Molad - the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy

11.08.2013 analysis by Molad
The Espace Leopold, seat of European Parliament | Photo: Alina Zienowicz
The Espace Leopold, seat of European Parliament | Photo: Alina Zienowicz     

New EU Guidelines: Israeli Reception

For Europe, the regulations released on July 11, 2013 represent a relatively minor change towards the enforcement of a time-honored policy. But Israeli public reaction indicates that move was perceived as a failure of Israel's current leadership and its policies

On July 11, 2013, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister and Chairman of the far-right Jewish Home PartyNaftali Bennett was visiting China. While in Beijing he gave an interview to Israeli Army Radio in which he was asked about the threat of isolation, boycotts and sanctions on Israel. He was quoted as follows: “I’ve been around the world for years with my companies…[w]ho in the world, from Beijing to Washington, in South Carolina or in Whales, is interested in this conflict?”1

Before July 16th, 2013 when the European union issued its new guidelines for cooperation with Israel which explicitly exclude entities based in territory beyond the 1967 Green Line, Israeli politicians on the right tended towards the blasé when it came to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, arguing that time was on Israel’s side and that EU and US statements against continued settlement construction had no teeth. The EU guidelines were enough of a nudge to Israeli public opinion to dramatically impact mainstream political conversation. Bennett expressed his surprise and outrage in another interview, calling the guidelines an “act of economic terrorism.”2 But such right wing propaganda has had little effect on public opinion. The publication of the guidelines was largely received as a wake-up call for Israelis and their leadership, signaling the grim prospects of continuing the status quo.

Reception on the Right

On July 17th, Artuz 7 (Israel National News), the newspaper of the religious-Zionist right, published an article expressing concern that Holocaust survivors with banks in areas across the Green Line would be unable to obtain their reparations money, “since Germany, an EU member, would refuse to transfer money to such banks”.The deduction is most likely incorrect — the guidelines are an extension of known EU policy, they do not extend to individuals, and “Israeli entities having their place of establishment within Israel’s pre-1967 borders” will be eligible for prizes and grants4 — but in this type of propaganda accuracy is rarely a concern. Recognizing their weakness on the issue, the far right preferred vituperative attacks, referencing the holocaust and hinting at anti-Semitism.5 But this time hardly anyone outside their circles was buying it.

Statements from the offices of right wing politicians reflected a sense of panic. Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is one of the more strident members of the ruling Likud party, expressed his surprise at not knowing about the publication of the guidelines,6 and argued — as did many right wing Knesset Members — that the move will “fuel” Palestinian rejectionism.7 Later, it was reported that he suggested Israel prevent European countries from supporting the Palestinians, and it looks as if the Civil Administration may comply.8 Avigdor Lieberman, former Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party called the European move “absurd”9 and suggested drastic action such as excluding the EU from the peace process.10 Likud Minister Israel Katz went further, stating on Israel’s Knesset TV channel that “if we can’t delay this”, then “we need to apply Israeli sovereignty over greater Jerusalem, areas that are in [Israeli] consensus — Ma’aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze’ev, Betar Illit… If the EU is going to continue with this declarative policy, we should rather [davka]strengthen our foothold.”11

These knee-jerk responses are anything but surprising and are only noteworthy insofar as they are unproductive and ineffective. The combative response of the radical right initially had no traction outside its narrow circles.12 The relative absence of op-eds about the irrelevance of the European union, or comments that describe the move as “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Israel”, is telling.13 Amongst mainstream Israelis there is a recognition of the distinction between Israel within its internationally recognized borders and its violation of those borders. The right wing’s panicked response14 — from surprise to a doubling down on settlement building — is indicative of its realization that the EU’s long-time bark may become a long-term bite.

