arab world, to create an enemy of global proportions.
Israel will not rest in the battle against this enemy. We will continue to take all necessary measures to provide security to our citizens. And we will continue to demand that the Palestinians dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and end incitement before any political negotiations can take place. These are the central commitments that the Palestinians have taken upon themselves throughout the history of the peace process, including in the Roadmap. But they continue to refuse to implement their promises.
Instead of realizing that terror is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians themselves, the Palestinian leadership continues to see it as a legitimate weapon. If there is to be any progress towards peace, the Palestinian leadership must take the strategic decision once and for all to abandon terror and dismantle its infrastructure.
The countries of Europe have an important role to play in bringing this change. Europe must stand up as one against terror. It must ensure that terrorists have no freedom to raise money or build support.
Steps have been taken in this direction by the EU. In September, EU leaders included hamas on their terrorist list. This decision must now be implemented on the ground.
Meanwhile, so long as the terrorists continue to seek to enter our cities and destroy our lives, Israel will continue to exercise its legal right and its democratic obligation to protect and defend its citizens through building the security fence. Building the fence is solely a defensive measure. It is not a political act. It is not designed to harm the general Palestinian population, and we are taking steps to minimize its humanitarian impact.
Most importantly, the fence is reversible. The lives taken by terror are not.
The equation is simple: the more the Palestinians ease our lives by ending terror, the more Israel will be able to ease the lives of the Palestinians.
Before concluding, let me say a few words about the broader Arab world. I believe in peace with the Arab world. I believe it is possible, and I believe that we must do everything we can to bring it about. The war on Iraq has given us a new opportunity. The Middle East is changing. Regimes are looking to update their relations with the West. Look at the examples of Lybia and Iran, and yes, maybe even Syria.
Israel is ready to return to the negotiating table with Syria. The first thing we will put on the table is Syria’s support for terror. We are also determined to put the issue of Syria’s occupation of Lebanon on the international agenda.
I am in regular contact with foreign Ministers from across the Arab world. It is my hope that these contacts will bring real fruits in the near future.