Europe Day at the EU Ambassador.
The weather was gorgeous, the Ambassador’s home is beautiful and welcoming, and the occasion was exciting. It was on May 9 1950 that the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first proposed the political cooperation that subsequently led to the European Economic Union (EEC) and ultimately to the European Union (EU) of today. The idea was to “make war between European nations unthinkable”.
Guests included many members of the diplomatic corps, several Israeli politicians, the crème of Israeli society and high-ranking military and commercial and business leaders; but the guest of honor was none other than the President of the State of Israel, Mr. Reuven Rivlin. His presence was surely the most powerful indication of the strong links between Europe and Israel.
His Excellency Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of the Delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel opened his address to the President & the assembled guests with a few words in Hebrew, thanking everyone for attending. His friendly speech emphasized the importance of Israel-European relations: “As the Jewish philosopher Spinoza wrote back in the 17th century: ‘Peace is not the mere absence of war – it is a virtue, it is a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence and justice’. … The mutual commitment to pursue these values also constitutes the very core of the EU-Israel relationship, together with the strong cultural and historical ties that bind the Jewish people and Europe together. Let me at this point make very clear, as we just marked Yom HaShoah last week: anti-Semitism has no place in Europe. We will not accept that Jewish communities in Europe are attacked and do not feel safe. Attacks against Jews are attacks against all Europeans and against our European values. We are determined to fight anti-Semitism on every front – whether on the extreme right or the extreme left or when it is instigated by extreme Islamists.
“EU-Israel relations have flourished over the years, now spanning trade, open skies, science and technology and political cooperation. Our relationship with Israel is now probably the most developed that the European Union enjoys with any third country. And we are keen to further deepen and strengthen our mutually beneficial relations.” The Ambassador pointedly embellished the point and quoted the President as having said: "We are not doomed to live together, but rather it is our destiny to live together."
He spoke meaningfully of the current problems in the EU with refugees flooding in and Europe struggling to ensure that the asylum seekers’ rights are respected. He added: “During the past year, terror has struck in Europe on several occasions perpetrated by fanatical individuals who hate our values and way of life. In Israel, you are living daily under the threat of terror, be it from rockets aimed at your cities or knife-wielding youths attacking, without warning, innocent people walking the streets. This is unacceptable. We strongly condemn terror no matter what form it takes.
“And so we are both confronted with the challenge of how to shelter our open societies against the threat of terror, fanaticism and intolerance without sacrificing the very values that we want to protect. … How do we strike the right balance between freedom of speech and legitimate criticism on the one hand and effective action against incitement, prejudice and fanaticism on the other? How do we avoid that groups of people or whole segments of the population are being ostracized and discriminated against because the majority feels that they don't fit in?”
The Ambassador ended by thanking the guests again, and expressing the hope that the EU could welcome President Rivlin in Brussels very soon.
The State President charmed the assembled guests with his response. He thanked Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen for his hospitality and added: "Your celebration is also our celebration. Israel and the European Union are bound together by many bonds; we share strong economic ties which benefit both sides and I am happy to say that the list of agreements between us is too long for me to mention here. Let me simply say to you, our largest and most important trading partner: Israel's relationship with the European Union is indispensable.
"It is true that Israel and the European Union do not always see eye-to-eye on issues of policy, but our cooperation and our mutual progress must not be held hostage by the lack of progress between Israel and the Palestinians. This would be a victory for those who are not ready to accept that the only way to solve the conflict is by building trust between people."
The President reiterated that in addition to the strong economic trade between Israel and the EU, both are committed to fighting racism “and to promoting tolerance and a shared society … let us be sure to continue to work hand-in-hand." President Rivlin added that it is time to give thanks to those heroes who fought (and fight) for peace, and that Israel is very proud to develop culturally and in other ways side by side with the EU. “Israel is a miracle and the Europeans have contributed to this miracle. We reaffirm our deep commitment to friendship with Europe.”
The President concluded by expressing solidarity with the people of Europe in the face of the many challenges: "This has not been an easy year for Europe. Europe is facing internal economic challenges, a refugee crisis, and unfortunately many horrible acts of terror. In these difficult times, I wish to express Israel's solidarity with Europe. I wish to reaffirm our deep friendship with you, and commitment to the values we share."
The formal part of the celebrations ended with a rendering of the national anthem of the state of Israel and then of the European Union (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”).
As guests mingled and enjoyed the lavish reception, they were entertained by the music of the Polyphony Youth Ensemble. (The Polyphony Foundation’s purpose is to help bridge the divide between Arab and Jewish communities in Israel by creating a common ground where young people come together around classical music.)
Photo Silvia Golan