Hi from Warsaw,
We are all shocked by the pictures and reports from the Middle East. The attack by Hamas terrorists who kidnapped and murdered Israeli civilians has led to the deaths of more than 1,300. Many are still missing.
In this week’s report by our Slovakian colleague Mirek Tóda, we cite the story of a Holocaust survivor who almost lost his family in Israel during a Hamas attack.
Unfortunately, violence breeds violence. Because of the murders by Hamas and the retaliation by Israel, which is liquidating terrorists to prevent more killings, civilians in Gaza are suffering. The European Commission is considering how to help the residents of the Strip, but encounters resistance within its own ranks, as our Hungarian colleague Viktória Serdült reveals.
But the war is also raising fears among the Baltic states that the world will forget the Russians bloodying Ukraine. Ukrainians themselves stand in solidarity with the Israelis, and can sense how they are experiencing similar devastation.
We invite you to read and find interest in this week’s newsletter,
Michał Kokot, this week’s Editor-in-Chief
When Hamas terrorists infiltrated the kibbutz Kfar Aza in Israel, Mika, her husband and two-and-a-half-year-old son hid in a shelter.
In their village, Hamas attackers were already killing people. Outside, the Israeli family heard gunfire and lost contact with their loved ones for hours.
One of them was Mika´s 90-years old grandfather, Naftali (Juraj) Fürst.
In the relative safety of his home in Haifa in northern Israel, on 6 October 2023, he experienced a new nightmare that revived his memories of the Holocaust. Nicknamed “Ďurko”, he learned at the age of six in Czechoslovakia that he was a Jew who always had to run away.
His parents were thrown out of their apartment in Bratislava´s suburb Petržalka because it was occupied by the Third Reich. Afterwards he and his family fell victim to persecution by the Slovak fascist Tiso regime, and he was imprisoned in four concentration camps.
However, little Jurko was lucky and had a strong determination to live, Later, he left for Israel, where he witnessed eight wars. But nothing prepared him for the last Shabbat, the holiday of peace, on 7 October.
For long hours, he worried whether his family would survive.
“We bound the shelter door in telephone wire so that terrorists couldn’t open it from the outside,” Fürst’s granddaughter told him. “We were very afraid. We had knives in their hands just in case the terrorists broke in.”
All the time, they had no idea what was going on outside.
The Bratislava-born Israeli argued we should not compare the present war against Hamas with the holocaust.
“It is terrible and painful, but it is not the Shoah,” he said. “In spite of everything, we have an army, even though it didn’t work properly. This catastrophe lasted a few hours, it doesn’t compare to the Holocaust.”
“The sense of security of Jewish people in Germany will be gone for a long time”.
Marina Chernivsky, head of OFEK counseling centre regarding antisemitic violence and discrimination
Since the slaughter of 1,300 in Israel by Hamas on 7 October, antisemitic incidents in Berlin have risen dramatically. On the day of the attacks, activists from Samidoun, a group linked to the organisation of Palestinian terror organisation Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP,) were celebrating on the capital’s streets and distributed sweets in the district of Neukölln, where many people of Arabic descent live.
In the following days, hundreds gathered, shouting anti-Israel slogans such as “From the river to the sea – Palestine will be free”. As Hamas called for global action last Friday, Jewish schools in Berlin remained nearly empty.
Over the weekend, several houses in Berlin were tagged with Stars of David. Also, an Israeli flag was burned.
Antisemitism is a problem throughout German society. In a recent study, 15.4 percent of Germans agreed with the sentence: “With the policy that Israel makes, I can easily understand that someone has objections against Jews.” 24.2 percent agree to it partially.
Last Friday, when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received news of a planned demonstration in support of Gaza in Budapest, he banned it instantly. “No one is allowed to hold demonstrations promoting the cause of terrorist organisations because that, in itself, would pose a threat of terror,” he said.
For once, Orban’s actions were not isolated. Pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas demonstrations were banned or broken up by police in other European cities.
But the European Union as an institution still faces a dilemma. Though mostly united and effective in its support for Ukraine against Russian aggression, its statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem to be more complicated. While EU leaders are showing full solidarity with Israel and the country’s right to defend itself, some are expressing the importance of providing urgent humanitarian aid to Gaza and the need to comply with international law.
Disagreements started to show days after Hamas terrorists broke into Israel and murdered 1,300 people. On Monday, Hungarian enlargement commissioner Oliver Várhelyi announced an immediate suspension of EU aid to Gaza, apparently without consulting his colleagues. The Commission replied with not only a denial, but the tripling of humanitarian assistance to 75 million euros.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also faced criticism after not speaking up about the humanitarian consequences of Israel’s retaliatory attacks during her visit to the country. “She simply said Israel has the right to defend itself, full stop. That is not the line member states agreed,” a diplomat told Politico. Individual member states are also divided on the issue, with only Austria and Germany cutting aid to Palestinians.
This is not the first time that divisions within the 27 member states mirror the feelings within different European societies. In fact, the 2003 U.S.led invasion of Iraq caused a far greater rupture in the EU. But if the European Union wants to live up to the idea of “unity is strength”, there is still some way to go.
Marko Mihkelson is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Estonian parliament Riigikogu. He says the expected attack by Israeli ground forces against Hamas in Gaza will deepen divisions in Europe.
There is a lot of speculation that the Israel-Hamas war will take the West’s attention away from helping Ukraine to fight against Russia. How concerned are you about it?
Everything depends on the further course of the Israel-Hamas war and its possible escalation. If the war were to expand and involve Hezbollah and Iran behind it, this has the potential to develop into a conflict affecting global relations. It is in Russia’s interest to tie the US public to Israel for as long as possible in order to distract from Ukraine’s central role.
How can it affect the security of Estonia and the other Baltic states?
The war in Israel is undeniably linked to the war in Ukraine. Firstly, it is in Russia’s interest to light new fires in various hotspots of the world right now in order to distract the attention of the US and Western countries. Secondly, the expected attack by Israeli ground forces against Hamas in Gaza will deepen divisions in Europe.
Thirdly, potential new migration pressures on Europe may and will only exacerbate political polarisation. All of this together weakens the ability of the Western Allies to take a strong and unified strategic stance, the main goal of which should be the defeat of Russia. If Russia cannot be pushed back strategically, then the security of the Baltic states and thus the whole of NATO is also at risk.
This photo of graffiti with the word “Together” in Hebrew and Ukrainian, and the coats of arms of both nations recently went viral in Ukraine.
It was posted by Yigal Levin, former Israeli soldier and Ukrainian journalist, and gathered thousands of positive reactions. Ukrainians can relate to Israelis: the Hamas attack was as reckless and violent to civilians, as Russia’s full-scale invasion. Both Hamas and Russia want to annihilate the state they’ve invaded.
Last year, Ukrainian officials and citizens voiced their disappointment with Israel‘s reaction to what Ukrainians see as a genocidal war. There were expectations that Israelis, who also faced existential threats, would generously support Kyiv with weapons, such as the “Iron Dome” air defense system.
But Tel Aviv’s reaction was lukewarm, as Israel argued that it didn’t want to challenge a shaky balance in the Middle East region. Now, as war has returned to both the Middle East and Ukraine, both nations have got closer. In Israeli social media, there are now many signs of support for Ukraine.
Thanks for reading the 48th edition of European Focus,
I hope that this week’s newsletter has been interesting and perhaps caused you to delve deeper into the causes of the Middle East conflict.
There is not much more left for us to do but hope for an imminent end to the conflict and a ceasefire.
Unfortunately, the question is: how long will it last?
See you next Wednesday!