There is a vast misperception of Israel in Europe, Netanyahu says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011. Credit: EPA/Hannibal Hanschke.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011. Credit: EPA/Hannibal Hanschke.

Western European countries including Germany have a distorted view of Israel and the threats its faces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an exclusive interview with German newspaper Bild, excerpts of which were published on its website Tuesday.

“There is a vast misperception of Israel in Germany and in Western European society in general,” Netanyahu told the newspaper after being confronted with statistics that show only 36 percent of Germans find Israel sympathetic, while only 21% believe Israel respects human rights.

“We are a vibrant democracy faced with Iran and its violent proxies, defending itself against thousands of rockets and Islamist convulsions all around us,” Netanyahu continued. “It is the only democracy, the only beacon of freedom, of human rights in this region. How many Germans know there are over a million Arab citizens in Israel who enjoy full civic rights? … Israel is maligned day in, day out, and this maligning filters into the public consciousness. That’s a general problem. But it is particularly unfortunate with Germany because of the unique relationship and the unique history [the two countries share].”

Netanyahu said that while it is unfortunate that “the slanders that were once reserved for the Jewish people are now directed at the state of the Jewish people,” he believes Germany’s commitment to Israel is “real and tangible.”

Commenting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dedication to Israel’s security, the prime minister said, “There is a commitment to Israel’s security that is exemplified by the recent sale of another German submarine, an important adjunct to our national security, so I believe this is all real and tangible.”

Der Spiegel reported Sunday that Germany has provided Israel with five submarines capable of firing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, the first time that Germany has confirmed the submarines are intended to provide Israel with a nuclear second-strike capability.

Netanyahu told the Bild that “one of the great transformations in the reconstitution of the Jewish state” is Israel’s ability to defend itself against its enemies.

“We have never asked for other countries to come and physically defend us,” he said. “It’s a main principle of our security policy, so while I appreciate Germany’s concern for Israel’s security the most important assistance that can be given to Israel is — to paraphrase Churchill — to give us the tools and we will do the job of defending ourselves.”

In the interview, Netanyahu addressed regional hot topics including the Iran nuclear program, the violence in Syria and the changes in Egypt. He said that the Iranians have not slowed down their nuclear program “by one millimeter” but added that Israel would prefer economic sanctions curb Iran’s ambitions rather than military action.

“The Iranians were only asked to stop 20 percent enrichment of uranium,” Netanyahu said. “That doesn’t stop their nuclear program in any way. It actually allows them to continue their nuclear program.”

On Syria, Netanyahu accused Iran and Hezbollah of being behind the bloodshed that has continued in the country since March of last year. “Killers supporting killers, giving them weapons, personnel to actually do the killing,” he said. “This is what we are facing: Iran, which brutally murdered its people on the streets; Syria, which has perfected the technique of shelling its own civilian population with artillery. This is what we are fighting. What we are facing is illegitimate regimes that are pursuing illegitimate goals with illegitimate means. They are committing war crimes left and right. This has to be stopped.”

Netanyahu, however, did not say whether he supported Western military intervention in Syria.

As for Egypt, the prime minister expressed hope that Cairo and the international community would continue to support the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. “The Israeli-Egyptian peace has been the anchor of peace for over thirty years in the heart of the Middle East,” he said.

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