Reception on the Center-Left

Center and Left leaders responded to the new guidelines with predictable sobriety. While for obvious reasons they could not express content, condemnation was minimal and almost symbolic with the main thrust of the response focused on criticizing diplomatic inaction and continued settlement efforts. Although Yesh Atid Party chairman and Finance Minister Yair Lapid argued that the move had “bad timing”, and that it “sabotages the efforts” of Secretary Kerry, he also took the move as a sign that Israel must begin peace talks in earnest.15 He wrote a tense op-ed in the New York Times on the day the guidelines were published, which deemed the decision-makers “well-intentioned but misguided,”16 taking care to point out that “time is not on our side, and every day that Israel is not in peace talks is a day that our international standing worsens.”17 

Labor Party Chairwoman and opposition head Shelly Yachimovitch expressed dismay at a method that “focuses on boycotts and sanctions,” but mainly stressed that “[i]ncreasing diplomatic isolation harms the country and the market and is a strategic threat no weaker than advanced weapons pointed at us.”18 Justice Minister Tzipi Livni urged that this serve a wake up call for Israel: “There’s a slippery slope here — the EU decision could affect the bilateral contracts European countries have with Israel,"19 she said. Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On went a step further, saying the EU move was helpful to Israel, because without an outside actor, “the religious settlement extremism will bring our destruction.” She clarified that, “The EU policy not to allow trade with companies in the territories is a yellow card to the Israeli government and is a direct result of continued construction in settlements and outposts and a diplomatic freeze.”20 None of these leaders saw the move as unexpected or as anti-Israel, and all explained it in terms of known and understandable international disapproval of the status quo. Although most were critical of the move, some using harsh language (Lapid, for example, spoke of this encouraging Hamas, Iran and Al Qaeda in a somewhat strange line of argument), all acknowledged the accurate linkage — that this was about settlements and two states and that only by addressing the latter could Israel expect things to take a different course.

A majority of Jewish Israelis have long been in favor of a two-state solution and believe Israel should do more to promote comprehensive peace.21 But for years they have sought to avoid taking a stance on an issue whose solution seems unfeasible and distant, but mostly – not urgent. The economic and security costs of the occupation are hardly noticeable and with a lack of any consequence or outside pressure, the widespread Israeli notion is that the occupation can be ignored and the status quo can be maintained. For years this attitude has allowed Israelis to avoid making any serious political decisions regarding the oPt. For these Israelis, the release of the EU guidelines functioned as a jolt to their complacency. The response suggested that the Israeli center could be forced into a moment of choice. To anyone who aspires for a peaceful, two-state solution to the conflict, this is a very positive development.

Mainstream Media

The sober sentiment described above was clearly expressed in the media. Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s most-read newspaper published three pieces on the impact of the EU guidelines. All three noted that the EU regulations mark a turning point in Israeli politics. Nahum Barnea, perhaps the most respected journalist in the country, had a front-page headline with the full story on the following page. He reminded readers that there is nothing new in the European decision. “What is new is the willingness to implement it.”22 Another chief columnist for Yedioth, Shimon Shiffer, laid the blame squarely at Netanyahu’s feet, arguing that “no one in our political system should be surprised” by this decision and reminding that German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to convince Netanyahu to be active, and that Obama meant it when he said that a settlement with the Palestinians would be based on the 1967 lines. He then asked the follow-up question: “What exactly does Netanyahu offer [Israelis]?” His answer: “Blood, sweat and tears, back to the days of rationing, international isolation.”23

Sima Kadmon, senior political commentator at Yedioth, wrote a long piece for the weekend supplement.In it, she describes the shifting political order induced by the move, at one point quoting Elkin’s reaction: “I can tell you that the entirety of the right, including Bennett and Yariv Levin, is responding the same way: If until now we said that we will allow the [peace] process only in order to reduce pressure on us, now that there is pressure in any case, there is no reason to concede even the smallest claim to the Palestinians.”24 Her reaction, apparently shared by many of her readers, is to regard Elkin and his friends as deluded and potentially dangerous. As one Channel 2 newscaster [albeit incorrectly it would seem] put it, “at the end of the day, this will hit everyone’s pocket.”25


