The American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute, based in Brussels, launched the inter-parliamentary “Transatlantic Friends of Israel (TFI)” group in the European Union Parliament on Tuesday.

Chaired by Austrian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Lukas Mandl (EPP), it represents the first cross-party friendship caucus specifically committed to strengthening the trilateral partnership between the United States, Israel and Europe.

The standing-room only audience of some 60 people included 25 MEPs from 13 countries, representing four of the five major political groups.

Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to the European Union and NATO, and Christina Tomlinson, the chargé d’affairs of the U.S. Mission to the European Union, delivered special addresses to the gathering.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, sent written statements of strong bipartisan support for the initiative.

In a written statement to his peers in the European Parliament, Rubio highlighted that America’s close alliance with the Jewish state enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress: “Given Israel’s military and technological prowess, closer strategic relations have significantly advanced American national security interests and values, and also ought to be as much in Europe’s interests as in Israel’s.”

Echoing her Senate colleague, Lowey wished the group great success: “I was delighted to learn about AJC’s new ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ inter-parliamentary friendship group. With a clear set of common interests and values, this trilateral project could not have come soon enough. As this group continues to grow and expand, I look forward to working together to pursue our agenda of partnership and friendship.”

Coming only a week after the newly elected E.U. Parliament took office in Strasbourg, Mandl, who co-hosted the kick-off event with German MEP Dietmar Köster (S&D) and Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries (Renew Europe), urged his fellow parliamentarians to help bolster ties with the Jewish state and combat Jerusalem’s isolation in international fora like the United Nations.

“I consider the transatlantic alliance with Israel—a global leader in technology, defense and innovation—one of the most important issues of our time. This trilateral partnership, based on shared Western values, interests and history, is crucial for our collective security and prosperity,” said Mandl.

“The impressive turn-out at this morning’s launch of the ‘Transatlantic Friends of Israel’ is a powerful message to the E.U. to strengthen and deepen this vital trilateral partnership,” said AJC Transatlantic Institute director Daniel Schwammenthal. “Israel ought to be understood as an integral part of the West which is less a geographical concept than a community of shared values and interests.”

He continued, “With its first-class security services, cutting-edge high-tech sector and thriving knowledge-based economy, Europe and the U.S. couldn’t ask for a better partner to tackle today’s challenges, from rising extremism and terrorism to radical regimes and nuclear proliferation.”

One of TFI’s vice chairs, Lithuanian lawmaker Petras Auštrevičius, explained that the group will promote a more balanced treatment of Israel within the European Union: “It’s astonishing that the E.U. has in recent months held Association Councils with Egypt, Morocco and other Arab countries, but not with Israel, the Middle East’s only liberal democracy. This unfair treatment hurts not just Israeli but also European interests.”

“Despite current political differences,” said Köster, “the allegiance between North America, Europe and Israel runs deep due to the shared values of a social democracy, freedom and an open society based on the rule of law.”

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