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Ahead of Yair Lapid’s visit to the EU: ‘The mood on our side is very positive,’ says senior EU official

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"The mood on our side is very positive and we are talking about a fresh start with the new Israeli government and different orientations from the previous one," said a senior EU official ahead of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Brussels, where he is due to meet today (12 July) the 27 EU foreign ministers, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Lapid, who became Foreign Minister in the new coalition Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, was invited to meet his EU counterparts by EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

This will the first time an Israeli Foreign Minister addresses the EU Foreign Ministers in more than 12 years. The last one to do so was Avigdor Lieberman in 2011.

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Relations were often tense between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahus government and the EU over the settlement policy. Because of disagreements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU-Israel Association Council, the highest level bilateral body, which is due to meet annually had not convened  since  2012. Netanyahu,did join an informal gathering of the Foreeign Affairs Council for breakfast in 2017 and former Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi attended a similar meeting in Berlin in 2020.

Yair Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, has vowed to ”change, improve and deepen the dialogue” between Israel and Europe after years of political tension.

Speaking at a hand-over ceremony in the foreign ministry when he was appointed in June, Lapid stressed that ‘’with the countries of the European Union our situation  is not good enough. Our relationship with too many governments with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile. Shouting that everyone is antisemitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right.’’

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In a phone call, Borrell then ‘’warmly congratulated’’ Lapid for his appointment said they discussed ‘’the importance of strengthening the bilateral partnership and promoting security and peace in the region,’’adding that he ‘’looked forward welcoming him soon in Brussels.’’

‘’Foreign Minister Lapid is keen on changing the atmosphere of EU-Israel relations and start a new dialogue,’’ said Lior Hayat, spokesperson of the Israeli foreign ministry, during an an online briefing organized this week for European journalists by the Europe Israel Press Association (EIPA).

‘’Relations with Europe are probably the most important we have after our alliance with the United States,’’ he said.

But while there will be ‘’a change in the messaging’’, he stressed that there have been a lot of accomplishments in recent years between Israel and the EU in various fields.

The EU senior official also noted that there are ‘’very substantial’’ bilateral relations between the EU and Israel. ‘’Israel is participating in almost every EU program. The relationship is extremely dense and substantial,’’ he said.

Besides the bilateral relations, Lapid and the 27 ministers will also speak about the Middle East Peace Process. ‘’We want to hear if there is a new approach, a new thinking by the new Israeli government towards the peace process and the Palestinians,’’ the official added.

They will also discuss regional issues ‘’of interest for both Israel and the EU’’, such as Iran, Lebanon and Syria. ‘’We are absolutely aware that Israel has strong strategic concerns with some evolutions in the region, for example Iran and Lebanon,’’ the senior EU official said.

The EU also wants to discuss with Lapid the process of normalization of Israel with some Arab countries like the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.. Last week he travelled to the UAE for the inauguration of Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi and its consulate general in Dubai.

Lapid is likely to raise the question of  convening as soon as possible a meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council.

Israel’s relations with the EU ‘’is a priority’’ for Lapid, said Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu, Israeli expert on EU-Israel relations at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies (Mitvim).

Mihai Sebastian Chihai, a leading policy analyst on EU-Middle East relations at the Brussels-based European Policy Center (EPC) predicts more political dialogue, more cooperation and interaction as well as high level visits between the EU and Israel under the new Israeli Foreign Minister.

Holocaust

Dutch municipality disgusted with young people protesting corona measures in Nazi uniforms

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The municipality of Urk, in the Netherlands, has expressed disgust at images showing around 10 young people marching through the city in Nazi uniforms last Saturday protesting against the COVID-19 measures, NLTimes reported, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Photos online show one of them wearing prisoner stripes and a Star of David, while the others aim fake weapons at him.

“This behavior is not only highly objectionable and extremely inappropriate, but also hurtful to large population groups. With this tasteless action, a line has very clearly been crossed as far as the municipality of Urk is concerned,’ the municipality said in a statement.

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“We understand that these young people want to make their voices heard about the impact of the current and upcoming coronavirus measures,” the city mayor Cees van den Bos said, adding that ‘’this discussion is not only taking place in Urk, but throughout our country.’’

He continued, ‘’However, we do not understand the way they are doing it. Not only the municipality of Urk, but the entire community completely disapproves of this way of protesting.”

The Public Prosecution Service said it is investigating whether a criminal offense was committed.

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Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association (EJA), a group that represents hundreds of communities across the continent, said this incident ‘’ underlines the massive job still left to do in education.’’

‘’The actions of the youth in Urk, part of a growing trend of comparing Covid restrictions and push back against vaccination that seeks to draw parallels between government attempts to stem the virus and the Nazi treatment of Jews, shows the massive job still to do in educational provision on what really happened during the Holocaust,’’ he said.

‘’No matter how high feelings are running, the Jewish experience of the holocaust can never be used to draw any comparison, simply because nothing compares to it in Europe,’’ Margolin added.

According to news website Hart van Nederland, the young people apologized on Monday. In a letter, they wrote. “It was absolutely not our intention to arouse memories of the Second World War.”  Howevern they they did not clarify what their intention was. “We want to emphasize that we are absolutely not anti-Semitic or against Jews, or support the German regime. Our sincerer apologies,” they wrote.