The free daily paper, Israel Hayom,26 ran PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction as the headline: “Netanyahu to Europe: We will not accept diktats [on our borders]” with the subtitle included the recurring argument: “concern in Jerusalem: interference in the political negotiations.”27 On the day the story broke Israel Hayom ran four short op-eds on the subject, spanning the first nine pages of the paper — two were by members of Knesset and all were previewed on the front page. The op-eds front-page titles read: “European Hypocrisy” by extreme right pundit Dr. Haim Schein,28 “Yellow Stars for Settlers”, expressing the standard pro-settler response. Well-known journalist Dan Margalit — placing blame with Jewish Home party officials — concluded: “You can complain about the change in the way the world relates to the territories, but it cannot be ignored,” a similar conclusion to Nahum Barnea’s.29 The following day Margalit wrote another op-ed in which he admitted that the European document has been “expected for many years” and echoed a now widespread30 fear of precedent:“Make no mistake, this is an important document. Not because of its content…[i]ts importance however stems from its function as a dangerous stepping stone for further boycotts, the final result of which no one can predict.”31


As the columnists were opining in the pages of the written media, television pundits and hosts were doing the same. Political correspondents for Israel’s two independent news channels (Channels 2 and 10) covered the story. Udi Segal from Channel 2 closed his first story on the guidelines with what he called “the Israeli message” coming from the government: the move “doesn’t help the negotiations Kerry wants to lead, and instead appears like a political attempt meant to predetermine the outcome of negotiations; to say where Israel[‘s borders] are.” Despite this sentiment, the end of the segment was clear about the “essential significance” of the message the EU was sending: “The Europeans are at the end of their patience.”32

On Television, as in print media, there was a mainstream consensus that the guidelines could indicate the beginning of something much bigger, calling it, among other things, a potential diplomatic “tsunami” — which became the touchword of the news cycle.33 The other consensus was that this could have been foreseen; in fact, one commentator on Channel 10, Nadav Ayal, was particularly straightforward, calling the act “almost clerical”, arguing that this decision taken by the EU was well-thought out by pointing to the statements made by “the EU, the European Parliament, the European Council,” which he said had been received in Israel as “mere words without any meaning.” Ayal signed off the air with a message that seemed to penetrate and pervade the Israeli public: “The feeling in Europe,” he said, “is that Israel is erasing the Green Line… They feel that if they don’t act now, the Green Line will be erased.”34

Impact vis-à-vis Washington & Kerry's Push for Talks

Despite the government’s efforts to label the EU announcement as conflicting with American efforts to renew peace talks, it seems the public remained unconvinced, especially given the announcement for the resumption of negotiations that came three days after the story broke. Indeed, many make the opposite connection, crediting the European announcement as having pushed Netanyahu into the process. Netanyahu called Secretary Kerry immediately following the publication of the EU guidelines to request that Kerry “contact the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to get him to ease the sanctions.”35 A number of leading journalists opined that the announcement created a sense of urgency in the government, urging Netanyahu to re-engage. A number of leading journalists opined that the announcement created a sense of urgency in the government, urging Netanyahu to re-engage.

The United States, the key broker attempting to bring the sides together towards a final settlement, sent a subtle message in its non-opposition to the EU move. The absence of clear and persistent opposition (as with the Nov. 2012 United Nations General Assembly vote) for the implementation of EU positions sent a signal to Israel that the US will not crack down on every European move. Simultaneously, the US’s tacit approval undermined the notion propagated by former and current Deputy Foreign Ministers Danny Ayalon,36 Zeev Elkin37 and indeed, Prime Minister Netanyahu himself38 — that the EU step will “harden the position of the Palestinians”, stripping them of incentive to negotiate.39 In fact, it seems to have done just the opposite, helping them say yes to negotiations.40 Furthermore, as the right repositions its stances to resemble those of Elkin — stances both Lapid and Netanyahu will want to distance themselves from — may have a long reach in the Israeli ruling coalition.41 The EU move also served to lend more credibility to Kerry’s initiative by bringing some of those who had ridicule the Secretary’s efforts into the fold of U.S.-brokered negotiations for fear of something worse.42 And as mentioned above, it has allowed Palestinian Authority President Abbas to claim a victory, enabling him to step into Kerry’s talks despite his skeptical leadership group and public.43


