Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched a withering attack on the European Union at a closed-door meeting of eastern European leaders in Budapest, saying the political grouping would wither and die if it did not change its policy towards Israel.
The remarks, caught on an open microphone, underlined Netanyahu’s often barely disguised contempt for the European political union, which has criticised Israel – and his government in particular – over issues including Jewish settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories and the peace process.
Netanyahu also made a rare public admission that Israel has struck Iranian arms convoys in Syria bound for Hezbollah “dozens and dozens of times”.
The overheard remarks were reported by Israeli journalists covering the trip.
The bombastic remarks, which bizarrely predicated Europe’s future on its attitude towards Israel – not one of the most burning issues on an EU agenda confronting the challenges of immigration, Brexit and economic growth – were made in a meeting with the leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, whom Netanyahu urged to close their doors to refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he said. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth – both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”
“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, which produces technology in every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said before officials realised the meeting was being overheard by reporters and cut the feed.
“It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he added, urging the leaders present to help push Europe to expedite the EU association agreement with Israel that has been held up because of current Israeli policies.
Netanyahu’s remarks were made following criticism of his visit to Budapest, where he has been accused of soft-pedalling on accusations against the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, for allegedly stoking antisemitism, not least in a high-profile campaign targeting billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros.
Netanyahu’s comments also come in the midst of problems for the embattled Israeli prime minister at home, where he is under investigation in two police inquiries and amid an escalating corruption scandal involving his government over the purchase of German submarines.
“I think that if I can suggest that what comes out of this meeting is your ability perhaps to communicate to your colleagues in other parts of Europe: Help Europe … don’t undermine the one western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration to Europe,” added Netanyahu.
“So stop attacking Israel. Start supporting Israel … start supporting European economies by doing what the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are doing,” he said, referring to increasing technological cooperation.
“There is no logic here. The EU is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining its connection with Israeli innovation,” he added.
“We are part of the European culture,” Netanyahu continued. “Europe ends in Israel. East of Israel, there is no more Europe. We have no greater friends than the Christians who support Israel around the world. Not only the evangelists. If I go to Brazil, I’ll be greeted there with more enthusiasm than at the Likud party.”