This is not the first incident around the coronavirus in Urk.  In January, a GGD testing center in the village was set on fire. In March, journalists were attacked by churchgoers who continued to attend church despite the coronavirus measures.

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Egypt

At meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Israel’s Prime Minister Bennett and Egyptian President El-Sisi agree to deepen ties between the two countries

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Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in the coastal resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

It was the first Israeli prime ministerial visit to Egypt in a decade.

A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said the two leaders discussed a series of topics, including “ways to deepen and strengthen cooperation between the states, with an emphasis on broadening mutual trade, and a long series of regional and international issues.”

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Bennett thanked President El-Sisi for Egypt’s important role in the region and noted that in the over 40 years since it was signed, the peace agreement between the two countries continues to serve as a foundation for security and stability in the Middle East.

He als emphasized Egypt’s significant role in maintaining the security stability in the Gaza Strip and in finding a solution to the issue of the Israeli captives and missing.

The two leaders also discussed ways to prevent a nuclear Iran and the need to halt that country’s regional aggression.

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They agreed to continue deepening the cooperation and dialogue between the two countries in all spheres. ‘’During the meeting, first and foremost, we created a foundation for deep ties in the future,’’ said Bennett upon his return to Israel.

‘’Israel is increasingly opening up to the countries of the region, and the basis of this longstanding recognition is the peace between Israel and Egypt. Therefore, on both sides we must invest in strengthening this link, and we have done so today,” he said.

Bennett was the first Israeli Prime Minister to publicly visit Egypt since his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu met with former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 also in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The Jerusalem Post noted that back then there was only one flag at the meeting, the Egyptian one. This time, the Israeli and Egyptian leaders sat next to flags from both countries.

In an unusual show of Egyptian comfort level with an Israeli high-level meeting, Sisi’s office announced Bennett’s presence in Sharm e-Sheikh, rather than leaving Israel to publicize the event.

Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979, but it has been considered as a “”cold peace’’.

According to journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, an expert on Palestinian and Arab affairs, Egyptian President El-Sisi meeting with Bennett is part of Egypt’s efforts to resume its pivotal role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Sisi’s effort to depict himself as a peacemaker and curry favor with the Biden administration.

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Israel

For first time, EU senior official publicly states that Palestinian textbooks are ‘deeply problematic’ , ahead of EU Parliament meeting to discuss freezing funds

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The European Parliament’s Budget Committee will meet at the end of this month to vote on 2022 allocations to the Palestinian Authority. Several proposals have been tabled to freeze a portion of funding to the PA until the textbooks are changed, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Ahead of a crucial vote on next year EU funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA), a senior European Commission official stated that PA textbooks are deeply ‘’problematic’’ and can no longer be tolerated in their current form as they perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by promoting hatred and violence, alongside employing antisemitic tropes.   

At a meeting of the European Parliament’s Working Group Against Antisemitism on Thursday in Brussels to discuss EU study on Palestinian textbooks, Henrike Trautmann, head of unit at the European Commission Directorate General which oversees all aid to the Palestinian education sector, said: “It is very clear that the study does reveal the existence of very deeply problematic content…changes to the curriculum are essential…full compliance of all educational material with UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non-violence must be ensured as must any reference of antisemitic nature need to be addressed and taken out.”

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The EU study, by German Georg Eckert Institute reviewing the Palestinian textbooks, was published last June.

At the EU Parliament meeting,  members of the committee condemned antisemitism and glorification of violence in the PA curriculum. EU Parliament Vice-President Nicola Beer, a member of the liberal Renew Europe political group, clearly tied European funding to the PA to hate teaching:

“It hurts us to read about the content of textbooks that only exist thanks to an educational infrastructure that the European Union, together with other donors, enable the Palestinian Authority to have. Depicting Jews as dangerous, demonizing them, perpetuating anti-Jewish prejudices is just upsetting. But reading about schoolbooks – and here I speak as a mother – glorifying terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, presenting cold-blooded violence against civilians, including a lot of children as resistance leaves me speechless.”

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The European Parliament’s Budget Committee will meet at the end of this month to vote on 2022 allocations to the Palestinian Authority. Several proposals have been tabled to freeze a portion of funding to the PA until the textbooks are changed.

Two weeks ago, at a hearing of the European Parliament foreign affairs committee, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, acknowledged that Palestinian textbooks contain problematic material, while still insisting that the agency takes steps to prevent it from being taught, but without showing that how this is actually accomplished.

He also stated that antisemitism, intolerance glorification of terrorism is present in PA textbooks in UNRWA schools and affirmed that his agency had revised the textbooks used in its schools following allegations of antisemitic content.

But several members of the committee questioned him on continued teaching of hate, violence and antisemitism in the textbooks and UNRWA materials, citing a recent report by IMPACT-se,  an organization that analyzes schoolbooks and curricula for compliance with UNESCO-defined standards on peace and tolerance. on the textbooks.

The EU is UNRWA’s largest and most consistent institutional donor.

In June, European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, whose department covers aid to UNRWA, issued statements calling to consider conditioning aid to the Palestinian education sector on “full adherence to UNESCO standards of peace, tolerance, co-existence, non-violence” and a “need for Palestinian education reform”.

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