On July 12, 2013, before the guidelines were issued, preeminent political commentator for the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, Yossi Verter, wrote a weekend column quoting Naftali Bennett’s earlier comments from China, in which he argued that the threat of isolation is real,44 and he called the realization of such a possibility a “nightmare scenario”, and “economic tsunami”.45 That same day, Bennett was confronted with Verter’s statements, once again on Army Radio, where he dismissed them: “I remember two years ago they used to talk about …a political tsunami that was coming...[but] the world has a thousand and one things that are more burning than what exactly is going on in Ramallah,” he said.46

When the guidelines were finally published last Friday, July 19th, Verter published another Friday column. He first took Bennett to task,47 and then wrote about the EU’s signal to Israelis — he argued that Israelis — particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — are facing a choice between Israel and Beit El [a settlement in the West Bank]:


With his left hand he is working with Livni to renew the negotiations — not because he really wants to reach an agreement on the basis of the 1967 lines, but because he fears a flood of nightmare scenarios, like the one now underway with the EU. With his right hand, he protects the settlers.48

For Europe this new regulation is supported by time-honored policy, and the published guidelines that will take effect next January are a relatively minor change towards the enforcement of that policy. Israel’s economy can avoid with relative ease any severe economic consequences — research cooperation, funding for programs, and trade will continue.  But public reaction in Israel indicates that the European move was perceived by a significant cohort of the public and commentariat as a failure of our leadership and its policies, not as a moral failure on the part of Europe. This is a signal that the Israeli public is paying attention, and, perhaps for the first time in a long time, is recognizing that its leaders’ policies might start to include a price-tag, one for which they are ultimately responsible.


[1] “Our global public opinion situation is better than some of us think”, Galei Tzahal, 8.07.2013, available at

[2] Udi Segal, Amnon Abromovitch, and Arad Nir, “European union: ‘Settlements — not part of Israel’,” 07.16.2013, Channel 2 [Heb] (7:30), available at 

[3] Benari, Elad. “Israel Warns EU Ambassadors of Serious Crisis Over Boycott,” Arutz 7, 19.07.2013, available at; Lev, David. “Experts: EU Yesha Policy Could Lead to ‘Legal Morass’,” Arutz 7, 19.07.2013, available at

[4] “Full text of the European union’s settlement guidelines”, The Times of Israel, 18.06.2013, available at; Not all Israeli news sources were so poorly informed. Ynet, for example,publishedmuch more accurate information ( Attila Somfalvi and Elior Levi. “Pressure Didn’t Help: EU Boycott — Now Official,” Ynet, 20.07.2013, available at,7340,L-4407117,00.html)

[5] See comments by Jewish Home MK Uri Ariel in footnote 12.  Also, Makor Rishon, the preeminent religious-Zionist newspaper, carried a number of op-eds, one of which compared the EU to the Roman Emperor Titus and claimed a kind of “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” scenario.  But even there, the move was taken very seriously: “The European union is demanding that he [Netanyah] decide: Decide how you see this state in another decade, where will Israel’s Eastern border run…decide what you are going to do with seven hundred thousand Israelis and what you’re going to do with two million Palestinians.” (Lamm, Akiva. “The Moment of Truth has Arrived”, Makor Rishon, 18.07.2013, available at

[6] "Elkin: Foreign Ministry caught off guard over EU guidelines,” The Jerusalem Post, 17.07.2013, available at

