Dan Schueftan, Director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa, discussed the challenges of the European-Israeli relationship and the causes of the resentment and mistrust that exist on both sides.
On April 17, 2014 the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted a discussion “European-Israeli Relations: Structural Problems” with Schueftan, also Goldman Visiting Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University. Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar at the Wilson Center, moderated the event.
Miller introduced Schueftan as an “iconoclast” and opened the discussion by remarking that good policy is one that is always balanced between how the world is in reality, on the one hand, and how we want the world to be, on the other.
Schueftan began his conversation by highlighting two positive points regarding the relationship between Europe and Israel, despite the existing rift. He noted that Israel has learned most of its values, which are shared and respected by the majority of Israelis, from Europe. Schueftan added that the bilateral relationships between European countries and Israel, including economic ties, are strong, and that most European countries are friendly or fair-minded about Israel. Schueftan explained that the problems that exist in European-Israeli relations are caused by “cultural differences.” He noted that tensions arise as a result of the widespread influence of the European elite on the governments. Stressing that the “cultural element” is always underestimated, Schueftan compared Israel’s relationship with Europe and Israel’s relationship with the United States. Schueftan made this comparison in order to draw attention to the fact that he believes the “common ethos” shared by the United States and Israel is the reason why this relationship has remained strong despite an “unfriendly” administration.
Schueftan explained the existing divergence between Israel and Europe due to genuine disagreement regarding policy and anti-Israeli sentiment in European countries. However, he maintained that the most important element of the tension lies in their differing philosophies. Schueftan noted that Israel believes in a disproportional deterrent force because it would not be able to exist without one. He said that Israel believes that deterrence has to be “disproportional” and “humiliating,” not only to stop extremists but also to motivate moderates to convince their people to support their moderate policies by pointing to the consequences of radical actions. On the other hand, he pointed out that Europeans believe in an “international community,” and the concept of proportionality lies “at the core of their identity.” Another source of disagreement between the two parties, according to Schueftan, is Israel’s reluctance to dialogue.
In his closing remarks, Schueftan stressed that the option of “listening to Europeans” does not exist. He said he believes neither side will change their discourse, because neither side has the motivation to change their approach. Schueftan concluded that the only viable option that remains between Israel and Europe is “damage control.”
By the Middle East Program
- Director, National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Goldman Visiting Professor, Department of Government, Georgetown University