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Speech at the launch of European Friends of Israel

Remarks by Gunnar Hökmark, MEP, Chairman of the Steering Group of European Friends of Israel (EFI) in the European Parliament and President of the Swedish-Israel Friendship Association, at the EFI launch in Brussels, 13th September 2006

I would like to begin by warmly thanking the Prime Minister of Israel for his comments.

In a time like this we do fully understand that he, as well as his Foreign Minister Livni, couldn’t join us. They are welcome in a soon future when our organization has developed further strength and the situation in the Middle East more stabile.

Like all of us here today, I have long been a whole-hearted supporter of developing closer ties between Europe and the State of Israel.

And I believe I speak for us all when I say how delighted I am to see so many parliamentarians from both my own European Parliament and 24 national parliaments in this room tonight.

Never have we seen parliamentarians from so many member states of the European Union, never have we been together that many friends of Israel, from so many Parliaments in Europe as we are here in Brussels tonight. Please bring that message to Jerusalem from Brussels. Mr prime minister, we are friends of Israel, we are many and we come from all over Europe and we stand up for Israel!

Tonight, when we together are launching European Friends of Israel we have made history and we shall change the political agenda of the European Union.

It must from now on, in our parliaments and in the European Union, not be the friends of Israel who have to explain themselves, it is the supporters of dictatorships, those who excuse war aggressors, those who familiarize with terrorists, who invites the Hamas, those who avoid to discuss the aims and actions of Hizbollah and the friends of the Iranian mullahs, they must explain their support to the enemies of democracy. In a time when a democracy is under threat they have chosen the wrong side. And we have chosen to stand up for Israel.

And those who are silent when the brutal voice of anti-Semitism is heard louder than since 1945, those who never question the regimes that despise democracy, denies their citizens their freedom and human rights and celebrate violence, let them explain themselves; we have nothing else to explain than the fact that we are friends of democracy.

We come from the left, centre and right of the political spectrum; and we come from the north, south, east and west of our continent but we are united through our friendship with Israel.

I believe EFI can help us change the debate in our parliaments, by both identifying and indeed helping many more colleagues who think like we do.

Wherever in Europe we may have been elected, we all recognise the strength of the bonds that our continent shares with Israel. Many Israelis have their roots here. Israel is our natural ally in democratic freedom and human rights in the Middle East. It is a strong trading partner. The historical, cultural, economic and political bonds between us are profound.

And the reason why I regard that as so important – even beyond the moral basis of such a partnership – is simply this: peace is never made with authoritarian regimes but with democracies. And my definition of a democracy is not one that merely pays lip-service to legislative elections, but one that pays full respect to fundamental rights and freedoms and the basic rule of law.

And, ladies and gentleman, there is only one true democracy in the Middle East today. And it is with that one democracy, Israel, that Europe must deepen its partnership further still.

Let it be said here tonight, once and for all, the oppressed people of the Middle East are not oppressed by anyone else than by their own oppressors. Not by Israel, not by US, not by European Union. When we are defending the democracy of Israel we are at the same time standing up for the freedom of all people in the Middle East, wherever they live. Our support to Israel it not at the cost of anyone but to the benefit of everyone, may he or she be Arab, Palestinian, Iranian or Lebanese. It is their right to democracy as well as the Israelis we are defending, against their own dictatorships.

Talking with colleagues, I don’t think any of us see EFI as some big new organisation with committees here, sub-committees there – happily talking between ourselves and perhaps passing resolutions that nobody is going to pay much attention to.

Rather we regard it as an opportunity to create a simple mechanism to exchange information and link European friends of Israel to each other.

Earlier this week, my fellow MEPs and I discussed an idea, which I have today also discussed with the officers of the German, French and British friendship associations, and which I want to share with you tonight.

Let’s first of all make sure that Europe has a clear message these four issues:

Free the kidnapped soldiers!
Iran out of Lebanon!
Secure the disarmament of Hizbollah!
Stop the trafficking of arms from Syria and Iran!

Let us all join with the friends of all other national parliaments and the European Parliament in order to promote these and in a long term perspective two really good initiatives during this presidency that will strengthen the EU-Israel relationship further still.

Well, on the table just now there are a lot of proposals. Iran and nuclear technology. Iran and Syria’s support for terrorism. The promotion of anti-Semitism by Israel’s neighbours. The cost to Israel’s economy of fighting terrorism. Taking full advantage of the EU’s new Neighbourhood Policy towards Israel. And, yes, many others. European policies must focus on the enemies of peace and the friends of democracy.

In the coming months, our EFI steering group of friends in the European Parliament will continue to meet monthly; and we will find a way of liaising with national officers to agree two really good initiatives by the end of this year.

Ladies and gentleman, I’m sure all the parliamentarians in the hall this evening would like to join me in thanking all those individuals who had the original idea to create this association and those who have helped by organisation and finance to bring it to fruition tonight.

In a time when the pure existence of a single and small independent state is questioned by big dictatorships, it is time to stand up for the right of every state to exist in freedom and peace. So we stand up for Israel.

We do it because when we stand up for Israel, we defend the right of every free and independent nation. The cause of Israel is the cause of every free and independent state.

In a time when Jewish people are terrorised and murdered just because they are Jewish, it is time to stand up for the right of a Jewish state.

When free and open societies are under the siege of terror, may it be in London, Madrid, New York or Tel Aviv, just because they are free and open, it is time to stand up for freedom, for the right of every human being, for respect and tolerance and for open societies wherever they can be found.

That’s why we are here tonight. When we stand up for Israel we are standing up for the freedom of our own societies! And, ladies and gentlemen, we will together strive to make it a real partnership.