Antonio Lopez-Isturiz is the the new Chairman of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the State of Israel. He is from Spain. Since 2004 he is a a member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party (EPP, centre-right), the largest political group in the parliament, where he currently sits in the important foreign affairs committee. He is also Secretary General of this party and a member of the Spanish conservative Partido Popular, People’s Party. We met with MEP Lopez-Isturiz in his office at the EPP headquarters in Brussels.
Mr Lopez-Isturiz, who has been fighting all his political life for having the best relations between the EU and Israel, believes that ‘’there are many misunderstandings and sometimes prejudices between us.’’
‘’I have always said that Israel is the real democracy in the area and that we have to be supportive of the Israeli people who are fighting for freedom and democracy in the region,’’ he said.
He stressed that in the EU ‘’there are also people who defend Israel, like his group the European People’s Party.
He also believes that the EU ‘’has to be more serious in its relations with Israel, also about security, trade and many other things that we have in common.’’
He suggests to enlarge Erasmus, the EU programme for youths to study abroad, for young Israelis to come to Europe and get to know better Europeans.
MEP Lopez-Isturiz wants to bring Israel and the EU closer as he acknowledged that ‘’there is much work to be done.’’ But, he said, it’s not only on the level of the EU institutions that it needs to be done but also bilaterally, with the member states. ‘’Many of them have to change their attitude and relation with Israel,’’ he stresses.
Regarding the new incoming EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who is also Spanish, Lopez-Isturiz says ‘’he must become the High Representative of all Europeans ‘’and not only of the European Left.’’
He sees the fact that the European Parliament has won extra powers within the EU as an opportunity to fight BDS and anti-Zionism as a modern form of antisemitism. He is particularly concerned about the advance of the extremes in Europe, both extreme-left and extreme-right, ‘’who are not very friendly with the question of Israel.’’
He also hopes that the President of the European Parliament takes good note of the denunciation by many of his colleagues MEPs of the hosting in the parliament of people belonging to political movements close to terrorist organisation or even members of terrorist groups.
Here is the full interview:
How do you see you new chairmanship of the EP delegation for relations with Israel ? How do you see your role ?
Of course it is a challenge due to the special relations between the European Union and Israel. And generally the all region, it’s always a delicate matter. But for me more than a challenge it’s a privilege to be now President of a very important delegation that relates to matters so dear to me like this relation with Israel. I have been all my political life, more than twenty years, fighting for having the best relation between the EU and Israel. I say it is a challenge because there are many misunderstandings and sometimes prejudices between us. There is a very simple sometimes opinion about the European Union or maybe in the European Union by media, people and politicians about Israel. Israel has a very recent complex political situation. I have always said that it is the real democracy in the area and we have to be supportive of the Israeli people who are fighting for freedom and democracy in the region. This is a basic political argument but it is also very personal. I have very good relations with many Israeli people and many Jewish people here in Europe. And believe me I am not the only one. This is the other side of the coin. Sometimes many people in Israel think that all Europeans are not so acquainted and do not know the realities of the area. This is wrong. There are also people who defend from within the EU, my group the EPP has always been outstanding in the defense of Israel in the European Parliament, the right of assistance of the State of Israel while others deny this. We want to be there for you and we are working as very humble politicians. We are not here to change the world. We know it. It needs evolution but we are there to help and to create a better understanding between both parts.
Why have you been a candidate for such a post ?
As a result of 20 years of dedication. I remember very well my first trip to Israel. How also my prejudices, my opinions created maybe by the European media, changing my ideas about such a beautiful country, so complex but as I said, dedicated to democracy. I think that the EU has to be more serious in its relations with Israel, about security, trade and many other things that we have in common. I am a very practical person, I am half American so I think for example that Erasmus for young Israelis to come – which is already existing- let’s enlarge it, let’s have more young Israelis come to Europe and get to know better Europeans and get to know that there are also people here that want them to feel safe, that they don’t have to be thinking about the future on a negative way but rather on a positive way. And I think that the EU has to do its work for that. That’s why I became President of the EP delegation for relations with Israel and during the next years I will do my best as I said very humbly to work in this challenging but at the same time very recomforting work of bringing closer Israel and the European Union.
Are you happy with the state of relations between the EU and Israel ?
No, no. I am not happy. I think that there is a lot that we have to advance…. There is much work to be done. And also remember, it’s not only about the European institution but also the European member states which still have the power in the EU but bilaterally. Many of them have to change their attitude and their relation with Israel.
How do you see the evolution of the relations in view of the upcoming new EU leadership, including a Spanish High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell ?
I have to say that in his audition I was not enthusiast about what are his views and plans but again I tell Israeli people that there will be people like me and others who are going to redirect this. Mr Borrell would become the High Representative of all Europeans and not of these old-fashioned absolutely prejudiced people from the European Left. The European Left in the sixties was very close to Israel. For whatever reason they have changed and have become unbalanced in the conflict in the region. They have to change their views. They have to understand that for a pacific and understanding living between Israelis and the Palestinians, the European Union cannot be unbalanced on the approach to this problem.
Can the European Parliament play a role in fighting the anti-Israel Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement (BDS) and anti-Zionism as a modern form of antisemitism ?
Yes of course, because the European Parliament has won extra powers in the European Union. It has not only a voice but it is also a decision-making body of the EU. So the responsibility is great. My great concern is that I see the advance of extremes in Europe, also in the European Parliament, the extreme right and extreme left. For diverse reasons they are not friendly with the question of Israel. These are the people that I am combating politically here in Europe for ideological and personal reasons but also because of their wrong view and lack of support of Israel in international politics.
Members of a Palestinian terrorist group – the PFLP- have been invited to speak in the European Parliament by far-left MEPs. Do you plan to act against such situations?
We will always denounce this type of situation. There is not much that we can do. I had to bear terrorists from Spain, from ETA, coming to this European Parliament and having voice in the past. I know how this work. But we have to work in order to convince our colleagues – specifically in the ideological Left in Europe – that this cannot happen again, that we cannot have at hearings people belonging to political movements close to terrorist organisations or even in terrorist organisations to participate and to act against our dear democratic institutions. But this is a work that we have to do inside. And of course there is also always a need to denounce this kind of situation. Many of my colleagues have already done this in the European Parliament and I hope that te President of the European Parliament takes good note of this.
How do you view the current deadlocked political situation in Israel ?
Of course it is not one of my duties as president of the EP delegation for relations with Israel to interfere about internal politics. But my wish as a politician is that the government will be formed as quickly as possible and especially the Knesset. Because this is a parliamentary delegation and we need good colleagues and friends who are in the Knesset to work immediately with us. We are already starting to make some approaches in order to know when we can meet and I think that we have to have always these contacts and very good relations between the European Parliament and the Knesset. I want to work on that.