Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom yesterday rejected claims that a European Commission poll ranking Israel as "the greatest danger to world peace" was proof of European anti-Semitism.
Shalom said the poll, due out today but leaked over the weekend to the Spanish daily El Pais, reflects the over exposure of Israel in European media. "There's no comparing the amount of media exposure Israel gets in Europe compared to Iran or North Korea. The images broadcast from here have an impact, but we should not get exerted by it," he told Haaretz.
Shalom said a poll published a month ago in Europe showed a significant improvement in Israel's image in recent months. "But who cares about such polls? Even though the previous poll might be more accurate than the current one, it ended up on the back pages of the papers. They prefer to give big headlines when the news about Israel is negative."
Shalom links the latest poll results to Europe's efforts - and particularly France's - to position itself as a counterweight to the U.S. "This isn't necessarily a matter of anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian; it's a much broader issue of expressing views different from the U.S., to establish itself as a power."
Shalom was asked about the Wiesenthal Center's call to throw the European Union out of the Quartet and deny it any role in Middle Eastern negotiations. "I don't want to clash with this or that institute, but I don't see things the extreme way they do," he said. "One need not dramatize every poll and there's no need for bile."
He said the poll could also be viewed as the result of decades of Israeli neglect of the European arena, while at the same time the Palestinians invested much effort in Europe.
But Shalom wished to emphasize that Europe is "not a lost cause." He cited a number of Israeli accomplishments recently - the inclusion of the political wing of the Hamas on the EU terrorist list; R&D and agricultural agreements that were delayed for more than two years were recently signed with the EU; and the Europeans foiled a Palestinian initiative to send the separation fence to the international court at the Hague.
But, he said, he is not deluding himself. "Of course there are disputes that cannot be ignored," but he is convinced that Israel's investment in the continent is worthwhile - and that its position will improve on May 1, 2004, when the EU is set to be joined by 10 central and eastern European countries, who have more "balanced" positions toward the Middle East conflict.
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