Fischer calls for closer EU-Israel ties
19 February 2004
BRUSSELS – German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on Thursday called for stronger ties between Israel and the European Union, adding the EU would also continue to provide aid to the Palestinian Authority.
An end to EU financial support for the Palestinian government would reinforce the hand of Hamas and other extremist groups, Fischer told an EU-sponsored conference on anti-Semitism.
“What would be the consequence if the EU withdraws its financing for the Palestinian Authority ? Hamas would instantly take over in Gaza. It would be a disaster,” Fischer warned.
“What Europe is doing is in the interest of Israel and the peace process,” he stressed.
The German foreign minister described as “interesting” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans to uproot settlements and withdraw from Gaza.
However, he also cautioned Israel to make sure construction of a so-called security fence coincided with the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank which marks the armistice lines at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel as a democracy must accept the right of others to criticize its actions, Fischer said. “This has to be done on the basis that Israel’s right to existence cannot be challenged,” he added.
Fischer insisted that Europe must take a stand against anti-Semitism, saying the Union had a responsibility to protect its minorities.
“Anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity,” he warned, adding that fighting anti-Semitism must go hand in hand with combating all forms of racism and intolerance.
Solving the Middle East conflict and developing cooperation in the Mediterranean were also part of the struggle, Fischer said.
European Commission President Romano Prodi told the conference there was no place for anti-Jewish sentiments in a “Union of diversity” but admitted there were still “vestiges of the historical anti-Semitism which was once widespread in Europe.”
“We do hear expressions of anti-Semitic prejudice … we do see attacks against synagogues, desecration of Jewish cemetaries and physical assaults on Jews,” he said.
But the Commission chief denied there was any organized form of anti-Semitism in Europe comparable to the 1930s and 1940s. “Let us be honest and keep things in perspective,” Prodi insisted.
Anti-Semitism in Europe also fed on the unresolved conflict in the Middle East, Prodi underlined.
The Israeli-Palestinian crisis was fuelling “social frustrations of new minorities established through immigration in many member states,” Prodi said, referring to allegations that anti-Semitic acts in Europe were often perpetrated by young Muslims.
The Commission president insisted that criticism of Israeli government policies was a “normal expression of democratic dissent.”
But he admitted that some criticism of Israel was inspired by “what amounts to anti-Semitic sentiments and prejudice.”
Combating this required across-the-board actions, Prodi said, adding that EU ministers for home affairs and education should meet jointly to discuss anti-Semitism.
Cobi Benatoff of the European Jewish Congress told the meeting that “the monster of anti-Semitism is among us again.”
Benatoff criticised what he described as the “indifference” of other Europeans to the phenomenon, warning: “History is repeating itself.”
The Commission decided to organise the conference on fighting anti-Semitism following a controversial EU-funded poll last year which said most Europeans believed Israel was a threat to world peace.
But the seminar was almost called off after Jewish leaders in America and Europe said the Commission was not doing enough to combat anti-Jewish sentiments.
Subject: German news