UACES Arena: The EU in Israeli Eyes - Public, Elite, Civil Society and Media Perceptions

Brussels, Belgium

10 December 2010

Speaker: Dr Sharon Pardo, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

The seminar is free to attend, but you do need to register in advance by sending an email to meet@thecentre.eu with the keyword 'EU-Israel' in the subject line and your name and organisation in the body of the email.

Considering the number of issues affecting both Israel and the EU, one might question the urgency of analysing Israeli perceptions and misperceptions towards the EU.

From an Israeli perspective, there are several reasons. Europe is Israel’s economic, cultural and, in many respects, political hinterland. The EU is Israel's most important trading partner and the second biggest source of research funding. Israel enjoys a unique status in its relations with the EU, a status that grants it extensive rights in many areas. In 2008, Israel and the EU embarked on a new process designed to upgrade their relations process.

And yet, over the years Europe was not central to Israeli strategic thinking and its political approach to the Middle East was viewed by Israel with deep suspicion. To this day, many Israelis, and more significantly, leading Israeli policy-makers and policy-shapers, share the view that relations with the U.S. are far more crucial than relations with the EU.

In view of this historical background, it is clear that if Israeli-EU relations are to develop further, Israel must recognise that the EU is a major global actor bordering the Middle East –an actor that has a constructive role to play in shaping the political-economic-cultural-strategic future of Israel. To this effect, Israel should make a greater effort to understand, and in some cases even dispel, its (mis-) perceptions and images of the EU.

From a European perspective, there are several other reasons why should one pay attention to what Israelis think of the EU. The first reason is that the EU has become a rather consolidated player in the international arena, in general, and in the Middle East, in particular. If the EU really wants to have a chance to implement efficient policies in the Middle East, it cannot avoid taking into serious consideration what the expectations, images and perceptions of it are in a country as central to the future stability of the Middle East as Israel is.

Furthermore, looking at external images means looking at one of the variables that contributes to shaping a European political identity among Europe’s citizens. Self-rhetorical representation, public debate and mirror images are fundamental components in making the EU’s political identity. For this reason it is useful to understand what these external images are.

Finally, there is a major gap in the academic literature that needs to be filled. The long-held notion that the Union has a 'distinctive' role to play in Middle East politics needs to be further examined. So far research has been undertaken on evaluating the Union’s coherence and effectiveness in world politics, but very little has been done on how Middle Eastern players regard the EU. This area of enquiry therefore deserves further investigation.





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