By Orit Arfa/JNS.org
In the heart of the heavily secured European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels Dec. 8, pro-Israel Christian organizations sought to convey practical advice—from an Israeli perspective—to a Europe that is on increased terror alert.
Deputy Speaker of the Knesset MK Yehiel “Hilik” Bar (Labor) and Shuli Davidovich, deputy chief of the Israeli Mission to the EU and NATO, joined co-hosts Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Bas Belder (Netherlands) and MEP Branislav Skripek (Slovakia) on the dais in highlighting Israel’s counter-terrorism expertise at a conference dubbed “Terrorism and Security: What the EU Can Learn from Israel.”
“Try to tackle terror and prevent it in [the terrorists’] own backyard, and don’t wait until they come to your backyard,” Bar told the approximately 150 attendees against the backdrop of banners of the conference organizers, the European Coalition for Israel (ECI) and the European Christian Political Movement.
The motivation behind terror, Bar said, is a more complex factor to pinpoint. He said that Israel’s Shin Bet security agency has found that hopelessness in national, economic, and personal spheres is one of the triggers behind the 2015-16 wave of Palestinian stabbing terror attacks against Israelis, which was dubbed the “knife intifada.”
“The best weapon against that motivation is on the one hand providing hope, and on the other hand zero tolerance to terror,” said Bar.
Terrorism on European soil, he said, is motivated by a global jihad movement. But Bar did not blame Islam as a whole, arguing that the majority of asylum-seekers from war-torn Muslim countries are peaceful people seeking a better life.
“The more refugees, for example, here in Europe who will see hope in their lives, who will see a bright future for their children, the less they will even consider joining terror,” he said. Bar and other speakers suggested outreach to moderate Muslim communities as one method for tackling questions on the motivation behind terrorism.
“Tell them, ‘Do not be a player in the theater of terror,’” he said. “If you choose this way, you will lose.”
The conference proved to be less of a policy conference and more of a display of solidarity with Israel from within the EU, the 28-nation bloc whose shortcomings in the realm of support for the Jewish state were highlighted by Tomas Sandell, founding director of ECI.
“The events of this year in Paris and Brussels and have made it perfectly clear that we in Europe face the same enemy that you face in Israel,” he said.
Sandell expressed dismay that the EU does not include Israeli cities when commemorating global attacks, and that EU officials do not publicly acknowledge Israel for counter-terror cooperation and intelligence-sharing.
“There is an inconsistency I feel between European Union policies inside the EU and outside EU,” he said.
Yet positive steps have been taken, he said, such as last year’s appointment of Katharina von Schnurbein of Germany as the EU’s coordinator on combating anti-Semitism. At the conference, von Schnurbein spoke about the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and the need to examine Muslim anti-Semitism, while also building coalitions with moderate Muslims.
Incitement to violence is a criminal offense in the EU, and the EU has ramped up efforts to stop expressions of hatred on social media, she stressed.
“And no situation in the Middle East justifies terror or terrorists attack in Europe or elsewhere for that matter,” said von Schnurbein.
Sandell, however, expressed concern that the EU does not adequately monitor state funding of the Palestinian Authority (PA). He called on the EU to follow the U.K.’s lead in ensuring that funding for the PA is not funneled towards supporting terror against Jews. He also criticized the EU’s distinction between the “political” and “military” wings of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, a proxy of Iran. Israel’s Davidovich tied the EU’s stance on Hezbollah to what she described as the bloc’s misguided support for the Iran nuclear deal.
“Since the nuclear deal, [Iran] is doing its utmost to gain influence throughout the Middle East,” Davidovich said.
Rabbi Avi Tawil, director of the European Jewish Community Center in Brussels, expressed concern over the extremist ties of some Muslim organizations in Europe, but he still encouraged interfaith dialogue with moderate communities.
“They say the best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend,” he said, after describing his personal encounters with anti-Semitism in Brussels.
Some conference attendees, however, believed the gathering took an overly centrist stance and avoided hot-button issues. During the question-and-answer period, Charlotte Gutman, the Jewish non-profit World ORT’s representative to the U.N. cultural body UNESCO, asked about the possibility that the influx of adult Muslim men into Europe is part of a larger strategy to “Islamize” Europe.
“The initiative [of this conference] is great. The Christians are our best friends. I have been working with them for years. Still, the content was very politically correct,” Gutman, who lives in Brussels, told JNS.org.
Zoltan Nuszen, a Romanian-born Brussels resident who has spent time in Israel, questioned the conference’s basic premise.
“Israel doesn’t do enough [to fight terrorism],” he told JNS.org. “It does only 10 percent.” He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on Chechen Islamist fighters as an example of a stronger and more effective response to terror.
“You can’t talk to [terrorists]; you have to destroy them,” Nuszen said.
Conference co-host MEP Belder, however, believes Israel strikes the right balance between democracy and security in its anti-terror efforts.
“The miracle is that Israel,” he told conference attendees, “is a vital democracy and is really an example in the struggle against terrorism.”