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Israel International Relations: Overview of Cooperation with Europe

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. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to the EU’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium for the first time in December 2017. 

Israel signed a working agreement to collaborate in fighting terrorism and organized crime with the European Union’s police agency, Europol, in July 2018. This was the first time that Europol has ever signed a working agreement with a non-EU member country. The agreement will focus on combatting cross-border criminal activity related to fraud, terrorism, money laundering, cyber-crime and scams. 

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. During the week following the E.U.’s decision to label these products, the Israeli Foreign Ministry suspended all Diplomatic contacts with European Union on matters related to Israeli-Palestinian peace. A statement released by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on November 29, 2015, clarified that Israel would continue diplomatic relations with individual countries, but the ban applies to E.U. institutions and officials. A European Union spokesperson responded, stating that they would continue to work towards peace in the Middle East with the quartet and their other partners, despite being shut out by Israel.

The President of German Parliament came out during the week following the EU’s decision, stating that Germany did not support the decision to label the goods, and in fact rejected the idea when it was presented. German Bundestag (Parliament) President Norbert Lammert said during a joint press conference with Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, that “Germany can imagine a better law, if it were to apply to everyone, on principle, to all occupied land. Because it’s specifically against Israel, I repeat that it is unnecessary and not very smart.” The Czech and Hungarian governments rejected the EU decision as well, with the Czech parliament calling on the government to ignore the labelling rules.

Representatives from the European Union looked to Israel in 2016 to predict and prevent future terror attacks, following massacres in Nice, and Paris, France. The European officials hoped to emulate Israeli success, looking to social media for warnings of impending attacks instead of simply analyzing communication paterns and personal networks of suspected extremists. Israeli experts claim that the technology can provide enough basic information to trigger alerts, which then beget further investigation of the individual and their social media accounts.

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;
Batsheva Sobelman. “A diplomatic brouhaha erupts over 'Made in Israel' labels,” Los Angeles Times (November 30, 2015);
Maureen Shamee. “Germany rejects EU's labeling of Israeli settlement products, says Bundestag President,” European Jewish Press, (December 3, 2015);
“Czech parliament rejects labelling goods from Israeli settlements,”YNet News (December 17, 2015);
Dan Williams. “EU eyes Israeli technologies for spotting militants online,” Reuters (July 9, 2016);
Raphael Ahren.  Israel and EU ink agreement on fighting organized crime, cybercrime, terrorism, Times of Israel (July 20, 2018).