Subscribers event: CEE Towards Israel

A Discussion with Joanna Dyduch and Grigorij Mesežnikov Exclusive for Subscribers

24 May 2021

A subscribers-only discussion on the CEE outlook towards relations with Israel.

In light of the Israel-Palestine conflict escalation in recent weeks, many Central European countries have expressed support for Israel’s side while calling for a ceasefire. During the event, we tried to ‘unpack’ CEE countries’ attitudes toward Israel and discuss to what extent they are rooted in value-driven solidarity. We also shed the light on the differentiated approach towards Israel within the EU.

This discussion is part of our series of interactive events exclusive for our subscribers and select audience. Specifically, this event was organised in partnership with the American Jewish Committee Warsaw Office.

Some of the main quotes from the discussion:

There is one stable thing when commenting CEE-Israel relations – the Czech Republic is a great friend of Israel. Has been in the 90s, at the beginning of the 2000s and they still perform a very supportive attitude towards Israel. In the European diplomatic circles, Czechs are even defined as turbo pro-Israeli. No matter what Israel does, Czechs try to support or excuse Israel even if this means some kind of trouble in international circles. – Joanna Dyduch

There are countries that are expected to be friendly mostly due to historical heritage and shared history. This is mostly Germany and Poland but also other countries that had concentrated Jewish communities in pre-war Europe. Israel expects these countries to understand the need for a Jewish state and support them in the international arena more than others. – Joanna Dyduch

Another group of countries are pragmatic in relations with Israel. They see that Israel can offer them a lot and Israel perfectly identifies these expectations (Slovakia is one of them). – Joanna Dyduch

Mapping friends, allies and opponents of Israel is a task that needs to be constantly updated because things are constantly changing. – Joanna Dyduch

Certain Czechoslovak legacy exists in relations of both former Czechoslovak republics concerning attitudes towards Palestine, Israel and Jews. During communism, civic resistance movements were very pro-Israeli and they considered the fact that Czechoslovakia had to cancel diplomatic relations with Israel under the pressure from the Soviet Union as an expression of dominance of the hegemonic totalitarian external forces. – Grigorij Mesežnikov

Lithuania is an Eastern country that is still under huge pressure from its Eastern neighbour. This fear of Russia plays a role in Lithuanian-Israel relations but it is not bringing Israel closer to Lithuania because Netanyahu has good stable relations with the Kremlin. What it does is strengthening the Atlantic orientation in Lithuania’s security policy. Baltic states and Poland are willing to pay a high price to keep Americans on their side. – Joanna Dyduch

There are some comments labelling the pro-Israeli position of some CEE politicians as getting some kind of an alibi in order not to be criticised for anti-Semitic expressions in the political life of the country. But it is a tricky issue because some countries like the Czech Republic definitely do not need a special confirmation that the government is not anti-Semitic so we have to be very cautious and precise. – Grigorij Mesežnikov

Poland is not the elephant in the room per se but the unresolved clash in the political narratives of history is. There is a huge demand on both sides to continue the dialogue but to avoid this topic. There is no readiness both in Poland and Israel to speak rationally about the historical heritage and memory. In the case of Polish silence on the recent conflict escalation, Poland was never very much interested in being the moderator in the talks of resolving it, so Poland can sit silent and not be occupied with this issue now as well. – Joanna Dyduch

There are no opponents of liberal democracy in Slovakia and Czechia among the supporters of Israel except for the marginal actors. When we are speaking about the reasons for the pro-Israeli position of the governments, we are trying to interlink the support for Israel with support for illiberal politics which is wrong. The considerations of the ideological closeness of our parties with Israeli political discourse is not helping to understand our position. – Grigorij Mesežnikov

The EU knows how to live with internal discrepancies. If we have such a divisive issue that is long-lasting and the EU doesn’t have the potential to really contribute to the solution of this problem in the way the US can, is it really inevitable to insist on a fully homogenous position on such a divisive issue? – Grigorij Mesežnikov

Our speakers:

Joanna Dyduch – lecturer at the Jagiellonian University in the Institute of the Middle and Far East, chair of the Executive Committee of the European Association of Israel Studies. Her research interest concentrates on European-Israeli relations as well as Israel’s energy and invocation policy.

Grigorij Mesežnikov – political scientist, President of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) in Slovakia. Author of studies on party systems’ development and political aspects of transformation in post-communist societies and illiberal and authoritarian tendencies in Central and Eastern Europe.

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