Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

International voices against the delegitimisation of Israel - Czech President Miloš Zeman, former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and former Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar

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The 2015 AIPAC policy conference, which came days before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the US Congress generated considerable media attention. Pundits commented on the US/Israel relationship, contrasting the speeches made by Netanyahu and US National Security Advisor Susan Rice on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. However, there were some other significant speeches at the conference deserving of more attention than they received, particularly from Czech President Miloš Zeman, former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.  

President Miloš Zeman described the Czech Republic as "the best friend of Israel all over Europe."  He reflected on the history of the relationship, noting that his country delivered weapons and aircraft to Israel to defend itself in the 1948 War of Independence.

President Zeman also discussed the growing threats from what he specifically termed "Islamic terrorism" and said we need to take two steps to fight this threat:

"The first phase is of course expression of solidarity.  You know the famous slogan Ich bin Berliner. Now we must all say ‘I am a Jew'. ‘Ani Yehudi' [in Hebrew]. But this is not enough.  Your discrimination is our discrimination. Your victims are our victims...

What I propose is a systematic and coordinated fight against the basis of Islamist terrorism...

What I propose is a coordinated action of international community, if possible, under the umbrella of the Security Council, because superpowers have many many conflicts but one common enemy, Islamic terrorism."

When President Zeman was asked why the Czech Republic has shown such solidarity with Israel, he answered, "We have the same history... We were surrounded by enemies by dictatorship... [the] Czech Republic has been the single island of democracy in central Europe, the heart of Europe.  And you [Israel] are the single island of democracy in the Middle East, and there must be the solidarity between those islands against the ocean of dictatorship."

There were also important insights shared by former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

As Canada's foreign minister, Baird consistently spoke out in Israel's defence. Explaining why Canada supports Israel, he said, it is in "Canada's interest to ensure the security and stability of the only liberal democracy in the region..."

Baird also commented on the pervasive delegitimisation of Israel in international forums and spoke of the need to stand up against this trend.  He also suggested that the common belief that support for Israel will cost a country its relationships with the Arab world is not true.  He said:

"... the anti-Israel bias we see at so many international forums is deeply disturbing.  We need to demonstrate that you can stand up and do the right thing and it doesn't consequentially affect your relationships with the rest of the Arab world...  Canada has probably the best relationship with the Arab world that we've had certainly in my lifetime.  And not every country will agree with our position when it comes to Israel but I think they respect that we take a definitive position..."

Regarding Iran, Baird said, "We're deeply concerned about the direction that the government in Tehran is taking.  I don't buy this PR job from the new president of Iran." He suggested we look at three things - Iran's "abysmal" human rights record, that its "material support for terrorism in just about every country in the region continues to go unabated" and that "the last thing we need is a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East", noting that "If Iran can have a year breakout capacity that this will see a nuclear arms race" and that "we must do everything we can as a civilized world to stop that..."

Baird added that it was a concern not only for Israel but for the entire region:

"I used to view Iran's nuclear program almost exclusively through the lens of Israel. But over the past four years I can tell you that just about every single Arab country in the Middle East shares the exact same concern we all share."

Jose Maria Aznar served as Prime Minister of Spain from 1994 to 2004, and has since formed the "Friends of Israel Initiative".  On its website, this organisation explains that the Initiative was created because of "a sense of deep concern about the unprecedented campaign of delegitimation against Israel waged by the enemies of the Jewish State and, perversely, supported by numerous international institutions."The Initiative also includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureate David Trimble, Peru's former president Alejandro Toledo, Italian philosopher Marcello Pera, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts among others.  

At the conference, Aznar shared many of Baird's views, commenting that he totally rejects the "double standard" applied to Israel, noting that it is one thing to criticise Israel's government or policy but another to "delegitimise the State of Israel".  Aznar said, "Israel is the only democracy that exists between Morocco and Afghanistan."

Netanyahu in his speech to AIPAC, thanked President Zeman, Baird and Aznar for their unwavering support for Israel, he said:

"Mr. President [Zeman], Israel never forgets its friends. And the Czech people have always been steadfast friends of Israel, the Jewish people, from the days of Thomas Masaryk at the inception of Zionism. You know, Mr. President, when I entered the Israeli army in 1967, I received a Czech rifle. That was one of the rifles that was given to us by your people in our time of need in 1948. So thank you for being here today. Also here are two great friends of Israel, former Prime Minister of Spain Jose Maria Aznar and as of last month, former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. Thank you both for your unwavering support. You are true champions of Israel, and you are, too, champions of the truth."

To watch the speeches from the AIPAC policy conference click here.


Sharyn Mittelman



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