Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent trip to Europe brought him to Hungary at a time when the government there was being accused of deploying anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric in a campaign against billionaire George Soros. During a meeting with Central European leaders, a hot mic picked up Netanyahu bashing the European Union’s policy with respect to Israel as “actually crazy.” In an email interview, Dr. Toby Greene, an Israeli Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explains why these mini-scandals were somewhat beside the point for a visit focused on economic relationships and countering a narrative of Israeli isolation.
WPR: What has been the historical nature of ties between Israel and Central European countries, and how have they evolved in recent years?
Toby Greene: Eastern bloc countries followed the Soviet lead and cut off relations with Israel in 1967, when support for Arab nationalism was part of the Soviet agenda in the context of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, these post-communist countries re-established relations with Israel. They generally emerged from the experience of Soviet domination with an Atlanticist orientation, reacting against their experiences under Soviet communism, which had supported the Palestinians. They brought this Atlanticism with them when they joined the European Union, along with an interest in balancing the influence of their more powerful Western European partners.