[7] Shahar, Ilil. “Europe will not enforce agreements in the territories” [interview with MK Ze’ev Elkin], Israel Army Radio, 16.07.2013, available at

[8] Barnea, Nahum. “There is take, there is no give”, Yedioth Aharonoth, 19.07.2013, p. 2; JTA “In retaliatory measure, Israel nixing West Bank projects with EU,” 28.07.2013, available at

[9] Attila Somfalvi and Maron Azolai. “Foreign Ministry: The Europeans did this behind our back,” Ynet, 17.07.2013, available at,7340,L-4406450,00.html

[10] MK Ze’ev Elkin later echoed a similar sentiment: we have to consider whether we are interested in Europe’s involvement [in the peace process],” he said. (Shlomo Cesana, Boaz Bismuth, Yori Yalon, Efrat Forsher. “Israel concerned about a ‘revolution of bureaucrats’ in Europe,” Israel Hayom, 19.06.2013, available at

[11] Knesset Channel — “Yisrael Katz to the EU: Don’t Get Involved”, 17.07.2013, available at

[12] There are a few comments and op-eds that function as the exception that prove the rule: Far-right Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said that “[t]his is a decision marked with racism and discrimination against the Jewish people that is reminiscent of boycotts against Jews from over 66 years ago,” he said. (Ibid. Harkov and Siegel; also see Uri Ariel’s interview with Army Radio 16.07.2013 available at; Matan Peleg, a member of the radical-right student group “Im Tirtzu” published an op-ed in Israel Hayom in which he argued while Europe should be doing more to combat the human rights abuses in the regional Middle East, but instead it “chooses to exercise its right to hate [Israel].” (Peleg, Matan. “Europe maintains right to remain silent,” Israel Hayom, 18.06.2013, available at

[13]The argument that this was an anti-Semitic move by Europe was simply difficult to support. Even those that did make this claim had trouble supporting it, as the writing on the wall had been hard to ignore. Makor Rishon and Arutz 7 rarely went in this direction, and when they did so, it was most often from a religious angle (See footnotes 5 & 23). More often, the linkage was made to negotiations.

[14] One unnamed Likud official indicated how deeply he felt the impact of this minor EU regulation when he said that "[w]hat the EU did is the act of a bull in a china shop.” The phrase was also used on the front-page opinion piece in Makor Rishon the day after the decision was made (Somfalvi, Attila. “Israel in damage control mode after EU decision,” Ynet, 17.07.2013, available at,7340,L-4406098,00.html; “Ron-Moria, Sophia. “The EU Buried the Peace Process”, Makor Rishon, 17.07.2013, available at

[15] Shlomo. Tzezana, Mati Tuchfeld, Gidon Alon. “Europe Divides the Land,” Israel HaYom, 17.07.2013, p. 4.

[16] Lapid, Yair. “Europe’s Stance on Settlements is a Blunder,” The New York Times, July 19, 2013, available at

[17] Lahav Harkov and Judy Siegel. “Right-wing MKs: EU decision racist, we will build more settlements,” The Jerusalem Post, 16.07.2013, available at

[18] Ibid.

[19] Like Netanyahu, Livni immediately called EU officials to request a postponement for the publication of the guidelines (Ibid. “Elkin”); Ravid, Barak. “Netanyahu and Livni to EU leaders: Freeze new guidelines on settlements,” Haaretz, 17.06.2013, available at

[20] Ibid. Harkov and Siegel.

[21] Telhami, Shibley. “2010: Israeli Jewish Public Opinion Survey”, Saban Center for Middle East Policy in conjunction with the University of Maryland and the Dahaf Institute, available at; “Joint Israeli Palestinian Poll, June 2012”, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in conjunction with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Ford Foundation, available at

[22] Ibid. Barnea

[23] Shiffer, Shimon. “Stop the Tsunami”, Yedioth Aharonoth, 17.07.2013, p. 3.

[24] Kadmon, Sima. “To all the demons and spirits”, Yedioth Aharonoth Weekend Supplement, 19.07.2013, p. 2.

