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EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen’s Exclusive Conversation with Chareidi Press
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
T he chareidi community’s central role in Israeli society becomes more apparent all the time, says Lars Faaborg-Andersen, a Denmark native, and the EU ambassador to Israel. That’s one reason why he holds an annual news conference exclusively for the chareidi press. At the latest get-together, held last week in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the Ambassador fielded questions on anti-Semitism, the ascent of the far-right in Europe, EU funding for some NGOs that many Israelis find odious, and of course, Donald Trump.
President Trump is reassessing US support for the two-state solution. If he determines that the US no longer supports it, would the EU follow suit?
The EU position remains that a two-state solution is the most realistic one to this endemic conflict that has been going on for the last 160 years. We don’t see much evidence that would support the idea that things would be better if we lumped everyone together between the river and the sea. If you go by experience, that would be the best recipe for disaster. Now we’ve also said we would be open to anything the parties can agree to. Again, my experience tells me the parties would not be able to agree on a one-state solution, which would mean the disappearance of Israel as a Jewish state. Unless you want another kind of state, where you have citizens with different rights, which is hardly conceivable in the 21st century. If you saw Netanyahu’s face when Trump brought up the idea, one-state, two-state, whatever you like, I don’t think he was happy. So, no, we would not automatically follow any change in American policy.
By the time our readers see this interview, Holland will have held parliamentary elections. At press time, polls showed far-right candidate Geert Wilders leading. Marine Le Pen is polling well in next month’s French elections. The UK and Germany hold local elections later this year. If the far-right gains power, how will this complicate Europe’s efforts to battle anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment?
Irrespective of what happens in the elections, you are very right in pointing out there are some very disquieting tendencies in Europe, particularly on the far-right, where a strong element of anti-Semitism is present. This calls for a very concerted effort on the part of political leaders in Europe to strengthen the fight against anti-Semitism on all levels. There is a security part, but there is also an educational part. Children need to be taught more about the Holocaust as an antidote to this kind of thinking. There is a lot to do on the Internet — as you know — 80 percent of the anti-Semitism is Internet-born. The EU has agreements with social-media platforms to strengthen their self-censorship. We’re asking them to live up to their own guidelines for what’s allowed on their websites. It’s a battle that’s easier in Europe than the US because there’s not such a strong First Amendment culture in Europe. Not that we are not in favor of freedom of speech, but there are limits. Many countries, including the country I come from, ban anti-Semitism in their constitutions.
This year is unusual, in that most anti-Semitic acts seem to be occurring in the US, not Europe. People are spreading the blame, from Trump and even to the left-wing, where an activist with a personal grudge was arrested in the JCC bomb scare. What’s Europe’s take on America’s anti-Semitism problem?
I’m not a specialist on American politics. I live here in Israel. People have been saying anti-Semitism is more prevalent in the US after the election of Donald Trump. I don’t know if it has anything to do with Donald Trump. I can’t even say it’s a fact. It’s what I’ve read. If something similar should happen in Europe, it would require that we redouble and even triple our efforts to combat this despicable and totally unacceptable phenomenon. There is a growing realization in Europe that the kind of extremism and lack of tolerance that’s threatening Jews is also threatening non-Jewish Europeans in Europe. We have to build further on that and make that a common cause and struggle.
The EU continually criticizes Russia for interfering in the affairs of European nations, but doesn’t the EU do the same in Israel, funding NGOs that interfere with Israel’s political and religious affairs?
We actually have an agreement with Israel, and in that agreement we have said that we want to foster and encourage a vibrant civil society, which includes NGOs. We support organizations trying to promote and further respect for basic human rights. I don’t see this as interference in another country’s affairs. The fact that we are contributing to this vibrant civil society does not mean that we necessarily agree with the various points of views expressed by these NGOs. But as democracies, we need to allow freedom of expression and speech to ensure that all views are heard, and then the electorate can decide which positions they want to support.
It’s different in Israel, when demands for a civil society and human rights, coming from groups like the New Israel Fund and Women of the Wall, clash with Orthodox religious tradition going back thousands of years. The EU shows concern for the sensitivities of the Bedouin population. Why not talk to religious women who pray at the Western Wall every day?
This is one of the reasons why I like to come here and talk to you because now I hear some of your concerns. We don’t support the New Israel Fund or the Women of the Wall on anything like that. What we do is stick to general principles of secular human rights and even though we have a strong attachment to the idea of freedom of religion, we don’t go into exactly how it should be practiced. We know there is a big debate out there and this is not something we should get involved in. We are certainly not funding either Women of the Wall or the New Israel Fund.
Even indirectly? [NGO Monitor reports that since November 2015, seven new grants, amounting to €1.9 million, have been given by the EU to more than a half dozen NGOs that are all part of the New Israel Fund network. —ed.]
No. We don’t give any money to the New Israel Fund. There are certain projects that we support that might also, from time to time, get a contribution from them. It’s a big fund, but we don’t have any formal collaboration with them, or support them. They have their own sources.
How would Europe react if Israelis funded organizations Europeans view as subversive?
We say you would be welcome, any time, to support any organization that’s legal in Europe. You can even support a Spanish organization that’s advocating the secession of Catalonia. The Spanish government might not be very happy about that, but I’m sure they would not prevent you from doing that. Just three weeks ago, I was invited to the Knesset by a cross-section of MKs in the company of B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, and a number of other human-rights organizations. If they were so subversive and so dangerous, would you then allow them into the Knesset? Basically, the NGOs we are providing support for are totally legitimate in this country. They’re not banned organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in the northern part of the country, who were engaged, according to the government, in activities that are not legal. We are not trying to subvert anyone. We are supporting organizations that, in many cases, are also receiving support indigenously from Israeli citizens because they are working on issues that we decided — together with the Israeli government — are important.
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