Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called for a “reset” in relations with the European Union, accusing it of unfairly singling out Israel.
In addition to attacking the EU for its decision to label settlement goods, Netanyahu for the first time publicly accused the EU of building “illegal constructions” in the West Bank in an alleged bid to create “political realities” there.
“We have to reset our relationship with the EU. I hope we can do this on better terms,” the prime minister told foreign journalists in Jerusalem. He added that he had recently discussed the tense bilateral ties with the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. “I said we have to figure out a way to resolve and set things on the right course,” he said.
“There is a natural tendency in the EU establishment to single out Israel and treat it in ways that other countries are not being dealt with, and especially other democracies,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong. I think it should be corrected.”
Israel’s relationship with individual European states, “just about across the board, has been intensifying and growing as it is with other countries in the world,” Netanyahu added. However, Israel has problems with multinational organizations, like the United Nations Human Rights Council or the EU, “because bureaucracy and set patterns entrench themselves,” he said. “And then we get the absurdity of the EU in Brussels, from European soil, labeling the products of Israeli citizens, of Jews. The last time that was done on the soil of Europe was over 70 years ago.”
There are some 200 territorial conflicts in the world, but only Israeli products made by Jewish settlers are labeled, the prime minister lamented. “I find this abhorrent. We have a real issue here. It’s a moral issue and it’s unacceptable and I made this very clear. We have many European friends, and many of them are opposed to this policy. But this is something that is going in the wrong direction.”
Netanyahu went on to take issue with what he called the EU’s “illegal construction” in the Palestinian territories. “They’re building without authorization, against the accepted rules, and there is a clear attempt to create political realities there. And when we take down this illegal construction we’re again condemned. So it’s a catch 22 here.”
Earlier at the event, the prime minister hailed what he described as a “tremendous revolution” in that a growing number of countries, including in the Arab world, have been seeking closer ties with Israel. The Jewish state’s improving international standing is “often obfuscated by BDS” (the anti-Israel boycott movement) and international forums, but more and more countries are eager for Israeli technology and expertise in fighting terrorism, he said.
“Those people who talk about isolation: How about giving us a minute of isolation? Because I am flooded with requests for visits, either ministers or leaders who want to come here, or want us to visit. It’s a big change,” he said
During his address, at the Government Press Office’s annual New Year’s reception, the prime minister also lashed out against the foreign minister of Sweden, calling her demand to investigate Israelis for alleged extrajudicial killings of Palestinians “immoral” and “stupid.”
‘People are defending themselves against assailants, wielding knives, who are about to stab them to death. And they shoot the people. And that’s extrajudicial killings?’
Earlier this week, during a parliamentary debate, Margot Wallstrom had called for a thorough probe into Israelis who killed Palestinian attackers during the recent terror wave, drawing Israeli condemnations from across the political spectrum. Asked about her comments, Netanyahu gave a furious response.
“Israel is not above criticism, but it should be held to the same standard that everyone else is being held to,” Netanyahu said. “I think what the Swedish foreign minister said is outrageous. I think it’s immoral. It’s unjust, and just wrong.
“I mean, people are defending themselves against assailants, wielding knives, who are about to stab them to death. And they shoot the people. And that’s extrajudicial killings? So why is San Bernardino not extrajudicial killings? And the other day in Paris — a knife-wielding terrorist was shot to death. Is that extrajudicial killing? Does the Swedish foreign minister suggest that there be examinations of what happened there, in Paris. Or in the United States? This is definitely wrong. And it singles out Israel in an absurd way… I don’t want to call it by other names. I’ll just say this is an absurdity, and it’s outrageous.”
Pressed by a reporter whether he agreed with the assessment, made by members of his government, that Wallstrom’s remarks were anti-Semitic, Netanyahu replied: “I haven’t examined the motives of this or that minister. I just tell you, it’s outrageous, it’s immoral, and it’s stupid.”
Israel and the Palestinian territories have seen a wave of Palestinian attacks in recent months, with 23 Israelis killed since October 1. Over the same time period, 152 Palestinians have been killed, most of them while carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians or security forces.
At the event, during which the foreign journalists were treated to a performance by Israeli pop star Dana International, Netanyahu also announced that he would not withdraw his appointment of Dani Dayan as ambassador to Brazil.
Israeli trans pop diva Dana International opens Bibi event with foreign journos. Sings song in favor of gay adoption pic.twitter.com/l65OrkpMOa
— Daniel Estrin (@DanielEstrin) January 14, 2016
“I believe that Dani Dayan is an exceptionally qualified candidate,” he said. “He remains my candidate. I think that labeling people is the next stage after labeling products, and I don’t want to label anyone.”
Several months ago, Netanyahu tapped Dayan, a former leader of the settlement movement, as Israel’s envoy in Brasilia, but the government there has indicated that is is unwilling to accept his nomination. By refusing to withdraw Dayan’s candidacy and send somebody else in his stead, Netanyahu would effectively be downgrading ties with the world’s seventh-largest economy.
“Actually, we have growing relations with Brazil,” Netanyahu said. “I hope that we can strengthen those relations.”
AFP contributed to this report.