[25] See footnote 2.

[26] Israel HaYom is funded by Sheldon Adelson and is in many ways the megaphone of PM Netanyahu and his Likud party.  It was nicknamed the “Bibiton” after the Prime Minister’s nickname, “Bibi”.

[27] Tzezana, Shlomo. “Netanyahu to Europe: We Will Not Accept Diktats,” Israel HaYom, 17.07.2013, front-page headline, article pp. 4-9.

[28] Schein’s op-ed is not included in this analysis as it was merely a simplistic reiteration of the right’s talking points. A few examples: Europe should be more focused on Israel’s “existential threats”, primarily from Iran; the “true battle over Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people”; Egyptian chaos; the Syrian civil war. These are some of the exact points Netanyahu made the following day (Schein, Haim. “European Hypocrisy,” Israel HaYom, 17.07.2013, p. 9).

[29] Margalit, Dan. “Too Bad There are those on the Left Who Longed for This Day,” Israel HaYom, 17.07.2013, p. 5.

[30] See both Barea (above) and Verter (below)

[31] Margalit, Dan. “A diplomatic failure that spans a continent,” Israel Hayom, 18.07.2013, p. 2 (also available in English at

[32] Segal, Udi. “PM Netanyahu to the European union: ‘I will not allow harm to befall hundreds of thousands of Israelis’,” Channel 2, 16.07.2013, available at

[33] See Shiffer and Verter below, Channel 2 interview with Naftali Bennett above.

[34] Moav Vardi, Raviv Druker, and Nadav Ayal. “Implications of the EU ban: Budgets Loss of Two Billion,” Channel 10, 17.07.2013, available at

[35] Ravid, Barak. “Behind the scenes of diplomatic breakthrough || EU made Netanyahu go the extra mile, U.S. threats left Abbas with no choice, Haaretz, 21.06.2013, available at

[36] Ayalon, Danny. “An open letter to Her Excellency, Angela Merkel,” The Jerusalem Post, 19.07.2012, availableat

[37] Gil, Ronen. “Dep. Minister Elkin: Time to Stop all Gestures to the PA,” Arutz 7, 19.07.2013, available at

[38] According to Udi Segal, Channel 2’s political commentator, "Netanyahu sees this as harming the negotiations and sees another testimonial to European hypocrisy.” (Segal, Udi. “PM on the EU decision: ‘We will not allow any harm to come to hundreds of thousands of Israelis,” Channel 2, 16.07.2013, available at

[39] Lazaroff, Tovah. “Publication of EU anti-settlement guidelines upsets Israel”, The Jerusalem Post, 21.07.2013, available at

[40] Hass, Amira. “Analysis || New EU guidelines on Israeli settlements enabled Abbas to say ‘yes’ to Kerry,” Haaretz, 21.06.2013, available at; also see Barnea above.

[41] Ibid. Kadmon

[42] Shalev, Chemi. “Kerry gets extreme makeover as EU sanctions show nasty alternative,” Haaretz, 17.07.2013, available at

[43] Ibid. Hass and Barnea (above).

[44] His subject was isolation from international banks based on investment committee reports.

[45] Verter, Yossi. “Contrary to Bennett’s statements, sources in Jerusalem say threat of European boycott is real,” Haaretz, 12.07.2013, available at

[46] Barkai, Razi. “Jewish Home Party Chairman Minister Naftali Bennett to Shas: ‘You should be ashamed’,” Army Radio, 14.07.2013, available at

[47] As did Barak Ravid a few days earlier, arguing that the “tightening” of EU rules has more power than Israelis like Naftali Bennett might think: Ravid, Barak. “Analysis || Israeli economy at stake as EU takes stand on settlements,” Haaretz, 16.06.2013, available at

[48] Verter, Yossi. “As peace process makes headlines once again, Israeli ministers are mounting barricades,” Haaretz, 19.07.2013, available at