Ambassador Haim Regev tells JNS that support for Israel in the European Union is strong and that Israel is fighting to keep it that way.
Amichai Stein, JNS
The leaders of the 27 European Union member states met last week for a regular summit in Brussels. The current war between Israel and Hamas was one of the main issues discussed, and the leaders wanted to draft a joint statement signed by all 27 states. Some of the countries, however, wanted to include a call for a ceasefire. Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic were all opposed.
“It was a hard fight, but in the end, there was no call for a ceasefire,” a European diplomat told me.
I spoke with the Israeli Ambassador to the E.U. Haim Regev about what seems to be a surprising level of E.U. support for Israel and Israel’s fight to retain it as images of the war in Gaza begin to roll in and antisemitism skyrockets in Europe.
JNS: Does the level of support Israel is getting from the E.U. surprise you?
Regev: This war proved how much the E.U. is with Israel. It surprised some in Israel; it didn’t surprise me. We see that the E.U. is the spearhead of support for Israel during this war. It was one of the first to light its buildings with the Israeli flag and to raise the Israeli flag. Two senior E.U. officials, including the president of the E.U., visited Israel in solidarity. We saw a series of decisions in the European Parliament and the E.U. in which you see unequivocal support for Israel. This allows Israel freedom of action. It’s not a simple thing because to formulate any agreement requires 27 countries, and it’s quite hard.
JNS: But not everyone is 100% supportive of Israel, no?
Regev: Of course, there are nuances. There are countries that think one way and there are those that think otherwise. But overall, in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, we define the Union as “green”—that’s a place that gives us legitimacy to continue our action. There is a real shock here. There have been quite a few European citizens killed and kidnapped. This is something that brought them back to the ISIS era. And we tell them: If you don’t allow us to do the job, you’re next.
JNS: When you were in Israel’s south with the two senior E.U. officials, what was their feeling?
Regev: There was shock. Because they knew they were coming to a developed country, a Western country, not to a third-world country. Then they saw the communities surrounding Gaza. Suddenly, boom. They saw Kfar Aza, a place where life ended, and they heard the stories. These visits are very important because this is what also gives us support.
JNS: How do the E.U. member states define Hamas?
Regev: Hamas is defined as a terrorist organization by the E.U. No one has spoken to and will not speak to people from a terrorist organization. I tell my European colleagues, this war is also good for the Palestinians, because there is no way that anyone will touch Gaza as long as Hamas is there. 90% of the members of the European parliament called for the destruction of Hamas. The problem is not the definition but the implementation, and that’s what we’re working on. The E.U. has the ability to impose sanctions and what we’re trying to do is expand those sanctions. We want to take it to the next level. They’re now afraid that it might happen to them too, and we tell them that. Europe for the past two years has been busy with Ukraine and other issues. Now there is an openness and a desire to fight Hamas, including its economic pipelines.
JNS: Do the Europeans ask you, “What is Israel’s plan for the day after?”
Regev: People are starting to talk about it. Checking and gently asking. This is an issue that is important to them here—to create a horizon. There are always those who connect it to the two-state solution. As time goes by, they will deal with and talk about it more. They are all engaged in this now but have not yet entered into a discussion with us about it, because I say to them: As long as Hamas is there, there is nothing to talk about regarding what will happen the day after.
JNS: It’s been four weeks since the Oct. 7 massacre, and now pictures are starting to come out of Gaza. What effect has this had?
Regev: We are not resting on our laurels. It’s starting to become a challenge. Now that the pictures from Gaza are starting to arrive, there is pressure. There are demonstrations. There are elements from the left who are starting to push back. The humanitarian issue is also starting to come up. Suddenly there are calls for a ceasefire. Up to now, our situation regarding the E.U. has been good. But we are constantly fighting. We are working very, very hard on the hostages issue. We tell the European officials as many stories as possible. Israeli families come here and we bring them together with as many people as possible. It’s hard for people to hear them.
JNS: Let’s talk about the rise in antisemitism. Does it bother the Europeans, too?
Regev: There are two phenomena here that bother us and them: First, there has been a significant increase in the number of antisemitic incidents. I met with members of the Jewish community in Belgium, and they told me about what they’re going through. Second, there are the mass demonstrations in support of Hamas, and they fear that it will lead to violence and terrorism. As the pictures from Gaza arrive, this phenomenon increases, and there are demonstrations with tens of thousands of people. I hear people from the Jewish community, especially those who wear kippahs, and from Jewish institutions, that those who are identifiable as Jews are afraid. They see the incitement on social media. Here people tear up a flag, there they write antisemitic slogans on walls. It doesn’t have to end in physical harm, but it causes fear.