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Israel International Relations:
Overview of Cooperation with Europe

International Relations: Table of Contents | Greece-Israel | China-Israel

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Similar systems of government and shared social values, as well as the long and sometimes tragic history of Jewish communities in Europe, form the foundation of relations between Israel and the European countries. Each bilateral relationship is expressed in a wide range of economic, cultural, scientific, technological and political activities, as well as by ongoing dialogues maintained with heads of state, ministers, parliamentarians and public figures through frequent reciprocal visits.

Western Europe

Since economic relations with neighboring Arab countries are just beginning, Western Europe is Israel's most natural trading partner. The establishment of a free trade zone (1975) with the European Community (EC) led to a significant increase in exports to Europe from 1975 to 1996, and an even greater increase in EC exports to Israel. This growth in trade has been accelerated by the development of close business connections between entrepreneurs and investors and the setting up of joint ventures, as well as by efforts to strengthen economic ties with the member countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The Israel-EU Association Agreement, signed in 1995, came into force in June 2000, allowing for heightened political dialogue, as well as closer economic relations. Earlier in 2000, the EU-Israel Forum was established with the aim of increasing understanding and cooperation between the parties. The flow of tourists between Europe and Israel has established an ever-deepening fabric of personal relationships and mutual awareness.

Europe has long held economic relations with Israel, and this includes the import of Israeli goods and export of European goods.  In February 2014, the European Union adopted a resolution that affects the import of chicken and milk products from what they regard as illegal settlements in Israel. Pursuant to the resolution, the EU has stopped recognizing the authority of Israeli veterinary inspectors who inspect the poultry and dairy products for export because Israel does not label or distinguish between poultry and dairy products that come from settlements and those originating from within Israel. 

The European Union announced a comprehensive ban on dairy products produced in West Bank settlements on October 9 2014, prompting the Israeli Agriculture Ministry to inform dairy producers that they would no longer be able to export anything produced beyond the 1949 armistice line to Europe.  The ban is expected to have little implications on the Israeli economy, since dairy products from settlements are mostly for local consumption and only make up a tiny portion of the total export of Israeli dairy products to the EU.

European Union nations voted in November 2015 to label all products produced on Israeli land seized following the 1967 War as “made in settlements,” a move that prompted harsh criticism from Israeli officials. , “The EU decision is hypocritical and constitutes a double standard,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It singles out Israel and not the 200 other conflicts around the world. The EU has decided to label only Israel, and we are not prepared to accept the fact that Europe is labeling the side that is being attacked by terrorism. The Israeli economy is strong and will withstand this; those who will be hurt will be those Palestinians who work in Israeli factories. The EU should be ashamed.” To read the letter penned by the European Union nations expressing their support for the labelling of these goods, please click here.

Eastern Europe and Euro-Asia

Relations between Israel and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, , which were renewed when democratic governments were elected, are becoming increasingly close, especially in economic matters, culture, tourism and international cooperation activities.

As these countries had been the center of world Jewry before World War II, the memory of the Holocaust is a significant factor in relations with them. Issues being dealt with include restoration of nationalized Jewish public and private property to their owners or legal heirs and recognition of the Righteous Persons who risked their lives to save Jews during the Nazi era.

Israel's relations with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have gained momentum in recent years. Relations with the Muslim countries of the CIS (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan) as well as with Georgia and Armenia, have been established. The leaders of several of these countries have visited Israel and signed mutual cooperation agreements, while expanding economic ties.

Israel has signed free trade agreements with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

Israel has limited contacts in Afghanistan - the only state in this region that does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

Sources: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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