BUDAPEST — Unaware that his remarks were also being transmitted to reporters outside, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the European Union in unusually harsh terms on Wednesday for its treatment of Israel, urging the leaders of four Central European countries to use their influence in the organization to ease its conditions for advancing bilateral ties.
“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said in a closed-door meeting whose content was accidentally broadcast to journalists outside the room. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy towards Israel.”
During the meeting, Netanyahu also urged the leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland to close their borders to refugees from Africa and the Arab world, and praised the administration of US President Donald Trump for its “stronger” position on Iran and Syria.
“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, that produces technology in every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said in the minutes before officials realized the meeting was being overheard by reporters, and cut the feed.
“It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he said, referring to the EU’s insistence on conditioning some agreements with Israel on progress in the peace process. He referred the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which has not been renewed since 2000. He urged the prime ministers who were present — Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Sobotka, Poland’s Beata Szydlo and Slovakia’s Robert Fico — to work toward convincing Brussels to advance talks about renewing the agreement without reference to progress in the peace process.
“Please help us, and help Europe, in the expediting this association agreement,” he said.
“It’s not about my interests, Israel’s interest. I’m talking about Europe’s interest,” Netanyahu said.
China, Russia and India all have special relationships with Israel that aren’t contingent on progress in the peace process, Netanyahu said. “They don’t care about the political issue.” He cited conversations with the leaders of those countries in which they said they were interested in what Israel had to offer them and disregarded the lingering issue of the Palestinians.
“We have a special relationship with China. And they don’t care, they don’t care about the political issues,” he said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to Israel, told Netanyahu he needs water for his people. “Where will I get it. Ramallah? No,” Netanyahu said, also noting that Israeli cows produce more milk than any other cows in the world — double the European average.
“If I can suggest that what comes out of this meeting is your ability, perhaps, to communicate to your colleagues in other parts of Europe: Help Europe… Don’t undermine the one Western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration to Europe.”
The prime minister has often claimed that Israel is a bulwark preventing Europe from being flooded with refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
“So stop attacking Israel. Start supporting Israel… Start supporting European economies by doing what the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are doing,” he said, referring to increasing technological cooperation. Europe is “cutting itself off” from Israel, a major source of innovation, he protested.
“There is no logic here. Europe is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining the connection with Israeli innovation because of a crazy attempt to create conditions,” he added.
After their closed-door meeting, Netanyahu and the other four prime ministers addressed the press. The Israeli leader joked that his remarks would be short because the Israeli press had already received an extensive briefing.
“We believe it’s in the objective interest of Europe to cooperate with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and technology for the future,” Netanyahu said.
“There’s an anomaly. I don’t hide it. We’re often criticized by Western Europe, often more than any other place in the world,” he continued. The Jewish state is the one democracy in the Middle East, a “beacon of tolerance” and a “bastion of European and Western values in the heart of a very, very dark area,” he said.
Even many Arab countries understand that Israel serves their interests, he added. “So it’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about their relations with Israel. We have much to offer each other. We have much to offer in the realm of security, much to offer in the realm of technology.”
Earlier, during the closed meeting, Netanyahu also expressed clear backing for the so-called Visegrad Group’s support of border fences to guard Europe from another wave of refugees from the Middle East.
He said he believes in the free flow of goods and ideas — “but not people… Secure your borders. Secure your borders,” he urged the Eastern European leaders.
On the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, Netanyahu said Israel “had a big problem” with the Obama administration in Washington and its too-hesitant policies vis-a-vis Iran and Syria, and was more pleased with its predecessor.
“I think it’s different now. Vis-a-vis Iran, there is a stronger position,” he said. The US is conducting more bombing attacks in Syria, which is “a positive thing. I think we’re OK on ISIS. We’re not OK on Iran.”
Israel build a border fence on the Golan Heights because the Islamic State and Iran via its proxies have and are still trying to set “a terror front” against Israel there, Netanyahu went on.
“Frankly, I told [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, when we see them doing this, we take military action against them. We’ve been doing this dozens and dozens of times, and we’ve not clashed with Russia.”