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Although Israel is geographically located in Asia, the self-described “Jewish state” has emphasized its Europeanness whenever it has suited it to do so. It has been allowed to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest since 1973, as the Israeli Broadcasting Authority has been a member of the European Broadcasting Union since 1957. Israeli soccer clubs began playing in European competitions in 1991 and Israel became a member of UEFA in 1994. Even more importantly, in the political sphere, Tel Aviv’s recent major political step towards realizing its apparent desire of becoming a fully-fledged European state has passed under the radar of the media.
In March, a delegation from the Likud visited Strasbourg at the invitation of the European Conservatives and Reformists faction in the European Parliament. According to the Jerusalem Post, the delegation explained the Likud’s policies to a group of 15 ECR members of Parliament. The Likud reached an agreement with the ECR that enables it to become one of the ECR’s “regional members,” which allows Likud representatives to attend ECR faction meetings and influence its policies.
Within a year, the Likud will become a regional party ally of the European Conservatives and Reformists faction in the European Parliament. The move is likely to boost relations between Israel’s ruling party and Europe. The ECR decided the Likud could already become observers in the faction and that a delegation of ECR members would be hosted by the Likud in Israel in October.
Eli Hazan, the Likud’s deputy director-general for public and foreign relations, said he would take the parliament members to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, the Likud’s Tel Aviv headquarters, and “communities in Samaria,” using the Israeli term for part of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
“This is a significant step, because at a time of boycotts of Israel, the Likud will be added to a group in Europe that has power,” Hazan said.
“When anti-Israel motions are debated in the European Parliament, we will now be able to send Likud MKs to defend Israel to members of the parliament in an official capacity,” Hazan added.
Hazan led the delegation, which included mayors, city council members and advisers to Likud leaders. MKs weren’t part of the group, because in a 61-member coalition, they were all needed in the 120-seat Knesset.
Founded by members of the British Conservative Party, the ECR has 75 MEPs from 17 EU countries, making it the third-largest group in the European Parliament.
It has alliances with the ruling Turkish AKP, with the U.S. Republican Party and parties in Australia, Canada, Morocco and New Zealand.
The most recent alliance emerged from Hazan’s efforts to build relations between the Likud and Center-Right parties across Europe.
The meeting with the ECR arose out of Hazan’s success in reaching out to party officials on a recent trip to London.
It is hardly a coincidence that the rapprochement began in the British capital. According to the 2009 television program “Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby,” up to 80 percent of the Conservative Party are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. “The pro-Israeli lobby in this country is the most powerful lobby; there’s nothing to touch them,” one British politician told the investigative television program.
Before last year’s election, Ha’aretz published an article that posed the question “Is David Cameron the Most pro-Israel British PM Ever?” As the Israeli daily observed, “The United Kingdom may no longer be a major player on the world stage, but its prime minister has still been able to work quietly in support of the Jewish State.”
During a visit to Israel the previous year, Cameron told the Knesset in a speech about his great-great-grandfather, a Jewish banker who emigrated from Germany.
The link gave Mr. Cameron “some sense of connection” to the Israeli people, he said, as he hailed their “extraordinary journey” and history of persecution.
In the address he vowed to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with what he described as a “vulnerable” state against terrorism, despite the fact that Israel is the region’s preeminent military power and its sole possessor of nuclear weapons. “We are with you,” the prime minister then said in Hebrew.
“My Jewish ancestry is relatively limited but I do feel just some sense of connection. From the lexicon of my great, great grandfather Emile Levita, a Jewish man who came from Germany to Britain 150 years ago to the story of my forefather Elijah Levita who wrote what is thought to have been the first ever Yiddish novel,” he said.
While the British Prime Minister’s Jewish ancestry may be “relatively limited,” his party’s behind-the-scenes service to the Zionist state may yet have a significant impact on its mixed relations with the European Union. Notwithstanding the newsworthiness of this development, the only media to date to report this story has been The Jerusalem Post. Given the media’s apparent lack of interest in Likud becoming a regional member of the European Parliament, Israel remains free to counter the increasingly unlikely threat of a EU boycott.