Despite recent tension between the EU and Israel, Brussels has hosted a reception marking the 75th anniversary of the creation of the occupation state of Israel. More than 700 people are reported to have attended, including representatives of Arab countries taking part for the first time. The event was held days after the EU cancelled a similar ceremony in Tel Aviv due to the expected participation of Israel’s extreme far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir.
“The celebration was organised by the Israeli embassy in Belgium and the EU institutions, in the presence of dozens of ambassadors and senior officials of the EU, more than 40 members of the European Parliament, heads of the Jewish community in Belgium, representatives of foreign countries, and for the first time, Arab representatives from five countries: Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Morocco and Bahrain,” wrote Itamar Eichner, political correspondent of Yedioth Ahronoth. He pointed out that the Arab delegates’ attendance was marked and applauded by those present.
While the event was taking place, said Eichner, left-wing members of the European Parliament tried to promote a resolution condemning Israel after realising that pro-Israel members would not be in the parliamentary chamber and so would not be able to vote against the proposal. The Israeli delegation to the EU were alerted earlier to this possibility, and was able to stop the initiative from going ahead.
Nevertheless, “A member of the European Parliament known for his anti-Israel stance tried to enter the inner reception hall, but the security officers prevented him from doing so because he was not on the guest list. The height of tension occurred during [European Parliament President Roberta] Metsola’s speech in which she announced her support for establishing a friendship association for normalisation agreements in the European Parliament.” This is the second supportive speech by a senior European official in the past few weeks, after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recorded a speech marking the anniversary, which provoked the Palestinians.
Israeli diplomats working in Brussels claimed that despite the prevailing belief, Israel’s position in the EU is good, even if it is criticised.
The event in Brussels followed a month of diplomatic awkwardness between the occupation state and the EU. The Europeans cancelled the planned reception in Tel Aviv to prevent Ben-Gvir from attending, because the EU did not want to give a platform to anyone who disagrees with the values it claims to represent. At the time, a senior official from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that, “The decision is a slap in the face of the Israeli government.”